A Chennai-an Roller Coaster Ride

Author: Emma Chelsvig

Location: Chennai, India

Within an hour upon landing at the airport in Chennai, India, I was quickly swept into the Indian lifestyle.  I had hopped into an Uber car and had my first experience of India: driving.  Driving in countries may often look different from that of the U.S: the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car, and the movement in lanes is reversed.  However, the roadway experience in Chennai is beyond your typical set of differences.

In Chennai, there are no rules of the road.  Or better yet, there are rules…but no one follows them.  The lines painted on the pavement are simply decorations.  Drivers swerve around one another and weave across lanes and incoming traffic.  Cars, scooters, and autos do U-turns at their leisure.  Heaps of vehicles cram their way forward.  Everyone is going in every which direction.  Occasionally there are stop lights at intersections, but whether the red light actually means “stop” is still a mystery to me.  Sometimes drivers do stop, but other times they do not even question the color of the light—they just go.  

And surrounding this utter madness is a plethora of additional action.  Few roads have usable sidewalks, so everything utilizes the road.  Pedestrians crisscross here and there.  Cows leisurely shuffle down the street.  Dogs jaunt through the traffic.  Street vendors peddle their carts down the center of the road with coconuts in tow.  A cement truck that is working to form a new building’s foundation protrudes into traffic.  Parked vehicles jut from the edges of the roads, therefore pushing all of the action into an ever more crowded space.

My first experience of Chennai’s roadways felt like a roller coaster.  It was exhilarating, but I was pleased when it was over.  But like many excitement-hungry kids, I was ready for another ride.  What drew me in to this chaos?

Perhaps it is the intimacy that this rule-free driving promotes.  While each driver is determined to arrive at their own destination, each one is also highly aware of all of the action that surrounds them.  Life on the road does not feel as sterile as it does back in the U.S.  In the U.S., we are engaged more so with the rules of the road rather than with the people that surround us.  In Chennai—where the rules are not followed—a more aware and tightly-woven community is created.  It is a constant give-and-take relationship where drivers and pedestrians observe one another’s motives and alter theirs to fit into the puzzle.  

I have found there to be so much action in Chennai and so much to take in, but my experiences as a passenger and pedestrian have heightened my awareness and connectedness with the Chennaiites.  Perhaps I tell myself this to provide a reassurance that I won’t die each time I step onto the road.  Nevertheless, I look forward to seeing how Chennai—and India as a whole—will continue to challenge my perspectives on life.

The End of One Chapter and Beginning of Another

Author: Alyson Kneusel

Location: Reutlingen, Germany

My first few days in Germany were a whirlwind of experiences. Everything was new, and I felt I must record every moment. Strangely, as the three day countdown begins for my departure from Germany, I find I feel much the same way. I cherish every experience, because I know it might be my last time doing those activities. Even something as common as taking a train (which is common activity in Germany) became notable again. As my time here comes to an end, I realize how many things I’ll miss and how much I have changed.

On my third to last day in Germany, I took my last final exam, which I think (or hope) went smoothly, and then I began to pack. My roommate and I continually commented on how strange it was to consider leaving. We are excited to return home, but it seems surreal to leave our home here. At night we got a chance to all spend some time with our German teacher, and one of my fellow study abroad students made an interesting comment. He said that he hopes one day to return with his son to Reutlingen and tell him that he is walking where his father once walked. This struck a chord with me because I feel like Reutlingen has become part of me, and I would love to chance to share that with my family.

Today, my second to last day in Germany, I went on a six hour guided hike of Bad Urach with the students from my program, the residential director, and one of our teachers here. It was absolutely beautiful. We climbed up the side of a waterfall, and as I felt the spray land one me, I realized how alive I felt, and how many adventures I have had (I only found out after writing this that my roommate captured the moment in a picture). Shortly after, we bought food at a food stand on top of the waterfall, which consisted of Weisswurst (white sausage) and a pretzel. I realized that I now considered such a meal entirely normal, but just four months ago this would have seemed like something out of a movie. Yet today this was my reality.

