In March 2020, as coronavirus prompted stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions across the U.S. and internationally, Cal State Fullerton ensured that no Titans were left behind when they arranged the evacuation of 43 students who were studying abroad in 14 countries.
Among the repatriated students was Chris Keith ’20, a marketing senior at CSUF’s Mihaylo College of Business and Economics who was spending spring 2020 studying business at SRH Heidelberg University in Germany when the pandemic began.
Keith is home safe in Orange County, living with his sisters and parents as Californians remain sheltered in place. But he says that despite the premature conclusion, his more than a month in Germany was an enlightening experience that he hopes to repeat again.
“My main motivation was I had never left the country, and this was a chance to do something new before I graduate in December. After college, if you want to be somewhere else for a while, you have to pick up your whole life and move; so study abroad was a great opportunity for me,” he says. “I also wanted to challenge myself and see how I would handle living in a different culture. And I wanted to see all the sites and visit all the cool cities and places and go on trips. And meet a lot of people and grow from the experience.”
Gaining a Global Perspective in Germany
Heidelberg is a city of 160,000 people in southwest Germany some 55 miles south of Frankfurt and has been a major college town since the 1300s. Keith lived in an apartment complex in Heidelberg with other international students from the U.S., South America, other European countries and a few German nationals.
“It was a really diverse group of people. There were 15 of us that arrived that first week of February. We all ended up being super close and hanging out all the time,” says Keith. “It was really interesting to see how other people in the world think. And we had conversations on how our lives and upbringings were so different, but we were together at the same place and same time.”
Though Keith returned home before most of his planned trips across Germany, he still enjoyed visiting Cologne, a 2,000-year-old city of more than 1 million people along the Rhine River famous for its gothic architecture. Despite being heavily damaged in World War II, the city is once again a major inland port, as well as a financial and manufacturing center.
A Hasty Evacuation
On March 12, Keith received a message from officials at Cal State Fullerton, telling him to prepare to return to the U.S. due to the coronavirus pandemic. On March 19, the marketing senior arrived back in California, landing at Los Angeles International Airport.
In accordance with policy best practices and out of concern for the health of his family, Keith was quarantined at a Los Angeles area hotel for two weeks before returning home in early April. Keith remained healthy the entire time.
“I stayed at the hotel for two weeks, and my sister dropped off a bunch of food for me at the beginning, so I lived off that,” he says.
With very low virus-related fatality rates and a cautiously reopening economy, Germany may have weathered the coronavirus storm – at least so far – better than the United States.
Still, Keith says special circumstances made it imperative for him to return to the harder-hit United States.
“I’m diabetic, and I need medicines, and while I could find what I needed over there to survive, there are medical supplies I’m comfortable using that I was going to have shipped to me during my semester there, and with all this going on, my biggest worry was that I wouldn’t get the supplies I needed to live,” he says. “I also didn’t know exactly how bad it was going to get, so I understood it was the right decision to come home, but it didn’t make things any easier.”
Gaining Experience at CSUF and Preparing for the Future
Besides studying abroad, Keith looks back at two high points during his Cal State Fullerton experience: his leadership involvement in the Sigma Pi fraternity and the applied experience that Mihaylo College faculty incorporate into the classroom experience.
“On the first point, I was part of one of the first classes to become initiated in the fraternity back in 2015-2016. And I had a handful of leadership positions. I did a lot of work to help start that, which taught me a lot about working in an organization and how to lead,” he says.
“Secondly, in my Mihaylo College experience, I was not expecting as many great teachers as I’ve had, especially taking so many evening classes. Many professors have a lot of inspiring stories. They all seem to work as well as teach. They lead other lives, and they still love teaching and doing what they do, so they do both. And learning from people who are currently working in the field they are teaching about is special.”
Keith also noted the synthesis between teaching and professional experience with his professor at SRH Heidelberg.
“The professor I had was working in sales and instructing a sales class and bringing that outside experience into his teaching,” he says.
Looking beyond graduation at the end of 2020, Keith eventually plans to start his own marketing business, but he looks forward to first working for an established company to gain experience.
“I really do like the creativity and storytelling behind all kinds of marketing, which inspires me,” he says. “I’m hoping to eventually have my own digital marketing firm in the far future, but after graduation, I’d be very happy to find a job working for a company that I like, doing something with digital marketing and learning the ropes of the business before I jump into entrepreneurship.
“I try to keep an open mind. Wherever life takes me, it will take me, and I’ll go along for the ride.”