Fatema Begum Reflects on German Studies, the German LSA, and the Munich MPI Neuroscience Internship

Hi everyone! My name is Fatema, and I am a Dartmouth '22 from New York City, who majored in Biology. Studying German was the best decision I made during my four years at Dartmouth.

I started with German 1 in my freshman fall and continued with German 2 in the winter. Professors Petra McGillen and Nick Ostrau encouraged a love for the language and because of a spontaneous conversation with Nick Ostrau, I applied for the German LSA my freshman summer with Professor Veronika Fuechtner. 

When I think back to Berlin, I think of standing on top of the columns of the Berlin Konzerthaus and overlooking what must've been a flash mob of a couple of hundred Berliners singing "What a Wonderful World". I think of my host mom and making stuffed peppers and slowly improving my German and sharing in her life and stories of her Greek vacations. I think of my first Doner and the rooftop bar with an unbelievable view of the sunset overlooking Berlin with unbelievable people, of the Berlin Wall at midnight, of refugee tours in a Turkish neighborhood, Kustmuseums, and Holocaust memorials, of German history that challenges you to think and engage with broader societal issues.

More than ever, I felt connected to the people I learned to trust and share my own experiences with. I feel challenged to engage with what is outside my comfort zone, a new language, and connect with people who were once strangers, people who were kind enough to open their homes to us, Regina König, and Jutta Burghard. I feel motivated to resist orthodoxy and tradition because I've seen what happens when we are complicit, complacent, and apathetic in systems of injustice: Dachau and Sachsenhausen. I have so much love for the German language, Berlin, my professors, the people I spent that summer with, and the lessons I learned about humanity, and what it means to be a better citizen of the world.

I continued taking German courses at the Goethe Institute in New York City during my off terms. HIST 52: Modern Germany with Professor Udi Greenberg was one of the best courses I took during my time at Dartmouth, and I would recommend it to everyone interested in German History or studying and working in Germany.

Germany is also one of the strongest places to do neuroscience research in the world and thanks to the German and Biology Department (Professor Veronika Fuechtner, Yuliya Komska, Thomas Jack) and with funding from the Dickey Center, I was able to intern at the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology in Munich. I worked in the laboratory of Dr. Thomas Frank, where I conducted different neurobiological experiments (behavioral measurements, as well as pharmacological and genetic manipulations of serotonin systems), analyzed the ensuing data, and presented the data to colleagues in lab meetings. Housing was set up through the institute's guest house and traveling to other European cities with other interns living in the guest house became even more accessible. This summer, I've met Swedes in Prague, French siblings in Berlin, and a Czech dog in the German Alps, and learned so much from the Danish healthcare system to what life as a filmmaker under the East German DDR was like.

Further inspired by Professor Yuliya Komska's connection to Ukraine, I've also taken every chance I've gotten to listen to the stories of Ukrainian refugees, from a woman who fled with her 6-year-old son to performers keeping traditional Ukrainian folksongs alive. Germany was already the biggest host of refugees in Europe; after the invasion of Ukraine, more than 900,000 Ukrainian refugees also reside here. I listened in awe as the plaza of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin filled with the power of Ganna Gryniva's voice. I listened to the Ukrainian folk singer's music, alongside 66-year-old Edmund from Munich—both of us admiring her strength radiating into the crowd. She spoke about the War in Ukraine, fleeing her homeland, and the power of the Ukrainian folk songs she's collected from grandmothers in the Carpathian Mountains to bring people together as a means of resistance. I recognize the power of listening to, engaging with, and uplifting the stories of individuals who have lived through the war in their struggle for greater liberation. When I spoke to a Ukrainian refugee this July at a protest in Marienplatz, she told me about how she and her six-year-old escaped Donezk. The boy held a sign that said, "I miss my dad," and in red crayon, "Stop Russia Now!!!" I am grateful for the ability to connect and learn from these stories of strength—all thanks to the German language.

Studying German history and the German language and engaging with the culture has motivated me to think more about my place in the world and how I will use and share the immense privilege I have to make the world I inhabit a more equitable and just place. I hope to continue to do neuroscience research and bridge connections between the United States and Germany as I pursue my MD. I will carry these lessons about uplifting the stories of individuals who have survived trauma and war with me in my interactions with underserved populations in the US and global health work elsewhere. I am coming away from this summer more eager to learn about different people and engage with communities with openness and curiosity.

I am so grateful for being lucky enough to learn from Professors Petra McGillen, Nick Ostrau, Yuliya Komska, and especially Veronika Fuechtner, the supportive and encouraging German Studies Department, as well as my cohort of Dartmouth '22s in the 19X LSA, my host mom Regina, the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Dr. Thomas Frank and all the other people I've met along the way for these life experiences. I am more than happy to speak with anyone interested in the study abroad, pursuing an internship at the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology, or conducting neuroscience research as a pre-med in Germany.

I can be reached at bfatema1375@gmail.com.