Tomorrow will be my very last full day in Germany. Although I have no clue how it will feel, I am sure that at least one tear will be shed. It will be a day of goodbyes to my teachers, new friends, and my fellow study abroad students who have been like my family here. Perhaps the hardest part is that I must face the fact that the chances of seeing many of them again are slim. It is hard to let go of people and places that have changed you so much. However, it will not be all sad. We are going out to my favorite restaurant Barfüsser for a traditional German dinner with our teachers and group for a farewell dinner. Not only will the food be excellent, but it will be a chance to celebrate our time together here in Germany.

If you have ever read a good book, you know that the end is a bittersweet experience. On one hand you are anxious to complete the story and move on the sequel.  On the other you dread the conclusion because that will mean it is over. I find myself continually relating my emotions to this situation. I am really sad for tomorrow to come because that means that possibly the best semester of my life will come to the end.

That being said, every hour we move forward is one hour sooner I get to see my family, friends, and home. In the next two weeks not only will I return to the USA, but I will also watch my little sister graduate from high school, visit my family and my boyfriend who I haven’t seen in months,  and begin an Immunology summer internship at Washington University in St. Louis. I think it is important to remember you never know which way a series will turn. For all I know, there will be a plot twist, and I will end up back in Germany again one day. As I say a tearful goodbye to Reutlingen, I look forward to future and whatever that might have in store for me.

The End…for now!

Alyson Kneusel

Unsolicited Advice

Author: Natalie Wilhelm

Location:  Cergy-Pontoise, France

Hi all! Here we are, already at the end of the semester! Since I’ve made it to seventeen days before my flight home, I feel myself qualified to offer some free advice to anyone who is going abroad or just considering doing a semester à l’étrangère. So here are the four things I wish somebody had told me before I came abroad.

1. You are going to change (a lot)

I have changed so much since coming abroad. I’ve become more determined, more capable, and, strangely, more relaxed. I’ve learned to love life even more than ever before. I savor every minute with my friends, and adore making new ones. My plans for the future have also changed; the picture I have of my future now is different than it was five months ago. And that is okay. Allow yourself to grow while you’re abroad. Take the good with the bad and roll with the punches. You’ll come out the other side stronger and wiser than ever before.

2. It’s okay to miss home

You are going to miss your home, and Valpo, and everything that those places mean to you. Your chest is going to ache with the missing it sometimes. That doesn’t mean that you’re not making the best of your experience abroad. All that means is that you left something behind worth missing. You left people and places that you love, and that is a beautiful thing. Never, ever feel badly or embarrassed for being homesick.

3. It’s okay if you don’t want to move

You do not have to want to drop everything and move to your study country. It’s a common thing for people to say, “OMG, I can’t wait to move back to France/England/Spain and live there FOREVER.” It’s okay if you don’t feel that way. Before this semester, I thought I wanted to work abroad and never go back to the states. But since coming to France, my determination in that has shaken. I miss the U.S. I miss the miles of flat road through Indiana; the rolling hills and mountainside monuments of South Dakota; the ruggedly beautiful, self-assured streets of New Orleans. It’s natural to feel that way. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t picture yourself living abroad forever.

4. You are not a failure

Dear reader, please take this one to heart. There will be days when you will feel utterly exhausted. You will be homesick, tired, and lonely. You’ll miss speaking your native language all the time. Everybody else will seem more well-adjusted than you are. You’ll feel like you’re falling out of love with your study country. And you’ll think, “I’m failing at this. I can’t do this. What was I thinking?” But you are doing it, every single day, even if a day involves nothing more than walking to the bakery or to the post office to mail a post card home. You are learning about yourself and the world. Your beliefs, experiences and faith are being challenged every day. The goal of studying abroad is not to become French/English/Spanish. The goal is to learn, and learning you are. Trust me, it’s going to add up. It’s going to work out. And when you get back home, you’ll have all these amazing stories rattling around in your brain (and people will want to hear them!). So hang in there. Don’t give up!

So there’s my advice that nobody asked for. Keep chugging along, Crusaders. I’ll see you soon.

 

That’s All, Folks!

