Beyond Bowdoin: The Directions German Can Take You

By Tom Porter

When Sam Frizell ’12 reflects on how majoring in German has affected the trajectory of his life, a story about horse manure in an art museum comes to mind.

german grads
L-r: Sabina Hartnett '18, Prof. Jill Smith, Lyne Lucien '13, Sam Frizell '12.

“The first bona fide story I did as a journalist was about an art exhibition in Berlin that featured piles of horse dung. It was a reference to artists in the 1930s whom the Nazi regime had described as ‘degenerate,’” he explained.

At the time, Frizell was based in Berlin as a recent Bowdoin graduate and working for Reuters. It was a memorable start to a journalism career that took him to Time magazine, where he worked in New York and in Washington, DC, as a reporter and staff writer for more than three years.

Frizell then changed direction and became a lawyer, studying at Yale Law School. He now works in so-called complex litigation, but the path to his current position began when he chose to focus on German, he said.

“There seems to be an abundance of money in studying German,” said Frizell, referring to the many funding opportunities available to him in the form of grants and fellowships. “I got a grant to go to Vienna to do my senior thesis, and I got funding to live in Berlin, where I launched my journalism career. There are a lot of resources out there for German majors, so this may help in any discussion you have with your parents!”

Frizell was talking to students at a recent event organized by Bowdoin’s German department with support from the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany as part of their Germany on Campus 2023 programming. He sat on a panel alongside Lyne Lucien '13 and Sabina Hartnett '18 to talk to students and alumni about why they chose to major in German and how it impacted their lives and careers.
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Lyne Lucien ’13, Ruth Olujobi ’25, Jill Smith, and Daniel Wang ’26. 

Hartnett said studying German changed her way of thinking. By learning another language, “I felt like a new door was open to me,” she said. She enjoyed the opportunity that German gave her to become familiar with a new culture and talk to people who are not native English speakers.

After graduation Hartnett spent two years working and living in Germany, first as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant and then as a researcher at the Berlin State Assembly, where she worked on a project studying online hate speech. After that, it was back to the US to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Chicago.

She studied computational and social science, working at the intersection of language and computer science. Hartnett is now a software engineer, and although she no longer speaks German very often, her background in foreign language and culture proves very useful. “When doing text analysis, it’s really useful to ask yourself what something would look like in another language, like German.” Hartnett’s work involves natural language processing, another area of computer science where she says her knowledge of German is helpful.

Lyne Lucien is a New York City-based award-winning graphic artist whose bold, colorful illustrations draw strongly on her Haitian heritage. Her love of art, she explained, blossomed in Bowdoin’s German department, which opened her eyes to artistic movements like surrealism, expressionism, and dadaism. She praised the department’s flexible approach to learning, which nurtured her own creativity.

“I used grant money to go to Berlin, where I spent time digging through a photographic archive and developing research skills,” she recalled. It was a valuable step on her career path and in her personal development, she said: “I was really shy as a student, so going to Germany, where people are extremely direct, helped me change. It pushed me out of my comfort zone.”

There were bumps in the road, she admitted, and the occasional missed deadline, but the department faculty were very supportive in helping her navigate her way through college. “I wanted community, and that’s what I got here.”

germany embassy official logo
The event was part of the Campus Weeks 2023 initiative sponsored by the German Embassy in Washington, DC.

Associate Professor of German and chair of the department Jill Smith, who organized her first alumni panel in 2010, felt that it was high time for another, particularly in the current climate that tends to dismiss the humanities as less-than-advantageous for students’ career paths.

“What all three of these students emphasized," said Smith, "was the department’s high quality of mentoring, our ability to both challenge and support them as unique individuals, and our small, tight-knit community. It was gratifying to hear about their successes, to see them again, and to bring them together with current students.”