Efforts of International Club’s president incite record-breaking membership
“I just love life and all of its facets.”
These are the words of junior studio art major Vivien-Sara Fechner, who has been nominated for this edition’s “Student Spotlight” due to her tireless efforts with International Club.
At 21 years old, Fechner has completed much already. Her crowning achievement (thus far) is becoming the UALR International Club President, where she gave the group not only a rich Calendar of Events, but also a recognizable face and name on this campus. She has also become a model ambassador for her home country of Germany.
Fechner is a studio art major with an emphasis in photography and a marketing minor. She is from Berlin, Germany with three siblings whose ages range from 8 to 38. Both her parents worked for a lightbulb company in Germany where they first met.
The International Club president first came to the United States in 2007 as part of a foreign exchange program. She attended Lisa Academy in West Little Rock during the academic year. Fechner returned to Little Rock in 2011 to attend UALR. She is now a Donaghey Scholar.
Before college, Fechner attended Max-Beckmann, a bilingual high school with 400 to 500 students. She did not participate in any extracurriculars in high school because Max-Beckmann, like most schools in Germany, is only academic in nature (meaning no school sports teams or homecoming). However, the country participates widely in league teams.
The international ambassador loves to dance. She has danced since she was four years old, stopping only when she came to the US because she was too busy to pick it up again. She was also active in a sport called “handball” that she played for five years, which is sort of a combination between basketball and soccer. Though handball may be unfamiliar to many Americans, the sport is very popular in Europe.
“One food I couldn’t live without? Mashed potatoes. I could live off mashed potatoes. I could eat them with any kind of meal as a side.” Fechner said Germany is known as the “Potatoheads” of Europe and for good reason: they consume “a lot of potatoes.” She is no exception.
“[I love] creamy mashed potatoes, no skin. Skin is just being lazy,” she contends.
Fechner said that she always wanted to be a teacher, but photography became her passion when she first came to the United States at a time when Skype was not fully developed.
“It started in 2007 when I came to the US–this is the era of MSN Messenger. I only saw my family three or four times that whole year, so we really relied on communicated over images. But I couldn’t describe to them all of these emotions in words–what did I see?, what did I feel?–but photography allowed me to put stories into photos without saying words.”
Fechner said she likes all genres of music, but would cite Michael Buble as her favorite artist.
“I love his voice, and his music is calming, positive and classic. It takes me back to a different time,” she said.
Fechner joined the International Club in 2012 when the current president was Georgette Huyler. After the International Club attended a conference the last academic year, they learned how to grow and organize different activities.
“I was very determined to get things done. There was room to grow,” Fechner said. “So when I had a plan for fall 2012 completely laid out in spring 2012, that’s when I got voted to become president.”
Since Fechner took office, the International Club has grown considerably.
“It had 60 members when I started, and as of today we have 362 active members,” she said.
The club’s growth might be the direct result of Fechner’s encouraging active participation in club events.
“One thing I introduced which I’m very proud of, is our biweekly off-campus meetings. We rotate between Buffalo Wild Wings, the Rave and Professor Bowl.”
Fechner said the meetings are especially important to internationals who first come to UALR.
“They’re lost when they first come here and don’t know anyone. Their families are overseas, so do they ask if they have a problem? So at least every two weeks, this allows them to get out and socialize. It is a casual, affordable way of recharging from school. It is purely student-oriented with no agenda.”
She remembers fondly one meeting last semester in which eighty students met at Bar Louie.
“We took up nearly half the restaurant,” she recalls.
The International Club president plans to end the year with a bang at the Cinco de Mayo/Finale Honor Banquet in May. This event will recognize the members of the International Club who have excelled in their club, academic and athletic duties. More details to come.
Fechner learned English in ninth grade at Max-Beckmann. She is fluent in both German and English, but she has taken five years of French, two years of Spanish and one year of Latin. Since arriving in the US, she has become more aware and appreciate of her own native language.
“I would say that our language is truthful, direct, straightforward and descriptive (though ‘descriptive’ you might say that of any language). Interestingly, I never noticed before how German sounds so ‘huh-huh-huh’ (at this, she made a hacking noise) until I came here and everyone said our language sounds like that,” Fechner said.
The German native shared some preconceptions she held before arriving in the States.
“There are definitely stereotypes people in Europe apply to Americans. I expected everyone to drive their car quite a bit more than in Europe, where we walk most of the time,” she said. “Furthermore I expected people to be very welcoming, because that is what the American culture is displayed as. Both things are very true as far as I can tell! In fact I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of the American culture, and people’s willingness to help those around them.”
Fechner said the main cultural difference between Germany and America is each country’s mentality towards time.
“In Germany, if a workday starts at 8 a.m., you better be at work at 7:30, so you can take your coat off, make your coffee, turn on your computer and be prepared to start working at 8 a.m.,” Fechner said. “In America it seems as if starting a workday at 8 a.m., means leaving the house five minutes before. Is either one of these ways wrong? We could argue for hours, or just accept that these are characteristics of a culture we will have to face.”
She said another cultural difference would be the way Germans and Americans make plans with friends.
“In Germany, we decide on Monday that we are having a barbecue and game night on Friday [We decide] who is bringing what, where we are meeting and at what time. In America, my friends tell me ‘We will see how it goes’ on Friday when we are supposed to hang out. In Germany people would be nervous and freaked out by the idea of not knowing their plans for the weekend.”
The international student said that American culture is “a lot more laid back when it comes to time, which allows people to be more flexible and relax.”
“Oftentimes, plans stress me out, because I tend to plan every aspect of my day! What I am trying to say is that I am holding on to part of my German culture, because it allows me to prepare, plan and organize for things especially in the work field, where one expects professionalism. In my personal life I try to let in part of the American culture to help me relax and not stress out about what time I am going to meet with my friends!”
Other than family, Fechner said what she missed most about Germany was the food.
“I think I gain ten pounds every summer, because I try to take in enough German meals for the rest of the year. I miss walking to places and just enjoying the weather and observing people around me. There is something about walking to places, that allows you to observe and appreciate your surroundings.”
“Of course,” she added, “I miss my friends back home! The few people I consider friends are part of my family.”
Fechner said that she would describe herself in three words: determined, passionate, and a perfectionist.
“Once I set myself a goal, I don’t lose sight of it and I am determined to reach it. I’ll walk the extra mile to make sure I get something done perfectly, and I’m not gonna do something if I’m not passionate about it,” she explained.
Fechner’s father created a video for her when she turned eighteen, and in the video he placed a quote in it that she has always remembered.
“People always want freedom, but they don’t realize that freedom comes with taking responsibility.”