Author: Natalie Wilhelm

Location: Cergy-Pontoise, France

 Well, Valpo, in just a few short days I’ll be on a plane that’ll take me back across the ocean. My time in France has almost come to an end, and honestly, I’m okay with it. Sometimes, things need to end. They run their course. You’ve learned just about all you can learn, and you’ve exhausted both your motivation and your patience. That, my friends, is how I feel now.

This semester has had a lot of ups and downs – and I’ll be honest, I haven’t enjoyed a lot of it. There have been way too many times when I’ve just wanted to go home. I almost did, in April. My carefully curated blog posts and photos on Instagram don’t reveal that this has been the hardest semester I’ve ever had, period.

This is not to say that I’ve been miserable this whole time. I’ve had amazing opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if I had stayed in Valpo this semester. I have friends in France, Belgium, and Spain. I’ve toured half a dozen museums, mastered the metro system, and tried new coffee shops in Paris. I’ve improved my French. I rounded out the semester by visiting some friends in Aix-en-Provence, which is gorgeous, and in Saumur, where I did my first study abroad.

However, it’s still too early for me to look at this semester with emotional distance. I cannot yet see objectively because I’m still in the thick of it all. There are still things I have to do before I leave: train rides back to Cergy and people to say goodbye to and suitcases to pack. So I don’t want to say too much at this point. It’s way too easy to spill your guts when you’re angry or tired, and then look back a few days later when you’ve had some rest and wish you hadn’t said what you did.

I know that there will be troubles when I am home, as well. It’ll be weird to be living at home again, after spending the last five months living alone, doing whatever I want when I wanted to do it. It’ll be hard to go back to work when I’ve had very little coursework this semester. People will want and require my attention and time. I’ll have to get back into the rhythm of my life, changed though it may be.

Even though these will be the hard things about going home, they’re also the things to which I am looking forward. I can’t wait to see my parents (and my niece who was born on May 19th!). I can’t wait to get back to work and have a fixed schedule. I’m impatient to see my friends and celebrate missed birthdays. People will want to talk to me, and thank God for that. I’ve been alone too long, and I’m pretty tired of it.

So I’ll leave you with this, dear readers: I learned. I changed. I cried. I rejoiced. I thanked God and the universe and my parents every day for the wondrous opportunities I have been given. I’m sure that with a month or two of distance between me and this semester, I’ll be able to reflect more productively on my time here. Until then, I’m counting the days ‘til home.

To Seek and Discover

Blogger: Angelys Torres
Location: Barcelona, Spain

From a young age, my mother has always made it clear that I will be going to college. It was never an option, and there were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. She believes that there is a certain order to life, and that’s the way the majority of people live. First you are a child, then comes school, college, a career, marriage, children, and a life of your own. Who was I to question her? What more could I know?

When it came time to search for colleges, my mom wrote an “Important Questions to Ask” list. On it were questions about academic programs, financial aid, housing, and healthcare. My dad and I only had one question: “How’s the food?” There was one question, however, that my mom never failed to find the answer to. She always asked about study abroad. For her, going away to college equates and most definitely requires studying abroad for a semester. It’s something she always dreamt of but never had the opportunity to do.

It’s now my junior year of college, and she is more nervous than ever that I won’t have enough time to study abroad and “do college right.” But for me, college has never been what you are supposed to do but rather what I make of it. I study Sociology and Criminology because it’s what I enjoy learning. I am president of LIVE because I am proud of my culture. I started a multicultural sorority, and I sit on the Human Relations Council of Valparaiso because I’m passionate about diversity, inclusion, and human rights. I am choosing to study abroad because I believe immersion into other cultures is the best way to learn about people different from myself.

As a 2016 CAPS Fellow I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what I think my calling and purpose in life are. I completed a summer internship with NPH USA, a nonprofit organization that provides housing, healthcare, and education to abandoned, abused, or otherwise at risk children in nine countries across Latin America and the Caribbean. There I learned that tragedy, poverty, and hopelessness come in many forms. There isn’t an umbrella large enough to cover the variety of the stories I have heard. Through my work, I was able to understand a little more of what I am called to do. I am called to ward off pain, burden, agony, and despair. I am called to give hope to the hopeless and a voice to the voiceless. I am called to provide what is missing. I am called to bring resolution and peace.

