GV study abroad helps student brew beer

By Ellie Phillips | 7/7/13 12:18pm

Andrew Veenhoven has a dream — to pursue a career in brewing.

Between Founders and the Grand Rapids Brewing Company, it would seem that Veenhoven has many opportunities in the area to kick-start his career. But instead he chose a significantly more difficult and distant route – he went to Germany.

“For me it was quite simple,” he said. “I wanted to improve my German. I’ve already been to Germany three times before this program, so I knew how much it can help when you’re forced to speak the native language every day.”

The brewmeister school he wishes to attend only offers curricula in German, so currently Veenhoven is pursuing a degree in German through a study abroad program in Schwabisch, Germany.

“We feel proud that he had the courage and initiative to advance his language skills in a non-traditional way,” said Andrew’s mother, Amy Veenhoven. “He always had an interest in the micro-brew industry and decided, if he was going to pursue this as a career choice, he better learn to speak German and speak it well.”

Though this is the fourth time that Andrew has been to Germany, it is the first time he’s stayed with a host family. The family helped him improve his language skills, and also introduced him to a local brewer who invited Andrew to tour their facility, which allowed for networking opportunities. At the brewery, he spent an entire day learning about brewing techniques and business practices.

“He has been working really hard to become fluent in German,” Amy said. “It is a great example of how the study abroad programs can open doors for future opportunities.”

Andrew visited Germany for the first time just after he graduated from high school. His aunt, who lives in Heidelberg, found an intense four-week, total-immersion school in her hometown, which Andrew attended and had such a positive experience that he returned the next summer.

But the study-abroad program isn’t always easy. The hardest part for Andrew has been having patience while learning the language.

“There’s so much nowadays that contributes to the idea of instant gratification,” he said. “Things are happening so fast through technology, that it’s occasionally hard to really stay focused in learning something that may take a very long time to get good at. I’ve been studying German for five years, and I still can’t say everything I would like to.”

For his family, the hardest part is spending time with him while he’s so far away.

“In the evenings I often think ‘I feel like face-timing Andrew,’ but it’s like 2 a.m. over there,” Amy said. “We are at work during the day when it is more practical for him to face-time us.”

Even with the downsides, Andrew and his family find the study abroad program to be a beneficial and effective one.

“It’s hard to understand the value of traveling abroad and why it is such a life-changing experience unless you have made the journey yourself,” Amy said. “When you are immersed in another culture, you have like 12 ‘Ah-Ha!’ moments every day.”

Before committing to studying abroad, students should find out exactly what the courses involve and the costs of the program, Andrew said, as well as budgeting around $250 more than the program suggests. However, he recommends the program to anyone seeking a new cultural experience.

“Studying abroad is captivating in a mysterious way,” he said. “Everything you experience is new and different. There’s nothing ordinary about being in a strange country, it’s extraordinary. The rhythms of life are different, not just in a sense of time, but in the sense of how life moves and feels. It’s truly an out-of-this-world experience, as it really makes you reflect and ponder deeply into ideas which you once thought to be concrete. If anything, studying abroad heightens your sensibilities and forces you to see ideas and concepts of life with more of a peripheral vision, as opposed to a linear one.”

Being in Germany isn’t just a professional experience for Andrew though. For him, the best part of living in Germany is experiencing how they live.

“I love the culture and rhythm of life there,” he said. “People take the time to enjoy life.”

For more information on study-abroad programs at GVSU, visit www.gvsu.edu/studyabroad/.

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