By Staff Writer
September 24, 2006
Rachel MountThe customs official at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport probably saw a lot of students like me everyday. We are the students who babbled on about that "special American smell" as we slid our passports under the window, and pulled on hooded sweatshirts and flip flops as soon as our feet hit American soil. So the official could probably tell that his cheery, "Welcome home!" would lead to some teary eyes. We were finally home in safe, familiar America. After four whirlwind months in Luxembourg and Europe, Oxford was perfect. However, there were no jaunts to Paris, no delectable croissants, no classes in a castle, and no singsong greetings of "Moien," which is the Luxembourgish staple for "good morning." That is, until I learned that there were, in fact, some "moiens" being exchanged in Oxford right now. Miami students like myself had traveled over 4,000 miles to experience a different culture - Luxembourgish students come to Oxford to do the exact same thing.Miami has a longstanding relationship with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The university inaugurated a study abroad program there in 1968, and in 1988 it was formally named the Miami University John E. Dolibois European Center (MUDEC). Today, 125 to130 students make Luxembourg their home every semester, and more students visit during summer programs. MUDEC has developed a close relationship with the people of Luxembourg and their government, and the relationship is strengthened by a dual exchange of students.According to Michelle J. Apfeld, international student and scholar adviser, six students from Luxembourg are currently attending Miami this fall. Unlike most Miami students who study abroad for a semester or two, these students generally come here for two or more years. Students may start their studies at the University of Luxembourg and then transfer, or come to Miami with no university experience.Christian Betzen transferred to Miami this fall from the University of Luxembourg."Let's start in the beginning ... I love America," Betzen said. He has traveled to America 28 times and has visited all but five states. When Betzen decided that he wanted to attend college, he knew, just as certainly, that he wanted to attend an American college.Betzen looked at places like Florida and Tennessee, until his teachers in Luxembourg told him about Miami. According to Betzen, there is a lot of "positive mouth-to-mouth propaganda" about the university.I learned about Luxembourg in the same way; people just talked about the program, and their positive experiences gradually made an impression on me. Still, just as many Europeans have never heard of Ohio, many of my family and friends weren't sure about Luxembourg. I soon had to give the same reiterated spiel."No, it's not Lichtenstein, or Genovia, it's between France, Germany, and Belgium," I would try to explain.Betzen met with Raymond Manes, assistant dean for administration of the MUDEC program, and learned about the benefits Miami could provide. MUDEC has a special scholarship program reserved for students from Luxembourg who want to study at Miami. There are 10 scholarships available every year; some are for partial tuition and some are for full. Jeff Konter, a sophomore from Luxembourg, appreciates the scholarship."My parents and I couldn't afford for me to come here without it," Konter said.Konter explained that all of Luxembourgish students who come to Miami have one thing in common. "The Lux people here are special characters," Konter said. "They know what they want in life, and they focus on their goals. We are all strong personalities."Konter likes to see all of the Luxembourgish students get together, usually weekly, to cook or go out to eat. There is no formal orientation specifically for Luxembourgish students, although there are programs for all international students. Still, the students become an informal group here on campus.While spending a semester surrounded by foreign languages and customs, the approximately 130 students from Miami formed close friendships as well, and quickly. While traveling, it was always a pleasant surprise to spot a fellow "MUDEC-er" across a boulevard. As much as I loved talking to the local people or experiencing a city with just a journal, it was comforting to have friends who understood Miami and America. We could reminisce about Bagel and Deli or curl up and watch Gilmore Girls when cultural and language immersion became too overwhelming.From the philosophical to the ordinary, any student studying abroad is quick to pick up on differences between cultures. Konter points out that the bread in America is too fluffy, but that there are great burgers and steaks. However the "friendliness factor" makes a much larger impact on him. "People smile at everyone here," Konter said. "I used to think it was superficial, but now I like the friendliness. I still appreciate honesty, but now I'm friendly with everyone." This was one of the first things I noticed while in Luxembourg. Smiling at a stranger on the street was usually returned with a confused look, not a smile. Luxembourgers were warm and friendly; it just took more effort to figure that out.Betzen appreciates the "college life" at Miami. At the University of Luxembourg, there is no real campus. In Luxembourg, Miami students, like myself, enjoyed a miniature campus in the form of a century-old chateau. However, students who had an hour-long commute in Luxembourg must now enjoy the locality of Oxford's campus.Differences between countries are easy to pick out, but sometimes the similarities take a little longer. Konter, who spoke about the constant happy faces that Americans put on, realized that Europeans can also present fronts to the world. "It's just a different type of face in every country ... maybe happy, maybe busy, maybe cold. But they're just all faces," Konter said. "You can't generalize Americans."After hearing this, I pulled out the journal I kept during my stay in Luxembourg and flipped to the last page:"Even with the European Union, the euro, the increasingly common language abilities ... there is no such thing as a typical European. I wish I could describe 'the' European woman, and 'the' European man, but I can't." Perhaps that is the most valuable lesson students studying abroad learn, whether at Miami or in Luxembourg. People, cultures, and countries don't always fit into perfect little boxes.We can't generalize the world.