As I round out my last few semesters on campus, I look to strengthen my call and to understand where it is taking me. I am choosing to study abroad because I seek not only to better my Spanish language skills, not only to learn about a history and a culture so directly linked to my own, not only to learn how other parts of the world serve their people but also, to find myself all over again in a new place. I am choosing to study aboard to learn about the systemic nature of another country, to figure out why some people are disadvantaged, oppressed, neglected and forgotten, why some are not, and how I can work to fill in the gaps. By learning about another country and culture, I will learn a lot about my own.

I am choosing Spain because it’s part of where my people are from. As a Puerto Rican woman, I am a mix of Spanish, African and Taino (native) blood. I am a mix of many cultures that have grown and evolved to become one. Spain is a place where I believe that I will fit in enough to stand out. I am just different enough to feel uncomfortable and to gain real value from my experiences but just similar enough to be independent.  In Barcelona, I will only enhance my education in the way that my mother envisioned me doing. I know that similarly to what I have done with college, it will become what I make of it and from it I will learn more about myself and what I’m called to do.

 

-Angelys

Familia

Blogger: Kortney Cena

Program: San Jose, Costa Rica – Study Center

When you study abroad, you are thrown out of your comfortable little pillow of friends and family, and you must grow an entirely new community. Your cohort becomes like family, and your host family, even more so.  

There are only 3 people in the Valparaiso Costa Rica study abroad program this spring—Erin, John, and I. While I knew Erin before coming here, I had never before met John. After this experience, we have grown close enough to talk about anything together, and we often do talk about anything and everything in order to entertain ourselves during the train or bus rides home each day. We have shared classes, group trips, ice cream stops, and all of that really has been wonderful, but when it comes to bonding there really is something special about being able to talk to people who are going through the same struggles that you are. For example, it is far more satisfying to discuss the language barrier I face with Erin or John than it is with a friend from home, even if it’s just because one of those two can respond by telling me of their own language mistakes! But like we all say, nothing helps you bond like fending off a persistent drunk guy who wants to chat you up on the bus ride home from San Jose. After that experience, we have a greater level of trust and comfort with one another. (Don’t worry, that’s not normal here, that only happened once).

As for my host family, it has been such a humbling experience to receive their love, to learn to relate with them, and to finally grow relationships with them. When I first showed up, I only seemed capable of making messes. They do things differently, and so I didn’t understand how I could help out with anything in the house. And the worst part was I couldn’t even ask about it since my Spanish was at such a low level. But my family loved me anyways and expected nothing from me. Over time I have learned how to fit into the families’ daily schedule and help out here and there. I’ve also gotten more and more able to discuss things with my family, more in-depth things than just the daily necessities. To give you a little taste of the people I am growing to love like family here, here is a little introduction to my host family:

I have a pretty strong connection with mi Máma, Isobel (probably because she feeds me every day). She is both enormously hospitable and also feisty. For example, when I arrived, she made sure to let me know I was welcome by giving me gifts— a butterfly postcard that read “Bienvenidos Kortney!” and a cute little moneybag. But also, when one of her teenage children get out of line, she has been known to chase them out of the kitchen with a large mixing spoon, asking Dios Mio for patience. The special thing we always do together is go to community Zumba classes with a bunch of other women in the neighborhood. She swears that the exercise of Zumba makes you thinner, and she tells everyone who meets me that Zumba is teaching me to dance like a Tica! She also loves to brag about my cooking habits to everyone. She tells people about how I like to cook united-statesian meals for the family sometimes, or how I made my host sister Ashly a coconut chocolate cake for her birthday.

Mi Pápa, Francisco, likes to keep busy. He is always working on some new home project, and yesterday I helped—minimally—while he constructed a new table. Once we discussed how to live a healthy lifestyle, and he explained that taking time to yourself to relax is important for your emotional and physical health since it lowers overall stress. But when I asked how he ever gets time for that, he joked that his personal relaxation time is whenever he is working on refurbishing a new couch. He loves to share things with his family, and sometimes he’ll go on a surprise ice cream trip to bring everyone ice cream!

