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Northwestern University

Exploring Hamburg

An advanced-level course allows students to combine experiential learning and supervised research in Germany’s second-largest city

Over the last two academic years, a select group of 11 Northwestern University undergraduates have investigated cultural, political and historical subject areas ranging from music and technology to political science and public health.

Seemingly routine endeavors for university life, this 300-level course in the Department of German is anything but, as students in Exploring Hamburg: Experiential Learning through Supervised Research travel to Germany’s second-largest city and conduct first-person interviews in the German language.

Headed by German professors Franziska Lys and Peter Brandes, students sandwich a weeklong trip to Hamburg in between two quarter-length classroom experiences in Evanston.

In the first class, students, who come from various Weinberg College departments as well as other colleges on the Northwestern campus, learn about Hamburg’s past and present before identifying a specific Hamburg-related research project they want to explore.

“By the end of the first course, students must have a full research proposal and interviews lined up with research subjects during their visit to Hamburg,” Lys says.

While in Hamburg, students complete interviews and collect additional research, applying research skills learned in the classroom to their Hamburg experience with the on-hand guidance of Lys and Brandes.

Returning to the Northwestern campus, students tackle a follow-up course that culminates in a digital project they present to German department faculty and other students. Past projects have ranged from an investigation of an E. coli outbreak’s impact on public health in Hamburg to urban gentrification’s influence on the city’s alternative music scene.

“Students learn so many things in these three phases, from how to create a research proposal to having an authentic experience in a foreign country to working through problems themselves,” Lys says.

Art history major Anna Livadaru completed the Exploring Hamburg course earlier this year and says the entire experience — from learning about the historic German city to then exploring it in person and researching her project on Hamburg’s recent tourism boom — proved to be a fascinating adventure guided by two thoughtful instructors.

“I loved the overall experience … [and] am very thankful to have had two instructors who could always answer all my questions objectively and accurately,” Livadaru says. 

Lys hopes the experience helps students improve their research, writing and analytical skills and prepares them for life beyond Northwestern.

“Life is all about experiences and finding solutions to problems,” she says. “The skills this class helps to develop are necessary in any professional environment the students will pursue in their lives.”

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