Melissa Wright

Melissa Wright

"I started German at Canisius my first semester. I knew I needed to take at least two semesters of a language and given that I had almost seven years of Spanish in middle and high school, I decided to try something new, entirely new. It is quite possibly one of the best decisions I have ever made. Immediately, I felt a part of a unique community on campus and Dr. Böhm led classes that were exciting and participatory. We were immersed in the language: speaking, listening, and engaging with one another—nearly all in German-- in just a few weeks. Language was enacted in the classroom and not simply a set of vocabulary words to memorize. Now, as an instructor of Composition at the University at Buffalo, I realize how valuable it was to not only have him as a teaching model, but to participate in such a vibrant and stimulating setting.

As the semesters passed, our class became more and more of a community and the bonds we formed there allowed us to trust one another and test out our burgeoning language skills. After just two and a half years, we were ready to study abroad. For me, this was a huge personal accomplishment and a testament to Dr. Böhm and the department. 

My experience studying abroad was easily one of the best experiences of my life. Our first week in Germany was spent on a cross-country tour of the “back roads.” Dr. Böhm rented a car and we set off on the Auto-Bahn, visiting beautiful rural towns (in addition to the larger city, Dresden, perhaps my favorite), interacting with inn-keepers and locals, and enjoying one another’s company over authentic German food.

The first few weeks of our time at Dortmund was spent in an intense German language program to prepare us for the time abroad. I was delighted to find that the abroad program was opened up to students from all over the world. Quickly we became friends with not only Germans, but students from Russia, Mexico, and Poland, to name a few. In addition to becoming fluent (or nearly fluent) by the end of the five months, I also learned a great deal in the two English literature courses I took. I used one of the papers for these classes to apply to the University at Buffalo master’s program in English. (I was admitted.) 

As an employee for the past six years at an educational technology firm here in Buffalo, formerly known as Campus Labs (now Higher One), my language proficiency has proven beneficial a number of times: On one such occasion, the Vice President overheard I knew German and asked me to help her edit a student survey that was written solely in German. It was a fantastic way to demonstrate my professionalism and unique background and ended up paying off in the end, as I was promoted twice and now serve as a part-time consultant there.

Now, as a PhD student in Comparative Literature at UB, my German language skills are still very much a part of my studies. I have an interesting edge anytime we read German philosophy or literature—I cannot imagine reading Heidegger without it! Moreover, at the present moment, I am currently reading Freud and I find it fascinating to compare the English to the original German version to gain insight into Freud’s nuanced signification. Of course, I’m burying the lead here a bit, because a second language is required as part of this PhD program (or any Comparative Literature program. Indeed, my background in a language, nonetheless a language so essential to philosophic discourse, was absolutely essential to my being accepted.

I have often thought back on that decision I made freshman year. I am elated for taking on this challenge that has changed my perspective on the world, connected me with people all over the world, and introduced me to the vast intricacies and nuances of language."