First a brief introduction. Not that it matters, as a majority of readers will likely be my parents, but we will proceed regardless.
I’m Kenneth Bouman. 4th-year (9th-semester) mechanical engineering major from Cincinnati, Ohio. Though I’ve crossed borders into Germany a total of five times, this is really only my second time here. I arrived with (most of) the rest of the group on 27 August, but unlike (most of) the rest of them, I’ll be staying for a full year.
The program I’m enrolled in is called Valparaiso International Engineering Program, or VIEP. If you’re enrolled at VU, they’ve bragged (and rightly so) about it in their ads, and you should totally know what it is. However, since even some of my engineering classmates still don’t know a thing about the program (or inexplicably haven’t heard about it) despite walking past several prominent posters that explain the big points, I’ll fill everybody in. VIEP takes engineering curriculum and adds foreign language. It also adds a year to your study plan, but considering that this year is split between studying abroad and an overseas internship, this extra year is easily worthwhile. There are impressive statistics that accompany the program, but you can look those up yourself if you’re really that interested.
We’ve been busy enough that I haven’t found time to properly formulate coherent thoughts that can give a blog entry a good flow. Instead, I’ll talk about several things that I’ve noticed.
Euros are incredibly well-designed. You can sort through different denominations of Kleingeld (change) and Scheins (bills) by touch alone, and the size of everything is more indicative of its worth than the US equivalents. All of our bills are the same size, while larger Scheins have greater value. Simple. You can read more about the coins if you’re really interested, but I’m just going to share one fact that I find interesting: the front of the coin (the “Common Side”) shows the denomination and some map-like image of Europe, but the reverse (the “National Side”) will be different depending on the country in which it was minted. This is a cool way for the countries to maintain some semblance of a self identity while still associating with the much larger entity of the European Union. The Scheins also have a bunch of security features which I find fascinating, but these don’t need to be discussed here or now.
Infrastructure seems to be developed far beyond that which I’m used to from back home. Recycling is the big one in particular, but much more on that later. Or maybe not, come to think of it. Infrastructure, though interesting to me, is most certainly not interesting to many people.
City planning seems to be more relaxed. Houses don’t necessarily have places to park cars next to them. Some had stair climbs to get from the houses to the road, and these houses may or may not be accessible by car or have a road going to them. (Google Earth helped me confirm this). This may not be true everywhere, but it certainly seems to be the case in Reutlingen.
There are quite a few playgrounds around. Seems like a great place to be a kid. These playgrounds even look to be far more exciting than their US counterparts, though this could be my fresh optimism talking. We’ll see if this is still the case in a few weeks or months.
When walking from Stadtmitte (city center) toward the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) – a 300-meter (3 block) distance – there are a minimum of 5 mobile phone stores. This seems like kind of a lot for a country that I didn’t really imagine as very consumer-centric.
You know how “there’s a Starbucks or a Walmart on every corner” in the US? It seems as though the German analogue might be a Kebob place on every corner. The closest one to our dorms, Campus Kebap, is about a block away.
Smoking seems fairly prevalent, but I could be biased by the fact that my room is situated immediately next to the two-seat smoking balcony for my floor. You get carded at grocery stores if you look like you’re under 18, much as one does in the US with alcohol. Interestingly enough, alcohol doesn’t have nearly the same taboo factor here as it does in the US. It’s perfectly acceptable to be seen in public with open containers of it, and none of us have needed (or likely will need) identification to purchase it.
My group is great. As usual, more on them later. For now, here are their names in alphabetical order: Aaron, Adam, Brittany, Jessica, Jordan, Kellie, Kelsey, Kenneth, Lauren, Nick, Mackenzie, Maria, Micah, Reid, Ryan, and Teddy. We’re spread pretty evenly across three apartments for international students. My experience of meeting more english-speaking non-germans in the dorm echoes what I’ve heard from the rest of the Valpo cohort. Carter Hanson, our director, lives with his wife Michelle and daughters Sophie and Elsa in a nearby apartment building. Classes are all in one room (but at different times, fortunately), which is about a 10-minute walk from the dorms. It takes about 20 minutes to walk into town, but the bus can get you there in less time.
By the way, the ‘eu’ in “Reutlingen” makes an “oy” sound, and rhymes with “boy” or “Freud”. If you’ve been pronouncing Freud incorrectly this whole time, now’s a great time to fix that.
As you may guess from these disjointed observations, they’ve been keeping us very busy. We’ve had two cursory days of classes so far, and are already preparing for a group trip to Berlin beginning tomorrow morning. Though there has been time to relax – to climb a nearby mountain and spend an afternoon at the pool, among other things of course – the whirlwind of stimuli has left room for barely anything else. I would hope that before too long, everybody will be able to settle into something of a routine, but in the meantime, we are a bunch of fulfilled yet busy travelers.