When Payton Dugan’s ’21 time at Southwestern began, she never envisioned the twists and turns and new paths she would discover. Her journey has led her across continents and through academic pursuits that ignited her passion for politics, culture, and language. Initially a history major, she pivoted to political science because she was captivated by the engaging professors in the department. Her passion for political science merged with her interest in German when she got involved with the language department and became the vice president of the German club and a tutor. These experiences guided Dugan on a path that has led her beyond her undergraduate years.

During her sophomore year, the pandemic sent her back home, dashing her dreams of studying away in Washington, D.C. However, she did not let the setback deter her. Dugan optimized her time and graduated a semester early. Her capstone project, “Die Wende: The Rise of Right-Wing Populism in Contemporary Germany,” was the culmination of her academic pursuits, merging international relations, German studies, and political science. This research influenced her to continue her study of German politics and culture and eventually participate in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX). CBYX is a fellowship funded by the German Bundestag and the U.S. Department of State that provides 75 American and 75 German young professionals the opportunity to spend one year in each other’s countries, studying, interning, and living with hosts on a cultural immersion program.

“I was encouraged by Associate Professor of German Erika Berroth to apply for CBYX while I was a student, but I decided against it because of my unique graduation schedule,” Dugan said. “However, after graduating and working full-time for almost a year, I decided to look into CBYX again. Upon discovering the age limit for the program is 18-24, I realized I was still eligible to apply. CBYX was a great fit as I wanted full cultural immersion and language learning.”

Dugan has embraced the opportunity to represent the U.S. abroad and now finds herself in Cologne, Germany. Currently, she is attending language immersion classes as part of the CBYX program’s initial requirements. Soon, she will relocate to Greifswald to attend UniversitätGreifswald and begin an internship tailored to her career aspirations. In her short time abroad thus far, Dugan has found more than just academic enrichment; she’s forged profound connections with fellow CBYX participants from diverse backgrounds. The bonds formed through shared experiences have created a support network that promises to endure beyond the program’s end. As she navigates the unfamiliar landscape, Dugan is poised to deepen her relationships with her fellow exchange students and the locals she encounters.

When the exchange program concludes, Dugan’s future remains open. She envisions two paths: securing a job in Germany or returning to the U.S. to continue a career aligned with her political science background. Her time at Southwestern equipped her with a unique perspective, teaching her to forge connections between unrelated concepts and ideas. This philosophy landed her a job at Vaco as an on-site German trainer at Google and led her to participate in CBYX. Her Southwestern Experience also instilled a sense of responsibility and personal growth, which have proven invaluable.

Dugan offers sage advice to current Southwestern students: embrace exploration and seize every opportunity. The transformational years on campus are a chance to discover unexpected passions and talents. She encourages students to keep their eyes on the horizon and their unique path amid challenges, noting that smaller moments shape the bigger picture. Dugan’s journey shows that the University is not just an institution—it’s a launchpad for a future rich with exploration, growth, and connections.