For 70 years, Wayne State’s Junior Year in Munich (JYM) program has been offering students the opportunity to study abroad in Germany, making it the oldest U.S.-based German study abroad program in the nation. And it’s every bit as popular today as it was when it began.
The secret to its popularity lies in the truly immersive experience it offers students, who get to live and go to school in Germany for a year or a semester.
“I think there have been really good people running the program from the beginning,” said Associate Professor of German and Director of the Junior Year in Munich Program Lisabeth Hock. “The most important thing is our students, though. They are the heart and soul of the program and the ones who give the program life.
“They're the ones who are curious enough and brave enough to want to go abroad and do an immersion program in German instead of one in English. There are plenty of programs with courses taught in English, but they've chosen our program. We also have very generous scholarship support from our alumni, who themselves have said, ‘This was the most important year of my life.’ ”
The JYM program has a partnership with Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich.
“Thanks to our partnership, our students may take classes at the LMU,” Hock said. “The university is a top-ranked university in Germany. We also have a housing relationship with the Studentenwerk, which allows our students to stay in affordable dorm rooms in a city where housing is quite expensive.”
Hock said Munich is also a great location for students who have a wide variety of interests.
"It’s really a good combination of city and countryside,” Hock said. “Munich is a large city — the third largest city in Germany — but you've also got the Alps right there, so you can be in a city one day and then go skiing the next. The city is in the southern part of Germany, but it’s centrally located in Europe. One thing that I like about Munich is that it’s known for its traditions, but it's also a very contemporary city. It's very diverse and modern, but at the same time you have traditions like Oktoberfest so you kind of get a little bit of everything there. In the second semester, students have the chance to pursue internships in their fields of interest. We’ve had students at a pharmacy, a secondary school, a insurance company and even an independent radio station."
One of the highlights of the JYM program is that it’s fully immersive. As some of the alumni like to say, they aren’t on vacation. Students in the JYM program get the full German experience
“JYM is completely unique,” said Liam McCracken, who went through the program during the 2021-22 school year. “The ability to live in a country for a year is a wonderful, but also necessary aspect of a study abroad that allows the student to become immersed in another culture. There is a large adjustment period to living in a new country that takes several months or longer. Since JYM lasts a year, this happens in the fall/winter months.
“By the end of winter, you feel comfortable and confident with living in Munich and are able to enjoy your time in this new place better. The language at this point is not as daunting, you have a routine, you know a lot of cool places to go to or have lists of places you want to go to. You have made friends and not just acquaintances. Typical programs that only last a semester or less would end just as this is happening, but JYM helps you to cultivate all these seeds you planted in the fall and winter to bloom in the spring and summer with all sorts of amazing adventures, experiences and learning.”
Four semesters of college German are required to go through the JYM program.
Jocelyn Nitta, who went through the program during the 2021-22 school year, said she was really nervous about speaking German in public at first, but it didn’t take her long to adapt.
“I would say the most surprising part for me was how kind and patient people were when I was trying to speak German to them and how fast I got over speaking German in public to strangers,” Nitta said. "Going into JYM, I was very nervous about having to speak German to strangers and I was very self-conscious about messing up and making mistakes. I was so pleasantly surprised with how nice and patient people were, and after a month or two, I stopped overthinking about possibly making mistakes and I just spoke to the best of my capability. In the end, I was able to just embrace my mistakes while speaking and just push through it because learning and speaking it was the best way for me to improve my German.”
Nitta’s sister Manon also went through the JYM program, which helped inspire her to go.
“I enjoyed and will remember all the big moments of being able to travel to new places and learn a new culture and their history, but most of all I will remember the small moments, the ones that I hold close to my heart and that I will never forget for it has been woven into the very essence of my soul,” Nitta said.
“Those small moments — of sitting on the hill in Olympiapark sharing a bottle of wine while watching our first sunset in Munich. It is sitting sipping an espresso in an Italian café while gazing at the mountains. It’s swimming in the Eisbach on a hot summer day. It’s doing a hike at 3 a.m. and huddling for warmth and looking over the Alps — catching the first glimpse of the sun over its peaks. It is in studying in the Glyptothek, and it is the experience of jumping into the Northern Sea at dawn in Denmark. It is in these minuscule moments with people that I found while on JYM that I enjoyed the most.”
Students who participate in the JYM program also learn how to be more independent since they are living in a country far away from family and friends.
“The students get to be in another world for one year and they are very independent — much more independent than they are in the states,” Hock said. “They have their own apartments in Germany. They have to cook and shop for themselves. The German university itself requires a lot more independence of students. You don't have these everyday homework assignments, which is sometimes kind of tough for some students. The funny thing for me is, I've been meeting with alumni who go back 70 years now, and even though Germany has changed radically in 70 years, they all say it was the most important year of their lives as far as their development. They just become completely different people and they gain intercultural competence. They deepen their language skills; they deepen their self-confidence. I think it's a place where you can kind of try out things. And so, I just think that that that personal aspect is really amazing.”
McCracken admitted it was difficult being on his own in a foreign country at first, but he was able to get through it.
“In the beginning everything was challenging,” McCracken said. “I was so exhausted every day being surrounded by a language that wasn’t my native language. Things that you would think would be simple were stressful, such as grocery shopping or navigating the U-Bahn, but with time and perseverance everything got better and worked out amazingly in the end.”
Nitta said she’s most proud of how she handled being so far away from home.
“The most rewarding part was gaining this confidence in myself and my own capabilities,” Nitta said. “JYM was the first time I moved completely away from my family and friends who have known me my whole life and having my support system within hours of me. I think that this experience was so important in learning about myself, my capabilities, my confidence and my independence. JYM truly changed my life and I think that I learned so much about myself and was able to take a step back and really dig deep into what makes me happy and what I want my future to look like. Now that I have had the JYM experience and have lived away from my family for a year, I feel more comfortable in this next chapter of my life and navigating change and new places — more than I think I have ever been.”
Recommended by alumni
Hock said all the JYM alumni she talks to are glad they went through the program and quick to recommend it to others.
“I would recommend JYM because of how unique the program is,” Nitta said. “I got to live in Germany, in a German student-living village, go to a German university and have the opportunity to travel. I got to live in another country, while improving my German-language skills, learning how to be independent, and learning so much about myself, and so much personal growth. I got to take courses in German, and it is so immersive and interactive. The courses are so unique and have such a good balance with content, while also learning so much about Munich itself. The relationship and bonds that you make with fellow JYMers is incredible and you make lifelong friends. Munich itself is amazing; you get the best of both worlds — living in a city but being within an hour of the Alps and wilderness. I loved that Munich is so culturally rich and historical — there is always something to do, and I felt like I was always outside and in nature! Everyone says that study abroad changes your life, but I feel like specifically JYM helped me grow in so many facets of my life.”
Lyric Elliott went through the JYM program during the 2019-20 school year and even though the year got cut short by COVID-19, she still loved every second of it.
“I would absolutely recommend the program to others. It is one of the highlights of my life,” Elliott said. “I've said this before and I'll say it again, Germans don't have water in their toilets, jaywalking is a sin, and the bike lanes are vicious. My JYM experience was almost four years ago now and I still speak daily with friends that I made there. Every shared experience, be it excursions, traveling, Oktoberfest, or dive-bar karaoke, was made 1,000% better by the fact it was done with some of the most amazing people I've ever met.”
The JYM program has agreements with several other universities that have students who participate in the JYM program. They also accept applicants from schools without an agreement.
For more information on the JYM program, visit jym.wayne.edu.