The oldest son, Kendall (18 yrs old), goes to school some mornings and works some evenings. He is pretty busy, but when he is around the house, he is quite chistoso— he only seems to open his mouth for funny or sarcastic comments! He loves to learn about new cultures, so he enjoys having foreign exchange students living at his house. The company he works for is actually going to be sending him out to the United States for 6 months of training in August, where he will likely learn what it is like to be the extranjero! He also has a talent for baking, and I have to say, his tres leches cake is one of the best baked goods I’ve eaten!

Ashly, my beautiful 15 year old host sister, is kind but feisty (like my host mom) and she has a crazy personality. She has a horde of poor Tico boys who want her attention all the time. She finds school exceedingly boring, and always doodles during the times her school friends get together to do homework together. But it has been cool for me to be able to help her with her English and Math homework whenever she can be motivated to work on them. She loves to listen to popular music, dance like a silly person, and to make you laugh.

And, finally, Ian Santiago (Santi for short) is only 6 years old, and he is my constant companion. He seems to think my second job (other than being a student) is to entertain him! Which, most of the time, I really don’t have a problem with: we watch movies together, give each other pen tattoos, and play with cars. It is also very fun to go to his futbol games, even though he has his head in the clouds and doesn’t really touch the ball much– (last game the only time he touched the ball is when some other kid accidentally kicked it into his face). He is an especially sweet kid and already great with the ladies—he told me (bashfully) about how he has four girlfriends! Apparently, none of them have a problem with his infidelity, and he doesn’t seem too conflicted about it. But I suppose that is relationships in elementary school!

Other than my host family, there are a lot of other unexpected friendships that have bloomed up and grown the community that I have in Costa Rica. I have had good times with people from classes in the University of Costa Rica, have met people from around my neighborhood who come over to hang out with my host family, and have spent considerable time with both Erin’s and John’s host family and their friends. Finally, I didn’t expect to have such fun spending time with the program director/professor Heidi Michelson! Class discussions with her often feel more like friends meeting together and talking about life than a necessary academic activity.

This all goes to show, that you may leave your comfort one and head to a new place where you don’t know anyone, but with time, people come in and fill up your life. It happened when I first headed out to Valparaiso University after high school, and it happened again in Costa Rica. Without these connections and people, I think I would probably be miserable, even in Costa Rica, the most beautiful of places. In fact, I think this is why the first couple of weeks were the hardest, because it was before these relationships had really formed. But being kind, attentive, and interested in the people around you– asking other people questions and then listening to the answers—these are the things that have grown my community. Little by little, people are being added to my family, people from all kinds of different places in the world: Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Florida, Costa Rica… and all I can do is be so thankful for them all.  

Introducing the Bloggers: Angelys

Blogger: Angelys Torres

Location: Barcelona, Spain

Major: Sociology/Criminology

Study abroad is something my mom always wanted me to pursue because she never had the opportunity to do so. My family and I have been blessed to be able to travel for vacation, but I wanted something a little bit different. I wanted an experience where I could fully immerse myself into a culture in order to learn about people different than myself. One thing that I am excited to explore is different cafes. A large part of my own culture is food, and I would love to understand someone else through this same lens. (Not to mention, coffee!) I hope my experience abroad will help me better understand how important differences really are.

Introducing the Bloggers: Madeline

Blogger: Madeline Klauer

Location: Florence, Italy

Major: Exploratory

I choose to study abroad because we hosted exchange students in my home all throughout my childhood. I saw how it helped them grow, be successful and expand their horizons, and I’ve always wanted to do the same. I’m the most excited about living with a host family and seeing what day-to-day life is like…and #2 on the list is food 🙂

Be on the lookout for Madeline on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat!

