Faces of UCM: Lindsay Birke


PHOTO SUBMITTED BY LINDSAY BIRKE Lindsay Birke and her German sister Hannah pose for a photo during a ski trip to Italy.

Written by Muleskinner Staff

News Editor

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — If you knew Lindsay Birke before her junior year of high school, you knew a different girl.

Birke said her entire personality changed when she spent a year abroad in Marbach am Neckar, Germany.

Not only did she return from the stay feeling fluent in German, but she also felt more confident than ever.

PHOTO SUBMITTED BY LINDSAY BIRKE Lindsay Birke and her German sister Hannah pose for a photo during a ski trip to Italy.
Lindsay Birke and her German sister Hannah pose for a photo during a ski trip to Italy.

“Before I left I was really a reserved person, very shy,” Birke said. “I never questioned authority. Now, I think I’m more outspoken, I’m more energetic. I approach people rather than them approaching me. I still struggle with being outgoing and being that confident, extroverted person, but I’m definitely not as shy as I was. I’m a much more confident person, and I don’t care about other people’s opinions as much.”

The transformation happened for Birke because of her experience abroad, when she participated in a program called the International Fellowship Class. Two-thirds of the IFC was made up of German students, with the other third being international students from all over the world. The German students hosted the international students during the program.

“I met people from Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia, China, even a girl from New Zealand and one boy from Australia for a little while,” Birke said. “This was my junior year. I left in September, and I didn’t get back until the very beginning of July.”

In Marbach am Neckar, Birke stayed with Hannah Staudenmeyer and her family. She took the opportunity to travel throughout Germany and to other parts of Europe during that year.

“They took me all over the place,” Birke said. “I went to the Black Forest, and I visited her grandparents who lived down there. We went up to the north of Germany and went to a beach. It was cold though. That was the first time I’d ever been to a beach, and it was cold. I wore a coat out on the sand.”

Birke’s host family took her on excursions to France, Spain and Italy. She especially enjoyed visiting the southern part of France, as well as their trip to Italy where they went skiing in February.

“We did a lot, and I was very fortunate with my host family for them to do all those things for me,” she said.

During her nearly year-long stay, Birke grew close to her host family, but also to the other German and international students in her program. When they stayed in a youth hostel in Berlin for a week, Birke said the group prepared meals together and worked as a team.

After dinnertime, they would have a time of shared culture. Birke said the Argentinians would lead the dancing, and her friend from New Zealand would share her favorite music.

“It was really cool getting to experience all of that in one place,” Birke said.

Even more than the culture shock and homesickness associated with international travel, Birke said that saying goodbye at the end of the program was the hardest part.

“I thought that saying goodbye was really hard when I left home, and then I left Germany,” Birke said. “The reason that I think leaving Germany was harder was because when I was leaving home I knew I was coming back. But when I left Germany, there was no guarantee that I would see any of my friends ever again. Even going back to Germany now wouldn’t be the same because all of those people are off in the four corners of the world.”

PHOT SUBMITTED BY LINDSAY BIRKE Lindsay poses with a friend while abroad.
Lindsay poses with a friend while abroad.

Since her year-long stay, Birke has returned to Germany once this past New Year’s Eve.

She said the holiday in Frankfurt was an incredible experience when she saw the city shut down traffic and let people light off fireworks in the streets.

While Birke said she is a psychology major, her minor is in German. As a junior at UCM, she hopes to one day use both skills by living and working in Germany. She plans to either pursue a career using applied behavioral analysis to help children with disabilities like autism or helping people with brain or spinal injuries.

“Right now, I’m doing German just because I love it,” she said. “I fell in love with the language and the culture.”

Birke knows what she wants from life now and said she feels comfortable where she is at, but that wasn’t always the case. She actually transferred to UCM from the University of Missouri-Columbia last year.

“It’s not that I didn’t like Mizzou,” Birke said. “I wasn’t clicking all the way. And as I was learning more and more about applied behavioral analysis, I was drifting toward the fact that I didn’t want to stay at Mizzou.”

She made a pro-con list and decided to come to UCM to be in the certificate program.

“It was like the greatest decision I’ve ever made myself, besides going to Germany,” Birke said. “I really love the atmosphere here, the campus is really great. It’s so much smaller, which is nice for walking. I like the class sizes, and finally getting that one-on-one attention from a professor and them knowing your name without you having to introduce yourself 30 times.”

Now, Birke feels established in her job as a community advisor and in her degree program. She said even though she is a small person, she is strong, strong-willed and stubborn.

She knows what she wants and what is important to her and isn’t afraid to pursue her goals, despite adversity or other people’s opinions.