If you think it’s hard to make sense of all the jargon in a physiological optics lecture, just imagine doing so as a brand new student in a whole new country! That’s what Babette Laumeister and Simon Hauser, two students from the optometry program at Aalen University, are currently doing at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. Aalen University is one of four schools in Germany that offer an optometry program. At Aalen, Simon and Babette enjoy an opticianry-meets-optometry curriculum spanning 3.5 years – including the option to knock out their elective credits by studying abroad. They’ve been tossed into the deep end of the pool right away at PUCO, sitting in on advanced 2nd and 3rd year optometry classes, and haven’t missed a beat.
OS: Where in Germany are you from?
Simon: I’m from a small village called Weisenbach in the south west of Germany.
Babette: Marktheidenfeld, which is in Bavaria.
Simon: In my free time I like spending time with my friends and I love playing football (soccer). I’m also interested in other sports whether it is on the field, in the stadium or on TV.
Babette: Hanging around with friends, doing sports.
OS: What made you interested in a career in optometry?
Simon: This profession offers an interesting variety of activities, including optical, technical and health care parts.
Babette: The different kind of work, technically and medically.
OS: How is optometry different in Europe compared to the United States? What will you do every day at work as an optometrist?
Simon: In Europe optometry has a strong technical background. The daily work as an optometrist in Germany includes refraction, contact lens fitting, dispensing, and the screening for eye disease. You are not allowed to use drugs for your examination and you are not permitted to diagnose or to treat eye disease.
Babette: You have to compare between the different countries. In Germany, you are allowed to give a glasses prescription, fit contact lenses, and sell frames, but you are not allowed to do any diagnostics, give eye drops, or do injections.
OS: What are the requirements to go to your school’s program? Did you have to go to any university beforehand?
Simon: You need an entrance requirement for higher education. But you don’t have to go to another university before. You can start your study in optometry immediately after high school.
Babette: You don´t have to go to a university at first. You can start immediately after high school. You have to apply for it and they select the students depending on their certification. There is a limited sum of students per semester.
Simon: Our schedule at Pacific University looks nearly similar to our schedule in Germany. We do also have different kinds of labs and classes. But we don’t have a clinical part.
Babette: It’s similar to the one at Pacific University. You have labs and classes during the day labs and you have to prepare and learn for classes.
OS: What made you want to visit Pacific University and Oregon?
Simon: I think doing a semester abroad is a great opportunity to grow at personal and professional level. The cooperation between Pacific University and Aalen University makes it easy for optometry students from Aalen to spend a semester abroad in Forest Grove. I have always been interested in visiting the United States and this is a unique opportunity to come over here for a longer period of time.
Babette: I informed myself about the possibility to go abroad for a semester to get the experience to study in a foreign language and learn more about the field of work of an O.D., since we will earn a B.Sc. in Germany.
OS: What is your favorite memory since coming to Pacific University?
Simon: A had a very good time at the Opto-Rock talent show. (Opto-Rock is PUCO’s annual talent show)
Babette: I’ve only been here for two and a half weeks so far. So I wouldn’t say [I have a favorite] memory yet. My favorite experience is definitely that everybody is very helpful, friendly and interested to learn more about you and the country where you are from.
OS: Do you plan to travel (or have you traveled) to other places outside of Oregon during your stay?
Simon: I spent four days in Seattle during the Spring Break. I had a really fun time exploring the city and the weather was awesome. In June, Babette and I will go to the Optometry Meeting in San Diego. We are really looking forward to this event. After my stay in Forest Grove I will do a road trip along the Pacific Coast and through California.
Babette: I haven´t time yet for a trip. But in August I have planned to go north to Washington and Canada.
OS: Do you think you will be able to use the knowledge you learn at Pacific when you go home and work as an optometrist?
Simon: Yes I think so. This exchange program gives me the opportunity to see optometry in a new light. There are several things I already learned at Pacific that will help me to work as an optometrist in Germany.
Babette: Yeah I’m pretty sure about it. Everything I’ve learned is so practical so it will be easy to use some of the knowledge.
OS: What is the biggest difference you noticed about optometry school in the US compared to Germany?
Simon: The optometry program at Pacific University offers a lot more courses which treat the health care part of optometry. Another difference is that there are several clinics attached to Pacific University. I think that’s a great opportunity to gain experiences beside the classes and labs.
Babette: In Germany there is a distance between the professor and the students. And in the US it is completely different. The professors like making jokes, showing home movies (for example, in pediatrics class) to illustrate concepts, and call the students with their first name. I prefer the cooperation in the US universities because it’s more effective and motivating.
OS: What do you miss most about your home?
Simon: The German bread.
Babette: The German bread. If you visit Germany you have to try it!
OS: That must be some good bread! I’ll have to have some if I get the chance to visit. If I visit one place in Germany, where should I go?
Simon: There are a lot of interesting places to visit in Germany. I would recommend you visit Berlin. It’s the capital of Germany and offers an interesting mixture of old and new. It’s a historical city where you can see a lot of relevant historical places. Another reason to visit Berlin is the famous nightlife of the city.
Babette: I would say Munich. It is a beautiful city, and you only need less than a hour to get to a fantastic lake (Chiemsee) where you can go windsurfing. Also, the mountains along the lake are perfect for hiking, climbing, and skiing. And if you are in Munich you have to try the white sausage with pretzel, sweet mustard, and beer. It is awesome!