Student Story

Lilian Kaula '25 Connects with her German Ancestry by Studying Abroad in Berlin

Photo of Lilian Kaula

Writing major Lilian Kaula spent a semester in Germany, thanks to a partnership between Simmons University and the Freie Universität Berlin European Studies Program (FU-BEST). She shares her experiences taking college coursework and immersing herself in German culture.

What motivated you to study abroad?

My motivation was a desire to return to Germany. Both my parents are German, and though I was raised in the U.S., I often visited my relatives in Germany. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I hadn't been back to visit in over three years. I was starting to feel very disconnected from not only my extended family, but also from my German culture and language. This is when I started looking for ways to go back to Germany.

Why did you select FU-Best in Germany?

I choose to study abroad with the Freie Universität Berlin European Studies Program (FU-BEST) in Berlin because it is a program that Simmons and the Center for Global Education have a partnership with, making it easier and more streamlined to apply to and participate. However, what really drew me to the program was the emphasis on intensive German language classes, combined with Berlin history and cultural immersion.

I am a "heritage" German speaker, which means I learned the language informally at home. I am fluent, but since I did not have a formal academic background in the language, I struggled reading and writing at higher levels. Through the program, I was not only able to take high level German language courses, but I was also able to take subject courses in English that would count towards my writing major.

I took an incredible course called "Berlin: History, Memory, and Literature," which expanded my understanding of German history through the study of some of its most prominent literature. This class in particular helped me understand and connect to my grandparent's experiences growing up during the second world war.

The German university fall semester starts in October and goes until the end of March, which makes it impossible to do a one semester study abroad. FU-BEST is structured around the American academic semester, so my classes were with other American students. This was another reason I chose the FU-BEST program. With small class sizes, it was similar to Simmons, and that was something I really appreciated. Though we were separate from the main university, I was able to explore and take my classes on the FU campuses, which have some incredible architecture.

What did you think of Berlin?

I fell in love with Berlin! Its history, culture, art, food, and endless adventures kept me enthralled and entertained for the whole semester. All my classes had an emphasis on the "extended classroom" and because of this I was able to experience the city at a whole new level. My professors introduced me to many interesting areas of history, culture, art, and architecture that I would later return to and explore further.

Photo of Lilian Kaula outside in Germany

I had an architecture class where my final paper was about some of the U-Bahn train stations throughout the city. My friends joked that I was impossible to ride the subway with, because every station we passed through, I had a story to tell about it. In Berlin there is history at every turn.

Where will this experience take you?

The experience of studying abroad has entirely changed where I was expecting my future to lead. From the first week of living in Berlin, I knew it was "my city." When December rolled around, the last thing I wanted to do was leave. Now when making decisions about my future, one of the first things in my mind is how I can return to Berlin.

I find that in America there can be quite a one-sided view of Germany. My time in Berlin gave me clarity, and the opportunity to analyze how this has impacted my identity as a German-American. I see a need for a more positive discussion of German culture, art, and history in America and I am hoping to contribute to this conversation through stories and writing.

After graduation I would like to move back to Berlin and write, focusing on the German-American experience, as well as culture, food, history, and art.

Publish Date