Spring Break Shenanigans

Blogger: Katie Karstensen

Program: Windhoek, Namibia

Twyfelfontein → Etosha National Park → Luderitz 

Twyfelfontein

Have you ever had a day planned out so perfectly you feel assured it will go as planned? Our study abroad group thought so too, but getting to Twyfelfontein (try saying that five times fast) ended up being an adventure all in itself. Namibia has been in a drought for the past two years, but as soon as we arrived, there has been a sudden appearance of lots of rain. The day before we were supposed to go to Twyfelfontein, it rained and rained and rained. We began our travels as anticipated, but thirty minutes into our journey we came to a spot in the road covered in water to deep for our van to get through, so we turned around and went back into town. We planned to try again the next day, but when we called the lodge where we were supposed to have lunch, they said the food was already prepared, and we would have to come eat it. So we switched to plan B, and the directors of our program went around the grocery store asking if anyone knew of a different route to Twyfelfontein. A local told us about another route that would be a bit rougher, but assured us we would make it there. The van was shaking the entire time, and on some hills and in some valleys, the bottom of the van scraped the ground. For awhile the van made a noise that sounded exactly like when you’re in a roller coaster slowly being pulled uphill right before the big drop. We came to another spot in the road with a small river flowing across it and locals swimming in it, happy to see so much rain for the first time in so long. Our trusted driver went up the river farther to where it looked a tad more shallow, paused, clapped his hands together saying “Let’s try this!” and sped forward into the water, successfully making it across only to get stuck in the sand immediately after exiting the water. All the students exited the vehicle, and with the help of locals, we pushed the van out of the sand and back onto the main road. About five kilometers away from the Twyfelfontein lodge, at this point two and a half hours late to our scheduled lunch, we saw a sign for the lodge! And then came upon the largest body of water we had seen yet running across the road, with more people just swimming around in the water. Our tactic to go up the river farther to a shallower area was quickly defeated when we got stuck in more sand, cue more locals helping us push the van back onto the road. We accepted defeat in getting there by vehicle, so we grabbed our stuff and walked across the very, very muddy river and were picked up by vehicles from the lodge. We finally arrived only a few hours late to our delicious meal at the lodge with views that were worth the wait. The trip back contained far much less uncertainty, besides the minor hiccup of the van breaking down at a gas station five kilometers from where we were staying to top off the day.

Etosha National Park

Luderitz

Luderitz is one of the most remote areas of Namibia, which could be told by an hour flight with views of nothing but sand. It used to be one of Namibia’s main ports until Walvis Bay was discovered to be much better. After being in Luderitz for four days and not seeing a single cloud in the sky, we asked a taxi driver how often it rains. The response we got was, “It doesn’t.” It maybe rains in Luderitz once every ten years.

Luderitz is home to the Kolmanskop Ghost Town, originally a diamond mining town. Residents lived a life of luxury. Germans were searching for natural minerals. They made it across the desert and found millions of diamonds that could be picked up with their hands. Soon large groups of Germans settled down, and Kolmanskop was born. In the main hall, there was a restaurant, gymnastics and exercise room, the first library in Southern Africa, a champagne bar for ladies, and next door a cigar room for men. There was also a bowling alley and shopping mall frequented often by residents. During our tour, we visited the ice room where water from the sea was taken and frozen for residents’ ice boxes(refrigerators). Fresh water was only used for drinking and as a “final rinse” as it was expensively imported from Capetown. For a time the town tried a desalination process for sea water, but water ended up being the same price as beer, and people were not about it. There was a train that ran through all the streets of town every morning at 6AM bringing residents their complimentary half a block of ice, a few liters of lemonade, and a few liters of water. The shopkeeper of the town imported anything residents wanted from Germany: cheeses, bon bons, champagne, clothing, etc. The mining town would hire two hundred Namibians to help with diamond collection and production, and workers became creative in thinking of ways to sneak out diamonds. Workers would make extra compartments in their shoes or even sneak diamonds in their sandwiches right before they left and wait for them to work their way through the digestive system. The Germans installed a policy where 48 hours before any workers left they had to be in solitary confinement with a toilet that had a diamond filter and drink castor oil. Workers even began making small slits in their skin and holding a diamond to it until skin grew over it. This led Germans to purchase Southern Africa’s first x-ray machine.

