A year in Europe a transformative experience

Students enjoy culture, education and travel through TransFor-M program

Sarah Pratt - 19 December 2018

When Sara Venskaitis arrived at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg in Germany, she knew there would be cultural differences, but she wasn't prepared for one specific German ritual: hugging.

"People in France give a kiss on each cheek when they say hello and goodbye and people in Germany hug," said Venskaitis. "The hug culture was a surprise, but then you learn that's just the norm, so you go with it."

Learning more about German culture was part of the reason Venskaitis and her classmate Zihaohan Sang applied for TransFor-M, a two-year transatlantic forestry master program leading to dual degrees in forest and environmental management. Students spend one year in Europe and one year in Canada, gaining new cultural and educational perspectives.

"Freiburg is a beautiful city with a good climate," said Sang.

"I wanted to learn some German, and I was able to pick up on a lot of the language, especially the basics for living," said Venskaitis.

Some of the students' most memorable moments came during fieldwork. For example, Venskaitis and Sang were able to explore Germany's Black Forest and learn about soils in Bavaria.

"It was a chance to learn about all aspects of forestry, especially from an international perspective," said Sang. "I also learned you have to be a licensed hunter to be a forester in Germany."

Venskaitis came away with a greater international focus as well, and she relished the opportunity to attend school and live abroad.

"Seeing places I have never seen before was great," she said. "And the cultural exchange aspect was interesting."

Sang agreed.

"A few hours on a train and you were in Paris for a visit," she said. "It was all part of going away and learning about myself for a year - it's hard to figure out what I want to do in the future."

Both students say their year in Germany was memorable, and they have stayed connected with people they met during their time in Freiburg.

"It's something we'll remember for the rest of our lives," said Venskaitis.

The TransFor-M program is growing in popularity, and for exchanges starting in 2019/2020, students can choose from two new partner institutions: the University of Vienna (Austria) and Padua (Italy). They add to existing options for dual degrees: Freiburg (Germany), Bangor (UK) and Joensuu (Finland).

For information about TransFor-M and to apply, contact Dr. Andreas Hamann at andreas.hamann@ualberta.ca and check out the program web page.