One ocean away

Olivia Melsha, 2019 KHS graduate, knew no one when she moved to Germany after high school. Photo courtesy of Olivia Melsha

Olivia Melsha knew no one when she moved 4,500 miles away. As an 18-year-old, it was her first time living away from home. In 2019, Melsha moved into her own apartment in a foreign country. 

At first, Melsha, 2019 KHS graduate, planned on going to college in Missouri and studying abroad in Germany. But over the summer before her senior year, Melsha traveled with the German American Partnership Program (GAPP), the exchange program at KHS and started thinking about moving to Germany instead. 

“Students in America have in their head that they have to do certain things,” Melsha said. “[They believe] everyone has to do four years of high school, then directly after that [they have to do] four years in an American college. I felt like my life was already planned because I was stuck in [the mindset of] ‘everyone has to do the same thing.’”

Melsha said planning for Germany during her senior year was hard because she knew no one who had moved there after high school. She spent five hours a week taking German classes outside of school and two to three hours researching. 

“The first year I got to Germany was the hardest because I had to set up everything in a foreign country [and] language,” Melsha said. “[I had to set up a] bank account, phone, insurance, apartment and apply to universities.”

If you have a goal but it seems out of reach, go for it even if you don’t know how it’s going to end up.”

— Olivia Melsha

Melsha spent her first year in Germany studying general subjects for international students and going to different cities to take entrance exams. In 2020, she got accepted into the linguistics program at the University of Potsdam. She said German and U.S. schools are different.

“German universities don’t hold your hand that much,” Melsha said. “They expect you to be way more independent, self advocate, do everything yourself and be more responsible.”

Melsha said another difference is that German colleges don’t have extracurriculars and on-campus living, which makes their tuition free. She said she only pays for transportation to her university. Leo Barton, 2021 KHS graduate, considered moving to Germany and asked Melsha for advice. Bartin decided to attend Mizzou and do the German study abroad program. 

“[Studying abroad] is a lot easier [than moving to Germany] because I’ll have housing [already planned and] connections back to America,” Barton said. “I’ll be able to easily get into a university, and I won’t have to worry about all of the costs I would have had I just moved there.”

Barton and Melsha both wish there were more resources for students interested in moving to Germany. Larry Anderson, KHS German teacher, said he tries to give his students as many travel and study abroad resources as possible. Anderson thinks studying abroad, traveling or living in a foreign country is a great opportunity.

Melsha traveled to different cities taking entrance exams during her first year in Germany. Then, she got accepted into the University of Potsdam. (Audrey Turley)

“It’s good for us to see the world through a different lens,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t mean we have to change what we believe [or] our values, but if I can put myself in the shoes of other people I can be more emphatic, sympathetic and realize [that] there may be more than one way to see a problem.”

Melsha has made friends from all over the world and said she has learned about different cultures. She has met people from places like Asia, Africa and South America, and her best friend is from Colombia. 

“Everyone is really the same,” Melsha said. “It’s crazy that you can have so much in common with someone who grew up on the opposite end of the world than you.”

According to Melsha, another benefit of moving to Germany is easier transportation. She also likes how inexpensive it is to travel to other countries. She has flown to places like Paris, Spain, Prague and Portugal for less than 30-50 Euros round trip. 

It’s crazy that you can have so much in common with someone who grew up on the opposite end of the world than you.”

— Olivia Melsha

“Sometimes I get frustrated living [in Germany and] feel like I’m missing out on what my friends are doing in America,” Melsha said. “But whenever I get frustrated I have to remind myself this is what I was working for, and I’m finally here and living this dream.”

Melsha believes moving to Germany has helped her grow. She said she has improved her German and has learned how to advocate for herself because of everything she’s had to organize on her own.

“If you have a goal but it seems out of reach, go for it even if you don’t know how it’s going to end up,” Melsha said. “I was worried about whether I could even study and live here, but instead of just ignoring this dream, I did all I could to get here. If you want to do something, make it happen.”