International Connections


Lauren Niehm

Major: Apparel, Merchandising, and Design


Minor/option/emphasis: Entrepreneurship; German

Year: Sophomore
Hometown, State: Ames, Iowa

Type of experience: Study Tour
Experience: Western European Craftsmanship Study Tour
Experience website: http://isuabroad.iastate.edu/?go=CHSCraft
Destination: Germany

Overall experience..
The Western European study tour opportunity helped me to grow in many ways. Unlike my first and only other experience out of the country in high school, we had a bit more freedom to explore and were more responsible for our own learning. We traveled to four different European countries Germany, France, Belgium, and Netherlands) with tour stops focusing on craftsman ship, design, and hospitality businesses and related cultural and historic experiences.Germany was our home base, and we stayed in the Frankfurt and Oberusel areas. While things were scheduled for the tour, it was up to us to take advantage of workshops and other opportunities and immerse ourselves in the many wonderful things available on the tour. Because of this, it helped me, as well as many others to push boundaries and grow academically and personally. There are just so many wonderful experiences to reflect on from the study tour. I am sure that I could go on for days talking about what I learned, what I enjoyed, and what was new and amazing for me. It was with out question one of the best learning experiences I have had as a student at ISU!

I learned...
My instructor for AMD 121, Grit Vece, discussed and encouraged participation in the Western European Study Tour. My academic advisor, Ann Thye, also recommended it as a great experience to add to my AMD major in product development. I am also minoring in German and Entrepreneurship at ISU, so it was good to hear the language actually spoken by Germans and realize that I really do understand a good deal of what was being said. I do wish that I had pushed myself more to talk to others in German while I was there, but I am totally proud of what I did do, like ordering food in German and talking to shopkeepers and others as we had free time. Of all the countries we visited, Germany felt the most comfortable and the most like home to me. We also visited many independently owned businesses,so it was great to learn about being an entrepreneur in Europe.

An impact to my life...
Participating in the Western European study tour has provided me with an expanded viewpoint for apparel and product design inspiration. It also helped me to understanding how people interact and live in different countries in contrast to the United States. Overall this study tour really enhanced my understanding and appreciation of the unique aspects of other cultures. I feel like I have a bigger world view now and also gained a lot in terms of fashion knowledge of fashion and general cultural awareness.

My most valuable learning experience...
Learning public transportation and navigating each city was a true learning experience for me. Each city and country we visited had a slightly different setup for the metro, trains, buses, bikes, etc. It was good to go as a group, but I think the real learning came when we had to use our prior experiences to get where we wanted to go. This was especially true because in many places, using the GPS for walking directions was not always the most reliable source. Once we got a hang of it, we had no problem. Personally, I thought the Paris metro was the most complicated to figure out, but we found our stop, mapped it out, and got it one the first try. That was a moment of victory and pride for my group. The country that I felt most comfortable in terms of transportation was Germany because I could actually read the signs. I would love to have rented a bike in any of the cities we visited, I think it would’ve added a unique point of view. When I visit again, I will for sure try that, though I’m sure that biking in Amsterdam would be something to get used to due to the sheer number of bikes. Most ticket buying was done for us, or we had assistance, so I’ll need some more practice with that for the future, but for the most part, my comfort with being out of the country and using transportation has grown immensely from this study tour. I definitely think after this experience I would feel better about navigating a new city or country better. Mastering how to navigate and function in a foreign country is critical to international travel success. I learned so much about different topics and content as I elaborated in the full reflection paper. However, I think a significant learning experience came from the skills I gain in how to navigate and operate safely and accurately in four different countries! All in all I am very proud of this accomplishment coming from Iowa. This significant learning experience will serve me well professionally and personally as I plan to do much more international travel.

I will never forget...
Seeing the Eiffel tower was completely surreal, as was getting off the train and realizing that we were in fact in Paris. This just was not something that I thought would happen for me a long time and I am so thankful for this study tour experience. The Yves St. Laurent Museum was an amazing piece of fashion history. I love fashion history, so this was right up my alley. I especially liked the mod dress display complete with the sketches and fabric that originally inspired the looks. I was so impressed by the draping and tailoring techniques that he used in his design process. Seeing the replica of his design studio really made you feel that you were indeed in Paris, the fashion capital of the world! Seeing a designer museum such as this and the whole vibe and importance of fashion in France was very inspiring to me as a fashion designer and product developer. Our Paris experience definitely has given me deeper insight and knowledge of fashion from a historic and global perspective. The Anne Frank House was the most powerful and memorable museum experience I have ever had in my life. Being in home where her family lived during the World War II time period gave the holocaust a whole new meaning beyond what I learned in high school history classes. Hearing her story told by audio recording, in the rooms where the events actually happened, seeing the pictures she put on the walls, seeing personal items from those in the annex, and hearing her words just made it so powerful. Obviously, what happened to her is horrible, but I’ve always wanted to experience this place. It is quite possibly one of the best museums I’ve ever been to, in any country. The Anne Frank story will definitely stick with me. I bought the book to read and it has heightened my awareness of what is going on globally and the implications of historic and cultural events elsewhere.

A surprising discovery...
The bicycle culture in Amsterdam was more intense than I expected and that was a real adjustment for me. The bike lanes are more strict and different than what we have in America.All in all, Amsterdam is one of the cities I would love to visit again and explore more deeply. In all four countries we visited there were subtle cultural differences, such as things that were thought to be unacceptable or rude. There were also noticeable differences in expectations for customer service in stores and restaurants in each of the countries. We had to learn and adjust on the fly as we encountered these situations. This perspective is something I will definitely take with me into my professional life. When you travel you need to be flexible and open minded. You quickly learn that your way of doing things is not the only way and that you grow a lot from stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Advice for others...
Belgium was an all new experience for me. The Flax Museum was so interesting.Personally, I enjoyed seeing the machinery and equipment used to make flax into linen--something we only see in pictures in our textiles classes. There is a lot of history associated with flax and it was cool to see how the production processes have evolved over time. I also thoroughly enjoyed the bobbin lace making workshop associated with the Flax Museum. I must admit that I was kind of nervous for it prior to the workshop. However, it was not as difficult as I thought it would be, and it was so fun! My advice to other students is to just be open minded, try everything you can possibly experience, and just soak up every minute of the study tour.

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