Beginning college can be intimidating for most incoming freshmen, but for one student in particular, it was a culture shock.
Rachel Braun didn’t have a typical childhood. She grew up in Germany on a military base with her parents and three younger siblings. She had moved to and from America many times over the first 18 years of her life, bouncing around to countless elementary and middle schools and three different high schools.
She calls herself a, “third culture kid,” meaning she grew up in a culture that was not the same as her parents. Braun’s parents are from America, but moved to Germany and gave birth to Braun there.
Braun is a junior studying information sciences and technology at Penn State.
The longest Braun had lived anywhere was when she and her family lived in Germany for about five years during middle and high school. Despite living in the same country, Braun changed schools many times due to various reasons — one being, the base she had lived on up until freshman year of high school had shut down, forcing her and her family to make yet another move to a different base in Germany.
“My mom always said, ‘Home isn’t a location; home is something that you put in boxes and you just have to find a house to put them in,’” says Braun. “So I always think home is where my family is.”
Braun has felt a huge connection to her family. Because she has moved so many times, she has always been in a place where she was constantly meeting new people and making new friends, so her main and constant support system through everything is her family.
“What we value is a lot different,” Braun says.
The importance of family is emphasized much more in Germany than it is in America. When she came to Penn State, she felt like an outcast as she went home fairly often to visit her family, while most students at Penn State never want to leave Happy Valley!
Braun also says that she had never experienced or witnessed racism until coming to Penn State. This may not be directly related to Germany, but she says that because she lived on a military base and went to schools for military kids, there was always a lot of diversity and racism was never an issue.
Living on a military base came with many interesting customs that you wouldn’t experience living in an ordinary American neighborhood. Instead of inviting friends over and having them just walk through the front door, Braun’s parents had to sign in all of her guests if they didn’t live on the base. Of course, none of this seemed odd to Braun because it was her ‘normal,’ but after moving to America, she realized some of her realities growing up were not shared by her American classmates.
Life in Happy Valley
Braun has a tendency to always go for what she wants. Her constant acclimation to new environments has helped shape her ability to try new things and not be afraid to dive in head first.
“I knew that I wanted to go to a super American school,” Braun says. “If I’m going, I want to go all-out.”
Her determination to get involved on campus led her to rush a sorority in the beginning of freshman year. For Braun, this was a big step into American culture because there aren’t sororities back in Germany.
“You do things like Greek life even though you see it on paper and [it seems] like ‘that’s kinda weird,’ but you do it,” says Braun.
She went through the rushing process and realized it wasn’t for her because she couldn’t wrap her mind around it, so she decided to drop, but she didn’t let this deter her from trying new things.
In the beginning of her sophomore year at Penn State, Braun received a “snap bid” for Alpha Phi — a bid into a sorority without having to go through the rush process. She accepted the bid and wanted to get involved in her new sorority as soon as possible. About two weeks in, Braun decided to run for the executive board, and she now serves as the Panhellenic delegate.
Along with being involved in Greek life, Braun wanted to join a business club. She serves on the Investment Committee for Smeal Venture Partners — an organization dedicated to helping students grow their startups.
Unsure about what she wants to do in the future, Braun says, “I really don’t like to be settled; I like trying new things.”
Braun chose to study information science and technology because she has a knack for coding and an eye for detail. She has enjoyed her first few years in the College of IST, but all she knows is that she wants to be able to travel after college. She may want to go into government work, like her dad, or work as an IT consultant.
“Once I start getting in the routine of things, I don’t perform to the best of my ability because I need to be shaken up a little bit,” she says.