Some students arrive at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville prepared to dedicate themselves to their studies and pursue their dreams. For Aaron Fellhoetler, finding that motivation took a little longer.
Fellhoetler says he began his college career as “an unremarkable student” who lacked passion and focus. Feeling directionless, he left UT for a semester. When he returned in his sophomore year, the Knoxville native started researching study abroad programs. That is when Sara Easler, now Haslam’s assistant dean for international programs and partnerships, introduced him to UT’s exchange program at Duale Hochschule Baden-Wurttemberg (DHBW) in Mannheim, Germany.
With an academic goal and vision for his future finally in his mind, Fellhoetler then had to tackle another obstacle — his grades, which did not meet the 3.0 GPA requirement for the program. “DHBW was the motivation and direction I needed,” he says. Buoyed by that determination, his GPA “really soared.”
With his much-improved GPA, Fellhoetler was admitted to the DHBW exchange program. He began his time abroad studying in Mannheim with students from UT and around the world. He then landed a marketing and logistics internship with Munich Composites, a company that develops and manufactures high-quality components made from carbon fiber reinforced plastic.
Easler says, “I am so proud of Aaron and all he has been able to accomplish with his study abroad and internship. None of this was an accident or luck — he realized what he wanted, and he strategically pursued it. He worked diligently to increase his competitiveness as an applicant, quickly advanced his German language proficiency and positioned himself for an internship in an industry that is personally and professionally rewarding to him.”
Embracing Hardships and Building Confidence
His first few months in Munich, Fellhoetler says, were the most difficult of his life. “I had to move there without knowing anyone. There were so many nights I cried when it was so hard, but I pushed through and made wonderful friends who feel like a second family now.”
As he bonded with colleagues at Munich Composites who shared his love of cycling, he began to feel like part of a community. His persistence at his internship paid off, with the company offering him a full-time position in marketing and logistics.
Easler was not surprised. “Rarely do you see a student as focused and who works as hard as Aaron has to realize their goals,” she says. “Over the years, I have seen so many students benefit from international experiences, and I think he is a real example of how far one can go when they say ‘yes’ to something that is big and challenging and probably a bit uncomfortable, and to an incredible opportunity that continues to stretch him and the limits of what he is capable of.”
After graduating in December 2022 with a degree in marketing and collateral in international business, Fellhoetler started his new position at Munich Composites in January 2023. Despite the challenges he faced, he encourages anyone curious about studying abroad to take the leap.
“I would say to just do it and to embrace the hardships,” he says. “I never knew how much I could push myself and how much that determination would shape me and help me grow educationally, professionally and personally. I gained a lot more confidence in myself through it all.”
Stacy Estep, writer/publicist, email@example.com