In many ways, it all started because St. Olaf College has a language requirement.
Brynna Freitag ’18 knew she had to take a language — and rather than continuing Spanish, she decided to try something new. Chinese turned out to be the perfect fit.
Now a Chinese and physics major, Freitag remains enthralled with the language.
Learning Chinese opened doors Freitag didn’t know existed. In the summer of 2016, she did a language immersion trip in China after applying for and receiving the Luce Foundation scholarship through the St. Olaf Piper Center For Vocation and Career.
Through the Council on International Educational Exchange, she did an eight-week language program in Shanghai, a city of 24 million people where Freitag knew not a soul. The work was grueling: four hours of class a day, six to eight hours of homework a night, and a four-hour test every Friday.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she says.
Would she ever do it again? Freitag laughs. “I’m toying with the idea, but then I remember how hard it was. I just need to talk myself into it,” she says.
Her time in China challenged how Freitag views the world. Just because something sounds cliché doesn’t mean it’s not true: “Traveling abroad really changes the way you think, especially if you have the right mind set. Voting is a luxury. So is water,” she says.
The decision to study Chinese radically altered Freitag’s life. Her physics major has resulted in a similar impact. Last summer Freitag held a paid, 10-week National Science Foundation sponsored undergraduate position in a mechanical engineering lab at Virginia Tech. She’s also had hands-on research opportunities at St. Olaf, like the Engineering Design Practicum she participated in during Interim. This fall, she will pursue a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Boston University.
In many ways, it all comes down to curiosity, an open mind, a driving willingness to learn.
In the end, it all comes down to Freitag.