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When study abroad means going home

Cailyn McCarthy portrait.

Cailyn McCarthy will leave for Germany in September and complete her unique study abroad program in February. Photo courtesy of Cailyn McCarthy.

For senior Civil and Environmental Engineering student Cailyn McCarthy, spending her final semester studying at the University of Tübingen will be more than a trip abroad. It will be a trip down memory lane.

“My family moved to Germany when I was a baby, a little less than two years old,” she said. “We stayed about seven years total. So, a good chunk of my childhood was spent over there.”

After growing up in southern Germany, McCarthy’s family moved back to the states and settled in St. Louis. Without much opportunity to practice the language in Missouri, McCarthy lost her ability to speak German.

It wasn’t until her sophomore year at MU that McCarthy felt compelled to pick the language back up.

“I had this longing to get my German back and felt like now was the time,” she said. “I probably wasn’t going to teach myself after graduating. So, I started taking German classes at Mizzou.”

She was surprised by how quickly the language came rushing back, noting that it was “just somewhere deep in my mind.”

Coupled with her burgeoning language skills, McCarthy began to explore study abroad options through the College of Engineering — a path not too often traveled by fellow students in her major.

“I’ve always really loved travel and wanted to go abroad while I was in school, but it’s not very typical to go for a long term in the College of Engineering,” she said. “You can’t fulfill as many of the strict classes over there.”

Not wanting to go for just a limited time frame, McCarthy played with the idea of taking the semester off.

“I [thought] about trying to get an internship over in Germany, but it didn’t really work out,” she said. “But now that I’ve taken German and my graduation date is set back as a result, I have this extra semester.”

McCarthy met with her adviser to discuss the idea, and although at first she worried it wouldn’t be possible, the pair was able to plan out the preceding semesters to make her study abroad plans plausible.

“I’m taking my capstone this semester since I need to be here to do that,” McCarthy said. “I’ll take an online engineering class abroad through Mizzou, and I’ll take other classes through the university, as well.”

After weighing her options between three different German locations, McCarthy landed on the University of Tübingen.

“I chose the program because it’s the closest university to Munich that MU study abroad offers, which is in southern Germany and where my family lived,” she said. “For nostalgia’s sake, I wanted to go back to a familiar region within the [country].”

While Bonne and Berlin were among her final three, McCarthy saw Tübingen as an easier transition from Columbia.

“The idea of a smaller, sleepier town where I could get to know the [area] and the community and make it my own felt a little more comfortable and easier,” she said. “It’s really beautiful. It was untouched throughout the war, and so it’s got all this really cool, old middle-aged architecture.”

Her time on campus at MU will still wrap up May, when McCarthy walks at the College of Engineering commencement alongside her classmates. She will leave for Germany in September and complete the program in February.

“I’m really excited to use my German again and solidify that,” she said. “I also just want to embrace the town, embrace the university and the people I meet.”

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