Tufts-in-Tübingen program celebrates 50 years

Fifty years ago, Tufts brought four graduate students to Tübingen University in East Germany to take part in Tufts’ first study abroad program. This past weekend, the Tufts-in-Tübingen program, which later expanded to focus on undergraduates, welcomed back to the Medford/Somerville campus 120 program alumni, ranging from the Class of 1969 to the Class of 2015, to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

The celebration took place on Saturday, Oct. 10 and Sunday, Oct. 11, and included a meet-and-greet with other alumni, a dinner and several panels and presentations.

Professor Sol Gittleman, the keynote speaker at the dinner on Saturday night, was one of the founders of the program. Gittleman had completed a Fulbright Scholarship in Tübingen in 1956, and when Tufts approached him a few years later about a study abroad program, he immediately suggested Tübingen as its location.

“The town was perfect,” he said in an interview with the Daily. “Above all, they had a really good bunch of people on the German side who wanted to help and wanted more American universities involved. We were the first one there, and they grabbed us … There was luck, a lot of luck, a lot of accident, a lot of serendipity, but it all came together.”

Gittleman partially attributed the success of the program to the fact that the Tufts students attending Tufts-in-Tübingen were completely immersed in the German culture and language.

“We totally integrated [them] into the German system, and it was the right thing to do,” he said.

According to the Program Resident Director Ute Link, the continued close collaboration between Tufts and the University of Tübingen has been a vital aspect of the program’s success.

“What defines the program is that it was born from both Tufts University and the University of Tübingen,” Link said. “It’s a combination of everyone who’s involved.”

One of those involved in this collaboration was Bob Asch, the first program director, who held the position for over 20 years, according to Gittleman.

“For more than half of the…[program’s existence], the heart and soul of [it] was Bob Asch,” Gittleman said in his speech on Saturday, drawing cheers and applause from the audience of alumni.

“[Asch] did everything you could hope a director would do in a [year abroad] for a kid,” Gittleman said in an interview with the Daily. “[He was able] to make…American [kids] feel at home, [to] welcome and thoroughly [integrate then] into the German system.”

After Asch passed away in 2001, Link, who had worked with Asch for years, moved into the Resident Program Director position.

“It was a natural transition,” Gittleman said. “Everything [depends] on how your director [is], and we’ve had the best. We had Bob, and…now we’ve got Ute.”

Senior Sara Fuhrman, who studied in Tübingen during the 2015 spring semester, spoke highly of Link.

“She was like a mother while I was abroad,” she said. “If you have homesickness issues, Ute is the mother figure that you need to have when you’re thrown into those new situations.”

Today, Tufts students studying in Tübingen go through a two-month language orientation program, take classes in German and are given the opportunity to become involved in extracurricular activities and internships in Germany, according to Gittleman.

Fuhrman expressed an appreciation for the program’s immersive approach.

“I think the ability to be completely immersed in the language was invaluable,” she said.

Fuhrman explained that while her experience in Tübingen was an overwhelmingly positive one, it was not without its challenges. For Fuhrman, her internship at a German hospital contributed to her initial difficulties.

“At first I felt incompetent because of the language barrier,” she said. “We’re not taught medical terms in German class.

A panel of program alumni spoke on Sunday about their experiences in Tübingen. From the Class of 1979 to the Class of 2012, all shared fond memories of their time in Tübingen.

“You come out of it fearless,” Marian Swain (A’12) said in the panel discussion.

The other panelists agreed, sharing stories of their own newly discovered confidence and self-sufficiency.

Professor Doris Pfaffinger of the German department, who ran the weekend’s event, said she organized the panel with these shared experiences in mind.

“We wanted a program that would foster exchange of these stories,” she said. “The alumni came from…all over the United States to attend this two-day event. It just shows how they still feel strong bonds.”

Throughout the weekend, it became clear that Tufts-in-Tübingen has had a long-lasting impact on its alumni, Gittleman explained.

“The 50th anniversary was attributed to the impact it made on these people’s lives,” he said. “The fact that we had 120 people at the dinner, and then they stayed for the whole next day too … They wanted to see each other — they wanted to see us. This was life-changing … You get a sense of how much it meant to them.”

Pfaffinger echoed his sentiments.

“I didn’t know that somehow all these [alumni] would come back and still feel so close…not just to Tübingen but also to the language and to the program,” she said. “That, for me, made…the reunion…worthwhile.”

The Tufts-in-Tübingen program is open to students who have taken at least two years of college-level German and meet the general study abroad eligibility requirements. Students can apply to study abroad in Tübingen for a full year or for just a semester.

“It’s a family, in a way,” Pfaffinger said of the Tufts-in-Tübingen alumni, faculty and former faculty. “An extended, large family.”

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