Student Profile: Daniela Coffey

Danielle Dreilinger
March 18, 2010
<strong>Hometown:</strong> Malden, Massachusetts<br /> <strong>Major:</strong> Music Education<br /> <strong>Instrument:</strong> Voice
Photo by Danielle Dreilinger

For Daniela Coffey, applying to the Berklee Study Abroad program at the Jazz & Rock Schulen in Freiburg, Germany was a no-brainer. A confirmed fan of Germany since her youth, the music education major already had a boyfriend in the country and a dream of teaching there someday. Before coming to Berklee, she spent two-and-a-half years studying the language at UMass Amherst.

There was, however, a potential issue: Coffey is blind, and the Jazz & Rock Schulen had never had a blind student before. But the teachers were game and so was Coffey. It worked so well that at the end of her semester abroad, Coffey was considering returning to the Jazz & Rock Schulen to study after Berklee. This is a condensed and edited account of our conversation in Freiburg.

Given your goals, Berklee's Freiburg study-abroad program basically could have been designed for you.

The combination of studying music, in Germany—it was exactly what I thought it was going to be. Ever since I was 11 I wanted to be a music teacher, and especially a music teacher in Germany.

How did you get interested in Germany? Is your family German?

I'm not German at all! My dad, he's a Boston guy. My mom, she's Cuban. I guess visiting me was their first time in Europe. I went to school in Cambridge, and my teacher was into history. I thought, "Germany seems interesting. I'd like to go there." It seemed worldly, cosmopolitan. I thought the language sounded really cool. Took a long time to get here!

What did the Berklee study-abroad coordinators say when you applied to the program?

They were perfectly fine with it. They were encouraging. That's the thing I like about Berklee: They make you feel like it is possible.

How have you handled school accommodations for your blindness in Freiburg? At Berklee, you have enlarged texts and a student employee to read to you through the Counseling Center.

It's pretty much the same. I take Harmony I, Ear Training, Ensemble, private lesson, music history. I bought all my Berklee books and gave them to the study-abroad people, and they just said we'll get them enlarged and send them to Freiburg for you. And things were enlarged before class. Whatever your accommodations are at Berklee, you should be able to get them done. You just let the study-abroad office and the Counseling Center know beforehand. It's not a big production.

The Berklee students are mostly taught in separate, English-language classes at the Jazz & Rock Schulen. Are the academics different?

The Freiburg teachers tell us differences so we can be familiar with what they do here—for instance, they don't use movable do [in ear training]. But they teach us using the Berklee system, which is really very helpful. If they were teaching at Berklee I wouldn't have noticed. It's a smaller class, too, so the environment feels very comfortable. In Harmony class we're sitting in a circle just conversing.

How have you found the experience outside of school?

Socially, Germans in particular don't seem to have a problem with me being blind. It's more accepting. It kind of feels like a home to me, more than the U.S. I get their attitude, their humor, their sarcasm. Also, back in the U.S., everybody seems to be cutting out the arts programs in their schools, and in Europe people are passionate about the arts.

What's your advice for Berklee students coming to Freiburg?

The easiest one: Just know some simple German before you get here. If you make the effort to speak with people in German they're a little more welcoming.

I don't know if there's any way to encourage any other blind people to study abroad, any other disabled people. You're not going to be disappointed.