Holly Blevins (formerly Lyon) graduated in 2018 with a special major in German Cultural Studies and a BA in Environmental Studies and Planning (ENSP), with a concentration in Conservation and Restoration. She also completed a minor in Biology. Holly is currently working on an MSc. in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation at the University of Potsdam in Germany. She responded to Professor Michaela Grobbel’s questions via email.
While you were at SSU, did you have an idea of what you wanted to do after graduation?
During my undergrad, I studied abroad for a year in Tübingen, Germany through CSU International Programs. After I returned to SSU, I knew that I wanted to live in Germany again for a little while longer, because I enjoyed the culture and opportunities there so much. Aside from that, I wanted to get some work experience.
How did your studies and activities at SSU influence your graduate academic and/or professional choices?
While I was working on my ENSP degree, I took a course in Ecology. I enjoyed the topics in that class very much, because I am interested in how different organisms interact with one another and with their environments. I also developed an interest in plant science. My German classes kept me involved in German topics, which helped me continue to learn about the culture and the language.
How did you find your internships? What did you do?
I found the internships that I had during my undergrad through announcements that were shared to the ENSP listserv. For one of them, I worked at an environmental enrichment summer camp for kids aged 5-12 called Earth Camp, where we practiced naturalist and survivalist skills. For the other, I worked with Solano Land Trust on invasive species monitoring, vegetation surveys, and some mapping with GIS. For my internship required for the special major I interned in the office for CSU International Programs at the University of Tübingen while I studied abroad. Back at Sonoma State, I helped to write the bilingual newsletter "Lobo Welt," and worked as a tutor on campus. I found these opportunities by keeping my ears open and staying involved.
Tell us about your trajectory after SSU, and how did you find out about the graduate program at the University of Potsdam?
I actually was hired on with a company called UDC the day before graduation weekend at SSU! I worked for them as a field technician, using GIS software and other equipment to inventory field assets of a major energy delivery company in California.
At the same time, I was exploring my options for returning to Germany. I found the EEC program at Uni Potsdam through the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) – they offer a database that I used to search for programs that interested me. I narrowed my top choices down to three, and in the end, I decided on Uni Potsdam. I moved here with my partner and our pets in the fall of 2019, a little over three years after I moved back to California from Germany.
How is living and studying in Germany different? What are the benefits of living in Germany and earning a postgraduate degree there?
The many differences are what drew me back to Germany. The geography and politics of European countries provide students many opportunities to travel and study abroad. This means that the international communities in university cities are often thriving and diverse, which provides for a lot of support and a lot of fun! I don’t know exact numbers, but I would estimate that around a third of my cohort is made up of international students, both EU and non-EU.
Studying here is quite different than in the United States, because there are not many assignments throughout the semester. Some courses require a report or a project to be completed during the semester, or maybe a research paper to be written between semesters, but for the most part, the grade I have received in most of my classes so far has been based on my performance in one exam. This has drastically changed the way I study – for the better, I think.
Additionally, the quality of life in Germany is great. The cost of living is low compared to the United States, and the fees for my program are very reasonable – less than $400 USD per semester. Public transportation is abundant and reliable, so I won’t need to get a car while I’m here. And the surreal feeling of living among such history is wild. I am currently enrolled in a one-handed sword fighting class, which takes place in a palace built more than 250 years ago! I wouldn’t find this opportunity in California.
Studying for my master’s in Germany is great, because there is a ton of research and funding going into Ecology and Conservation here. I’m learning from some really knowledgeable professors, and there are some exciting projects going on in the region that open up possibilities for master’s theses or internships.
Has your special major in German Cultural Studies helped you in moving toward your career goals?
Absolutely. I wouldn’t have made it into this program if I couldn’t speak German, which I learned mostly at SSU in the German Cultural Studies program. My senior project compared environmental action in Germany and the United States, which was helpful for my admission to the Master’s Program in Germany. The SSU German program also helped me to learn a lot about the culture; we played board games, cooked German dishes, had movie nights, went to San Francisco for German events, and a lot more. Sharing ideas and experiences with other German language learners and with the German Fulbright Teaching Assistants at SSU was invaluable, and I enjoyed my time there very much.
What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
That is a really tough question. Career opportunities for environmentalists are complicated, and a lot of things are changing rapidly. The world may be a very different place by the time I finish this program (which should be in 2022, if all goes as planned), so I am not setting any firm expectations for where I will be working or living. In any case, I plan to have a few years of experience under my belt, ideally in ecological conservation. I am very passionate about water, and river restoration is an important and growing field, so maybe I will be doing something related to that.
What advice do you have for current students?
Working towards long-term goals requires, naturally, lots of time. I have spent much of the past few years researching my options, making decisions, changing my mind, and researching some more. It takes a lot of careful planning and preparation to move to another country, or to execute any major plan, but it can be done. I think students should expect to dedicate lots of time and mental energy in order to fully flesh out their ideas and dreams and turn them into achievable goals.