Manuel Abels is not a traditional Ferris Honors student.
Originally from Osnabruck, Germany, this 25-year-old has been traveling and attending different schools for years while studying international politics.
Manuel has been at Ferris since the start of the school year in August, but this isn’t his first time here.
“I was at Ferris already four years ago,” he said. “There’s a program called the German-American Congress Exchange, where you go to the United States from Germany for a year to study for a semester, then you work one semester anywhere in the U.S. And I somehow got placed in Big Rapids.”
(This program also works the other way, so if you want to study in Germany, look into it!)
So, in 2010, Manuel went to Ferris for a semester, and then was hired into the Office of International Education in January once his semester was done. After that, he lived in Chicago for four months, then went to Israel to study for a year, and then went back to his university in Germany to work on his degree.
To get to Ferris the second time, Manuel took advantage of an exchange student agreement between Ferris and his German university. Ferris doesn’t have an international relations program, though, so Manuel is taking classes in communications, history, political science, and economics.
Even though Manuel attends Ferris right now, he pays the tuition of his school in Germany, which is significantly less than it is in the U.S. Since the government there pays for most of the tuition, a German semester costs about $500.
So how does Ferris stack up against the other places Manuel has lived?
“What I really like about Ferris are the opportunities you have,” said Manuel. “All day there’s something going on if you want to hang out with somebody, or there’s always some type of event. I like the teaching style, because the classes are quite small here compared to the classes in Germany where you have sometimes 100 people in one class. So you have so much interaction with the professors themselves.”
Though Manuel agrees that Big Rapids isn’t the “most prosperous city and not the most diverse city,” he doesn’t have many negative experiences to share about his time here.
“I really like that you can quickly get in touch,” Manuel said. “I have friends who are professors here at the university, and the people we meet literally open doors for us. We have a friend who tells us all the time, ‘Come over, use the snowmobile, use the four wheeler, go shooting if you want.’ He gives us everything and is like, ‘Have a good day, use everything I own.’ You wouldn’t get that in Chicago or somewhere else. So I believe the community feeling is so crucial here, which I really enjoy.”
Most of us grumble about it incessantly for months, but Manuel was surprisingly lighthearted when talking about the bitter cold that encompasses Big Rapids for the majority of the year.
“In my city in Germany, we have about a week of snow, and it’s a couple of inches and it’s gone within a couple of days,” Manuel said. “I have never lived in such a cold place. I really had to get used to it. When your nose is freezing from the inside, it’s kind of an experience that is quite unique.”
After Dr. Bradley suggested Manuel check out the Honors Program last semester, he decided to give it a try and joined at the beginning of this semester.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you do it, it’s a great opportunity,’” Manuel explained. “So we applied and got in right away. We met with Charlie, who helped us a lot with grad school applications, and we do the volunteer work, sometimes we go to the events. We’re probably not as involved as someone who’s here already as a freshman and is in Honors because we just entered the program, so it’s quite new to us because the system doesn’t exist in Germany. We had to figure it out and now we’re on the right track.”
Manuel said that he’s often focused on studying on the weekends to get good grades, but he likes to snowmobile, hang out with friends, and even occasionally go out to parties.
Manuel has definitely taken advantage of being in the U.S. and has probably visited more U.S. cities than lot of the people who live here. He’s been to Detroit, Chicago, Miami, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta, and New Orleans. Among all those cities, Chicago is his favorite, where he lived for four months in spring 2011.
As he finishes up his last few months at Ferris, Manuel is looking into grad school in both the United States and Germany. After getting his Master’s and PhD, he aspires to work in the foreign department of the German or American Congress, the European Union, or the United Nations.