When diamonds began more difficult to find, everyone up and left. Walking through the ghost town was definitely eerie. In some houses the original wallpaper was completely intact, and you could walk upstairs in some of the houses. In other buildings, a sand dune may be all that is holding a structure up. Hardly any windows still existed in the town, and sand was coming in some windows almost all the way to the top. A strange moment was walking through the old hospital’s hallway, and when looking around it appears like you’re in a building, but it feels like your feet are walking on a beach in the sand.

Sossusvlei

There is an International Windhoek Facebook group for people that are traveling through Windhoek from other countries. People usually post about travel details asking for companions, or help traveling from one place to another. I returned to Windhoek from Luderitz Tuesday night and saw that a group of women were heading to Sossusvlei for the next couple of days and still had one extra seat. I called to see if they were still looking and then met them at a car rental place Wednesday morning at 7AM. So two women from Germany, one from Holland, one from Switzerland, and one from the United States packed a rental car full and headed to the sand dunes at Sossusvlei. And during the journey we only received one traffic ticket for accidentally driving on the right side of the road as opposed to the left as is the law here in Namibia, which I would argue is pretty good for none of us having experience driving on the left side of the road before.

Returning Home…to Germany

Blogger: Alyson Kneusel

Program: Reutlingen, Germany – Study Center

When asked why I had chosen to apply for the Reutlingen, Germany study abroad program, I was able to think of numerous good responses. One reason was that my family was ancestrally from Germany, so that was a big allure to me. When I came here, I never expected to have a direct connection with my heritage; I was just hoping to learn about the culture and history so that I could better understand where I came from. I never imagined that I would actually find the town from which my great-great-grandfather moved to America, and that it would be only 25 minutes away from where I had spent my study abroad experience.

From the Hauptbahnhof Obf stop in Reutlingen you can take a 25 minute bus ride to the town of Willmandingen, Sonnenbühl. Willmandingen is just one of many very small German towns in this region of Germany. Yet to me, it is a town that is still full of “Möck” family relatives (Möck is my great grandmother’s last name). Following my arrival in Reutlingen, my great aunt messaged me saying that we still had distant relatives in a town nearby me. After she asked around the family, I found out that my great great grandfather’s family had lived there before my great great grandfather came to America. In fact, he was living in that town when he was sent to America to live with his uncle there (as the family had too many children to support). That is the origin of my family line in America.

Of course, I had to go and see this town. When my mother visited, we hopped on the bus and traveled there. We found the house where my relatives still live. We decided not to bother them (as they speak very little English and we speak very little German) but we had heard that the local Protestant church still stood in the area. Sure enough, on a rock standing outside the church we found many “Möck” family names. However, the church seemed to be locked so we thought we wouldn’t be able to get in.

Just as we started to leave we ran into a man coming to drop off a ladder inside the church, and he asked us if we needed to get into the church. We said yes and attempted to explain the reason we were there. It turns out that this man was actually also a “Möck,” and more than that, he is the cousin of our remaining relatives in the town. He mentioned that he actually translates the English mail they get for them…we believe this mail is my grandparent’s Christmas cards that they send each year.

When we were walking around the church, he was telling us some of the things he knew about the church’s history. One story he told was about the chandelier in the church, which he said was funded with money sent back from a Möck living on a farm in the United States. We looked at the sign, and sure enough, the name on it was the name of the uncle my great great grandfather was living with in the USA! He sent back money for the church and his family after moving to America and funded this chandelier that I had now ended up finding while I was coincidentally studying nearby in Germany more than 100 years later.

It was almost as though this small piece of my family history had remained unchanged all these years. As the American branch of the family distributed all over the United States, many members of the Möck family seem to have remained in this small German town. Although I have no clue how distant the relationship with many of these people is, it was strange to find a cemetery full of Möck graves, a business called Möck, and a small sign all about the history of the town. It was more than I could’ve imagined happening upon so close to my home in Germany. It is strange to think that after more than 100 years a descendent of the “Möck,” who went on the long move to the USA, would end up calling the region home again, even if just for a short time.

Liebe Grüβe,

Alyson Kneusel

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