Studying, Working, and Volunteering During my Exchange Year: A Blogpost by a Current Exchange Student

Lisa Maier is a current Exchange student from Germany, studying Art History and Cultural Anthropology. Besides her studies, she works at a student volunteer at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

Before I came to the University of Oregon, I did not know what to expect from American college life. When I arrived in Eugene, the enthusiasm about a whole college year lying ahead of us was a great feeling, although we had to figure out a lot – so many things were new. A new country and university, new people, and a new apartment with new roommates. I was not the only international student who realized that the feeling of vacation is going to end soonand that we will find ourselves in an everyday life routine for the next 10 months. With everyday life comes the reality – in particular realizing that life is going to be more expensive than we have all thought. The rent is one thing, but I was surprised about the prices at the grocery store. Compared to Germany, it is a lot more. In addition, all the textbooks, and some of the student fees we have to pay ourselves. I thought I should better get a job to get along the next 10 months, because I also wanted to travel around Oregon and the country.

During one of the events at the International Student Orientation, I spoke to people from the UO Career Center and they told me about a list with all the student jobs on campus. I was hoping that there might be some jobs that are related to my studies in art history and cultural anthropology, as there are two museums on campus. However, a first look on this particular list on their website was not what I expected. I have no work study, which was required for most of the jobs, and I did not have a resume. I was also intimidated by the requirements and worried that my English might not be good enough compared to the Americans who would apply for this job.lisa hiking

At one of the International Student Orientation events I saw a former American exchange student, who I had met in Germany when he was on his exchange. We talked a bit and I told him that I was looking for a job. Unexpectedly, he told me about a friend who is working at the admission desk of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on campus. I dropped off my application two days later. With the help of my roommate, I also figured out what a resu
me should look like. After the job interview, I was offered a job! However, I could not get paid because I don’t have work study. Although my main intention for applying was to earn money, I quit my search for a paid job and accepted the volunteer position. I believed it was more important to have the opportunity to gain experience in a field I am really interested in for the future.

I started working there the second week of school, for one shift a week which turned out to be a nice complement to my classes and studying. As you directly communicate with the museum visitors, it was challenging and a totally different experience than school life. And of course, everyone asked me where am I from, because of my accent. This is one of the things you cannot avoid and get used to. Over the time I became more self-confident in speaking with the visitors, along with getting to know all the different aspects of the work. Thinking back to these early weeks, I realize how this does not worry me at all any more. What I like in this job is that I am meeting people outside of the college world; the citizens of Eugene and visitors to the town.

Recently, my boss asked me if I was interested in volunteering in the collection department of the museum. They were not looking for anyone, but she thought it would be interesting for me as an Art History student. After a talk with the collections manager, I became a volunteer at the collection. Since November, I work 6-8 hours each week in the museum’s basement. I get to decide my own schedule, and can pick projects that interest me.lisa

I am very pleased with and thankful for the openness of the people in the museum who made it possible that my exchange year became enriched by this work, besides studying and living here. Especially when you study Art History, it is important to gain work experience during your studies and improve your resume. But most importantly, I enjoy the work in the collection and the different projects I am involved in. It is different from all the readings and papers we have to deal with, although it takes a lot of my free time. Eventually, after two terms of volunteering at the admission desk, I now get paid for my work.

There are many possibilities to get involved in work areas one might be interested in for the future, but which are not advertised. I was lucky that I spoke to the right person at the right time and that I had people who helped make things possible for me. Students should keep an eye open for possibilities to speak to people or departments whose work we are interested in (just email someone for an informative interview!), to talk to people about working or volunteering to gain experiences. This is what I have learnt from this whole story I told here. I am not sure if things work the same in Germany or other countries, but as I have seen how it works in Eugene, it can work all over the world. We should not be shy but try everything, we want to. If it does not work out, at least we have tried! It is up to us to make the best out of this moment, this year and our life.