International students taste top-notch creative-writing program at the UI

Three international students tell the story of their first taste of Iowa’s creative writing program, facing linguistic barriers and making discoveries all in one of the top programs of the nation.


Jenna Galligan

Nika Drnovsek journals in her Hillcrest dorm room on Saturday, September 28, 2019. Nika came to Iowa from Ljubljana, Slovenia to study creative writing for four years.

Kyler Johnson, Arts Reporter

Jenna Galligan
Nika Drnovsek poses for a portrait in her Hillcrest dorm room on Sept. 28. Drnovsek came to Iowa from Ljubljana, Slovenia, to study creative writing for four years.

Three exchange students — Samira Erdmann, Yannik Putsch, and Nika Drnovsek — are contributing to the University of Iowa’s status as the Writing University and crafting their own written works.

These exchange students have taken a leap of faith across the ocean, diving into foreign academic and social environments to take a class on writing.

A special-education major in her home country of Germany, Erdmann is studying at the UI for the semester to take a course in a foreign tongue. She said she has always enjoyed writing, but she has not had an opportunity until her semester here to re-inspire her craft.

“Creative writing is something I’ve gravitated to my whole life,” she said. “I remember sitting in the car just writing stories, and it got lost over the years.”

Taking on a new academic experience in the U.S. has given Erdmann’s international voice a chance to play with the deeper side of the English language.

Putsch, a year-long exchange student in a Foundations of Creative Writing class, said he finds his prior academic experience with English has not allowed him to explore much of the emotion and subtlety that are so often laced into words.

Coming from any other linguistic background; however, there is a worry that certain ideas cannot be translated. Drnosvek, a UI first-year creative-writing major, said although she has been written in English for a long time, she still faces troubles with translating words from her own language.

“Sometimes, I think of words in Slovene or Croatian, and they’re beautiful, but they can’t be translated,” Drnosvek said. “It makes me so frustrated, I’d need a whole paragraph. You can’t give someone a cultural background.”

However, cultural backgrounds can be laced into written words. The three writers all had differing opinions on incorporating their cultural backgrounds into their future pieces. 

“I definitely want to incorporate my culture, my background, in my writing,” she said. “I want it to be very evident in my writing.”

Erdmann and Putsch expressed a concern about the effectiveness of their cultures’ presence if included in their writing, outlining the differences in linguistic education between Germany and the U.S. 

Jenna Galligan
Yannick Putsch poses for a portrait outside Currier Residence Hall on Oct. 1.

Regardless, the students said this program has left a mark on their lives.


“I recognize that being in a course with so many people who are so passionate about creative writing, about literature, re-inspired me,” Erdmann said. “We don’t have any creative writing courses at my university in Germany, but I’m now looking to join groups.”

Drnovsek echoed the sentiment of lacking creative writing in her own country of Slovenia. Creativity isn’t emphasized there, and she wants to bring this inspiration and education back to her own country.

“I think you only recognize good creative writing if you yourself know how to write well creatively,” Putsch said. “I want to be able to give students further input on how to improve, and this class has allowed me to develop that.”