Year at UMSL instills lifelong lessons for German exchange student

by | Apr 18, 2017

Vivien Kneisel has fond memories of the months she spent in St. Louis partway through her academic journey at her home university in northwest Germany.
Vivien Kneisel, exchange student at UMSL

Vivien Kneisel has fond memories of the months she spent in St. Louis partway through her academic journey at her home university in northwest Germany. “Once a Triton, always a Triton,” Kneisel says. She is graduating from Hochschule Bremen with a degree in international management this spring. (Photos courtesy of Vivien Kneisel)

Sometimes a step outside one’s comfort zone is really a giant leap – like when Vivien Kneisel moved out of her parents’ house in the summer of 2015.

“I didn’t just move out – I also moved into a new country on a new continent,” recalls Kneisel, who is from Germany.

As she settled into her new apartment at the University of Missouri–St. Louis that August, she missed home and her family and friends. But she also found a community of people who could relate to what she was going through – students from Brazil, Saudi Arabia and many other places in the world.

Vivien Kneisel with fellow international students

Vivien Kneisel (wearing cape) made friends with people from all over the world during her two semesters at UMSL.

“We were all missing the obvious things but also our local food, our daily routine, our hobbies – and we all shared that and together found a way to cope with all of that,” Kneisel says.

Now, looking back on the two semesters she spent as an exchange student at UMSL, she considers the experience one of the richest of her life.

“I know that it will always be part of me,” she says. “I met amazing people that became close friends, people that changed my opinion towards different topics and people that gave me a broader view, a bigger perspective, so that I can see the world through more than just my eyes.”

Kneisel also experienced a whole different approach to education. In Germany she’d grown accustomed to a very individual focus, along with a deep emphasis on the final exam for each of her courses at Hochschule Bremen.

“After my first week in St. Louis, I already knew this was going to be different,” she says. “There were tests and assignments every week and a lot of presentations and just a lot of work that had to be done every day. So the learning never stopped.”

Enrolled in international business courses at UMSL as well as media studies and public relations, Kneisel welcomed the change.

Vivien Kneisel showing her UMSL pride

UMSL had a life-changing impact on German exchange student Vivien Kneisel, who is currently working in Australia after acquiring a taste for different cultures and countries in St. Louis.

“It wasn’t less hard, but for me it took most of the pressure at finals week away,” she explains, “because you already knew what you achieved during the semester, and it wasn’t all about this last grade anymore.”

Another difference was the range of opportunities to get involved on campus and beyond. The Triton spirit, intercollegiate sports and engagement with the surrounding community added to Kneisel’s sense of purpose and belonging during her stay.

“All of these things build strength, commitment and a community,” she says. “It also shows that you are willing to do something for the greater good, for someone other than yourself without a reward in the form of a grade or money, just because you want to. And I think these kind of commitments give you far more rewards than grades ever will.”

Since leaving St. Louis and the U.S. last summer, Kneisel has moved on to Australia, exploring yet another continent while finishing up her undergraduate thesis from afar.

She still considers that first big step outside her comfort zone – the leap that landed her at UMSL – as the pivotal one.

“I only went to Australia because my time in St. Louis showed me that I wanted to gain even more international and cultural experience,” she says. “I am living with a family in Melbourne and working as a nanny during the week, while I have the weekends for myself to write my thesis and to explore this city and this country and the Australian lifestyle.”

Though she’s unsure where she’ll head next around the globe, she hopes to return to UMSL at some point.

“I know for sure one day I will come back to St. Louis,” Kneisel insists. “Once a Triton, always a Triton.”

The UMSL Experience

Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill