I’ll miss you Granada

Well no I’m not leaving yet, I still have about a week left here in Spain but as I’m writing this post, I am beginning to feel a little sentimental thinking back on the past four and half months I’ve lived here. That’s right. I LIVED here; my life has been completely changed. I’ve experienced a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’ll never be the same.

While I have done a bit of traveling and most of my blog posts have been about that because I wanted you to see the incredible opportunities you have when you study abroad, particularly in Europe (I can’t vouch for any other area). For this post I’d like to highlight a few of the common everyday things I experienced while living in Granada that I will miss.

  • My half hour walk to school every day….several times a day.
  • Tapas.
    • Because um, they’re free. How can you not miss them
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Why is this not a thing in the states? Seriously.

  • The Alhambra
alhambra

Beautiful Arab palace in my Spanish city. <3

  • Churros con chocolate
    • Nuff said.
churros

Yes, I’ll take three.

  • Euromania
    • Card night every Wednesday with the Squad.
This happens literally every Wednesday. We're regulars haha

This happens literally every Wednesday. We’re regulars haha

  • Cobblestone streets
    • Killer for the feet and long walks.
This is also the seal of Spain

This is also the seal of Spain

  • Walking everywhere
    • I have calves of steel now.
  • Erasmus trips
    • Some of my best and favorite memories.
Erasmus Granada- Best Life Experience. Literally is a best life experience. <3

Erasmus Granada- Best Life Experience.
Literally is a best life experience. <3

  • Tiny streets
    • Hi, yes, I’d like to not be hit with a moving vehicle, thank you.
Oh look! More cobblestone streets.

Oh look! More cobblestone streets.

  • Bread
    • Where’s the tortillas?..
  • Siesta
  • Dogs everywhere and walking without leashes.
    • Like why isn’t my dog so civilized?
  • The food
    • No it isn’t the same as home (I’m Mexican, can you guess what I eat on an everyday basis?…jealous?)
    • Nevertheless, I will miss some certain foods like tortilla de patata, and eggplant everything!
      • I still carried a bottle of hot sauce everywhere though.
  • Seeing graffiti everywhere. It’s beautiful especially since it has meaning.

machismo

Here there is no Granados, only Granadinos.

Here there is no Granados, only Granadinos.

These are only a few of the things that I will miss. I’m sure there is more but I feel like I won’t notice them until I am back in the states and I’ll be walking to class and I’ll miss having to dodge pigeons or saying hi to someone I know as they walk by. The closer it gets to the day I have to leave the more it hits me that I have made Granada my home and I’m really sad to leave it behind. The next time I come here, I possibly won’t be a student anymore and I most definitely won’t see the same people everyday like I used to. Coming here has really made me think about “change”, with all of the traveling I’ve done and hopefully will do, I have become accustomed to change. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. I have lived in a completely different culture the past almost 5 months and during that time I have traveled to other countries and experienced doubly different cultures. It’s difficult to fathom that I will miss having to adjust every few weeks because of this cultural change.

In short, I have learned that there is much to learn and I’m not done learning. Granada, Spain has introduced me to the travel bug and I’ll forever be infected, gladly. Today in one of my classes, a classmate presented on a muslim traveler, Ibn Battuta, who said a famous quote, “Traveling leaves you speechless then turns you into a storyteller.” This is 100% true. I’m glad I made the choice to study abroad and I’m even happier with the location I chose. It was the right choice for me even though I had people tell me otherwise. I made so many new friends and gained a  new perspective on everything basically. It’s like I see the world with a new set of glasses and I hesitate to think how my life would have turned out if I hadn’t taken this opportunity. I’m sad to leave Granada and my new found friends, but I am glad to be heading back home soon. Granada, I’ll miss you but I will be back soon!

It’s Time to Go Home

I’m ready to go home. Not because I’m sick of Costa Rica or because the last four months have been horrible. In fact, it’s the opposite. I want to go home because I have absolutely loved Costa Rica. Because I can’t wait to tell everyone about all the crazy adventures I’ve been on and incredible sights I’ve seen and the million things I’ve learned. Because I have lived these four months to the fullest, and it’s time to move on. Part of what makes studying abroad so sweet is the fact that it’s so short. We try to pack in as much as we can into four months, when really we are only scratching the surface of learning about another culture and way of life. Saying goodbye to Costa Rica will truly be bittersweet.

This last week in Costa Rica has been pretty calm. We have ended our internships and classes, so we have had a lot of free time to hang out and enjoy our last days here. One thing we decided to do was go to a soccer (fútbol) game. It was a really big semifinal game, so the atmosphere was crazy. There was constant cheering and yelling, and I’m pretty sure I got my fill of Spanish curse words for the whole semester. It was a really fun cultural experience, though, and very different than any sporting event I have attended in the United States!

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The stadium was full!

Another thing we got to do our last week here was take a trip to Poas volcano. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to see the volcano, but we got a very scenic drive and got to see a pretty waterfall. It was still a fun way to be together and say goodbye to one of the best things about Costa Rica—the nature.

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The waterfall was huge!

This week was one of goodbyes. People who were total strangers four months ago are suddenly close friends. I not only have my host family to say goodbye to—but ALL of the host families. They all made me feel just as welcome in their homes as their own students. Part of what made my study abroad experience so unique was not only being welcomed into one home, but into a community.

Goodbyes are never easy. I have never quite gotten over how strange it feels to say goodbye to someone knowing very well I may never see them again. Or walking around a new neighborhood that feels like home for the last time. But what comforts me most is knowing that it is time to leave. That after this I will be moving on to bigger and better things. This semester I accomplished far more than I ever thought I was capable of and learned more than I could have ever imagined. It’s going to be hard to adjust back to life in the United States and to adequately sum up my feelings about this experience. So please be patient with me, friends and family. I will be different but I will learn how to live back in the States again. These four months have been phenomenal. But it’s time to go home.

The co-op/money/logistics post!

Exciting stuff, I know.


How do you find a co-op placement for your spring semester?

First, you need a résumé (der Lebenslauf), formatted according to German sensibilities. Mine looks like this:

Example of a real-life Lebenslauf auf deutsch.

Example of a real-life Lebenslauf auf deutsch.

Write your own before you even head to Germany. Fill in any of the blanks (telephone number, address) once you arrive. Also, be sure to get a few sets of professional German eyes to proof it for mistakes or unnecessary bits. One such professional German told me to throw a scan of my high school diploma on the second page.

The cover letter (das Anschreiben) is the other part of the application materials (Bewerbungsunterlagen, plural) that you’ll need to prepare. Since this is a more complicated piece of literature (e.g. an actual piece of literature, as opposed to a list of facts and achievements), you’ll want to be getting some professional German help with this, regardless of how good you think your German is (or how good you Dunning-Kruger know it is).

Herr Veit in the Reutlingen International Office can be of assistance.  In my case, I had help from a German colleague at Siemens last summer with the first draft, and further revision help from friends Isa and Jojo.

Herr Veit can also be useful in getting the Bewerbungsunterlagen sent out to various firms. In my case, my placement came through a family friend of family friends Isa and Jojo.


What are some of the details of my co-op?

Glad you asked. Bosch is probably more common in Baden-Württemberg than Wal-Mart is in the states. There are at least 2 plants in Reutlingen, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn of additional facilities in town.

While Reutlingen is certainly conveniently located for people living in Reutlingen, my placement ended up being in Leonberg, a town (imagine a nearby suburb by US standards) west of Stuttgart. This means a decent commute each day, which would be inconvenient if I had to personally control any of the vehicles that get me there (somebody doesn’t particularly enjoy driving). If everything is on time (a bold request of Deutsche Bahn – German trains aren’t nearly as punctual as they’re rumored to be), I can be there 64 minutes after I leave Reutlingen, but it usually takes a little longer to get back. Commuting is super cheap with the Anschluss Studi-Ticket, and the travel time provides ample opportunity to fully wake up, eat breakfast, read, stare out the window at the subtle beauty of the Swabian Jura, and be fully ready to work by the time I arrive.

The facility in Leonberg is for development (no production), and much of the activity there centers around automobile proximity sensors and associated software. Think cruise control where your car will go as fast as you tell it to on the interstate, but will automatically slow down if traffic slows down. These sensors may also beep at you when you get close to scratching your paint as you back up, and will eventually be the eyes of self-driving vehicles. Anyway, at the facility, there’s a garage with several test vehicles, and modest capability for small-scale prototyping, but most of the work seems to be carried out on computers.

My tasks are varied, since they’re used to accommodating 6-month interns, while I’m only there for 4.5 months. So far, I’ve helped with error analyses, proofread translations, mounted test samples of different materials for easy comparison, and examined the feasibility of using different materials in place of currently-used ones for production models. It’s a ton of fun, and really fulfilling – just what a co-op should be.


How does payment work?

Pretty mundanely, in fact. Set up a bank account, fill out the correct numbers on the form, get paid.

The trickiest part of this was setting up the bank account. I talked my way in without an appointment, and they were willing to accommodate me, but it’s probably best to just set up an appointment at a bank sufficiently in advance that you’ll have an account before your placement begins.

Don’t worry about not knowing the right German to open the account. You’ll be able to talk your away around what you want to know.  And in the event that you completely miss something, every piece of information is also presented in the traditional German manor – printed out on many many pieces of paper.

I did have to do a perspective switch regarding currency. From August to February, I was happy to see the exchange rate decrease from €1=$1.15 all the way down to 1:1.05, eventually settling at around 1.08. Now that I’m earning a non-zero amount of Euro money, I’m happy to see the rate increasing again. Currently, it’s at 1.14. While I used to see that and think “Ugh, could be better,” I am slowly retraining myself to appreciate an increasing number.


How do taxes work?

Good. Question.

I have a little less than €10 automatically siphoned off my monthly wages, including €0.58 of Kirchensteuer (church tax – the evangelical and catholic churches in Germany receive some support from the taxes paid by their members).

I’m not presently sure how taxes will work once I get back, but I have 11 months to figure things out before the IRS comes knocking.  Each possibly relevant piece of paper is in a folder that will be coming home in my carry-on. I also have it on good faith from colleagues and other professional Germans that I’m not doing anything illegal by proceeding without further action on taxes, so stuff should work out.


Advice for VIEP students

You’re going to spend a year abroad. This is no small feat. You have been well prepared, and it’s unlikely that anything I could possibly write will change that. Despite that, here’s some stuff that I wrote to try to help you prepare for your year.

Some of these things are (hopefully understandably) centered around southwest Germany and the Reutlingen program. Sorry about that. Just kidding, not really.


VIEP = Valparaiso International Engineering Program. Take five years instead of 4 to finish your undergraduate degree by adding a semester of overseas study and an internship abroad, and end up wth a language (German, French, Spanish, Chinese) minor or major.


Skype your family as often as you please.

Foreign language faculty at VU advised that exposure to the English language should be limited as much as possible. The thought behind this is to allow yourself to the opportunity for as thorough immersion as possible. This makes sense – the more German (or French or Spanish or Chinese) you hear and use, the better you will be able to consistently and accurately speak and understand it.

This advice, though well-intentioned, is bogus, or at best unnecessary. For one, English is the common language in the dorms (at least in Reutlingen – I cannot speak for the other programs), even before German. You’re automatically in an environment where you’ll need to hear and use English all the time. No need to impose false barriers on your experience that won’t make any difference.

Next, you’re probably going to be plagued with some homesickness, at least once during your time abroad (if you’re not, maybe see somebody about that). Skipping home is a great way to help some of this go away. Your family is important (understatement), and it’s important to maintain that relationship.

Granted, you should not spend 100% of your free time calling home. You have a new place to explore (and getting out can also help with homesickness). But if you do your thing, you’ll experience plenty of immersion as-is. You’ll be just as fluent as you otherwise would have been, and you’ll also get to share your experiences regularly with your loved ones.


Find a family.

I can’t give advice on how to do this, as I more or less had a family waiting for me when I arrived (though I have heard that churches can be good, if that’s your thing). Back in 1980 (or something), my mom did a 3-week (or so) exchange program. She stayed with the Neumärker Family, and fortunately stayed in touch over the years. The then-12-year-old, now-decidedly-older-and-altogether-wondeful-year-old Isa conveniently lives with her husband Jojo and children Rebecca and Cassian near Stuttgart, which is conveniently close to Reutlingen, which is conveniently where I am living this year.

Hopefully, you will have the sense to see a substitute family as more than an outlet for laundry and meals. Spending time around kids is therapeutic, no matter how active or crazy they may be. At the very least, it gets you outside for exercise, and it also exposes you to a facet of German language that you otherwise wouldn’t be hearing. In my case, these kids are less familiar with Americans than the dorm crowd is, so the quality of questions is WAY better for meaningful introspection about myself and my country.

Furthermore, immersion better than this does not exist. You get people who will correct your deutsch in a snap, and who will get it right 100% of the time way faster than any classmate or dictionary ever could. You’re also not in an environment where you can get away with just doing your thing (in my case, programming and playing with twisty puzzles and reading Game of Thrones). You are expected to converse and follow directions. Instead of having to make the choice to put shoes on and go outside for immersion, you can get it from the comfort of your pajamas.

A family can also provide irreplaceable insight into local traditions. Sure, you can read about this stuff in books or on Wikipedia, but experiencing it gives you far more insight and appreciation. Plus it’s more fun than reading about foreign traditions on Wikipedia, and I can say that because I’ve tried it.


Buy your own plane tickets.

I fell for the trap of going with the group plane ride, and along with it, the group prices. The logic that “group prices mean discounts” does not apply for flights, or if it does, it sure didn’t for me.

You can even buy your outbound ticket on the same flight as the rest of the group, but save a few hundred bucks by doing so.

Don’t go for a round trip ticket either, unless you are reasonably certain that you can change your return flight for free. This will most certainly not be the case with the group rate. Round trip tickets are good for short trips, and on the short term, they can even save money. Since you can’t book flights until a year in advance anyway, these savings will not be present by a round trip booking for VIEP participants.


Public Transportation

There’s a thing called the Anschluss Studi-Ticket, which is an extension of your Naldo pass into the Stuttgart region. Super cheap (in the long term, meaning ~$300 one-time), and way worthwhile. If the Naldo region gets boring for you (it shouldn’t, but just in case it somehow does), this gives you a (somewhat) big city to explore. At current prices, it pays for itself in just over 9 visits.


Networking

Herr Veit is the most important friend of VIEP at the Hochschule Reutlingen. He’s so well-connected that I’m pretty sure the only German official who doesn’t answer directly to him is Angela Merkel. He’s a huge support for VIEP participants, and will gladly help you secure a co-op during your second semester. (It’s also possible to accomplish this through other means – Herr Veit is certainly not the only path to a placement)

However, he’s a busy man. You may have to be more explicit with him than feels polite in order to get your point across. He also comes with a very quick turnaround time. Just be prepared to hit the ground running, and you’ll do just fine.


This has not been an exhaustive list.

Top 5s of Southern Africa

So as the semester winds down to an end, I decided to look back on my semester to find some of the highlights of my time abroad. I went through a variety of categories and attempted to find my top 5 highlights for each.

*note: they aren’t necessarily in order of most favorite

Top 5 Places Visited:
1. Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town view from a walk to the beach

Cape Town view from a walk to the beach

2. Windhoek, Namibia

Windhoek from the top of the Hilton

Windhoek from the top of the Hilton

3. Livingstone, Zambia

Sign in Livingstone that showed the distances to various world sites.

Sign in Livingstone that showed the distances to various world sites.

4. Swakopmund, Namibia

Swakopmund

Swakopmund

5. Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg

Johannesburg

Top 5 Weirdest foods:

Yum! The nutty crunch of catepillars

Yum! The nutty crunch of caterpillars

1. Caterpillar
2. Goat head (sorry, I didn’t get any pictures. I know you all wanted to see)
3.  Every animal liver imaginable
4. Traditional drink (some sort of super sweet drink made with Mahangu grains)
5. Freshly slaughtered cow, goat and chicken

Top 5 restaurants in Windhoek:
1. Andy’s (Best pizza in Windhoek)
2. La Bricante (it’s a restaurant in an antique store with live music) Atmosphere 10/10

La Bricante

La Bricante

Live music at La Bricante

Live music at La Bricante

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. La Bonne (because French food is always fantastic)
4. Garnish Indian restaurant
5. Sardinia Italian restaurant

Top 5 Activities in Windhoek:
1. Ultimate Frisbee at University of Namibia

The obligatory Post-ultimate selfie with our friend Oscar

The obligatory Post-ultimate selfie with our friend Oscar

2. Internship at Physically Active Youth after school program

My classroom at Physically Active Youth

My classroom at Physically Active Youth

3. Walks around downtown

Meteorites found in Namibia that are displayed in Windhoek

Meteorites found in Namibia that are displayed in Windhoek

4. Hiking in the hills

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5. Markets: Craft Market, First Quarter Market, Informal Markets

First Quarter Market: home of the delicious capana meat and fat cakes

First Quarter Market: home of the delicious kappana meat and fat cakes

Top 5 Concerts:
1. Windhoek Unplugged- Warehouse Theater

Fantastic duo called Blend that combines flamenco guitar and spoken word

Fantastic duo called Blend that combines flamenco guitar and spoken word

2. Open Mic Night- Warehouse Theater

Accompanying my friend Kayla in her spoken word piece

Accompanying my friend Kayla in her spoken word piece

3. International Jazz Day Concert- Franco-Namibian Cultural Center

Suzy Eises performing at the Franco-Namibian Cultural Center for International Jazz Day

Suzy Eises performing at the Franco-Namibian Cultural Center for International Jazz Day

4. Song Night- Warehouse Theater

A great group of up and coming musicians at Song Night

A great group of up and coming musicians at Song Night

5. Live music at random bars and restaurants

Stumbled upon awesome music in Cape Town

Stumbled upon awesome music in Cape Town

Top 5 Adventure Activities:
1. Gorge Swing at Victoria Falls

The Gorge Swing

The Gorge Swing

2. White water Rafting in the Zambezi River

Whitewater Rafting on the Zambezi River

Whitewater Rafting on the Zambezi River

3. Paragliding in Cape Town

Just floating over Cape Town

Just floating over Cape Town

4. Quadbiking in the Namib Desert

Getting ready to quadbike over the dunes in Namib Desert

Getting ready to quadbike over the dunes in Namib Desert

5. Surfing in the Atlantic Ocean

Pre-surfing Selfie

Pre-surfing Selfie

Top 5 most beautiful views:
1. Table Mountain, Cape Town, SA

The gorgeous Table Mountain

The gorgeous Table Mountain

2. Victoria Falls, Livingstone, ZA

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

3. The Namib Desert, NADEET, NA

Standing on a dune looking out at the desert

Standing on a dune looking out at the desert

4. The vast hills surrounding Windhoek, NA

The hills surrounding Windhoek at Daan Viljoen Game Paek

The hills surrounding Windhoek at Daan Viljoen Game Paek


The hills around the Avis Dam in Windhoek from one of my last days in Namibia

The hills around the Avis Dam in Windhoek from one of my last days in Namibia

5. The Atlantic Ocean

Hanging out at Muizenberg Beach and the Ocean

Hanging out at Muizenberg Beach and the Ocean

Top 5 things I will miss:
1.    My amazing and unique group of 19 peers

Group photo in the desert

Group photo in the desert

2.    Being able to learn from so many different people and experiences
3.    My wonderful, loving, and welcoming homestay families

Me and my two urban homestay brothers

Me and my two urban homestay brothers

My rural homestay family and I

My rural homestay family and I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My crazy homestay family in Soweto

My crazy homestay family in Soweto and my roommate for the weekend Dashawn

4.    Deep conversations by the pool, at the bar, or around the dinner table

Hanging out at the pool discussing life

Hanging out at the pool discussing life

5.    The breathtaking beauty of the land that constantly surrounds me

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Southern Africa has challenged my personal beliefs, taught me to look at the world differently, given me the opportunity to grow and try new things, gain a better understanding of what my future might entail, and create a group of life-long friends.

One of my last sunsets in Namibia from the top of a mountain I forged a path up

One of my last sunsets in Namibia from the top of a mountain I forged a path up

What is study abroad?

It has come to my attention that not many really truly understand what it is to study abroad. Most think that it’s just a time to party and go out every weekend, traveling across Europe, and escaping the pressures of the taxing American norms. Well, while most of that may be true.. study abroad is so much more.

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#Guadalajara en Sevilla, Spain!! Of course I had to take a picture.

Study abroad is:

  • Finding your own way. Literally. You travel on your own and have to rely on yourself to find the hotel, meeting point, communicate with the locals.
  • Getting lost and having no GPS because your phone died or there’s no wi-fi.
  • Living with a host family
    • I know not many programs/students do this, but if you are offered the option..take it!! =) It’s the best way to get integrated into the culture. You experience more of the everyday lifestyle of a citizen of that country.
  • Missing the last bus of the day heading back to your city….and it’s a 3 hour walk back to your hostel.
  • Sharing a room with 12 other people because a hostel is cheaper than a hotel and you’re broke af. So bring out the padlocks and chains.
  • Getting pickpocketed on public transport.
  • Getting food poisoning in a foreign country and spending the day in the hospital
  • Missing the ferry back to Spain because you were in the hospital
  • Making the best of friends
  • Seeing your friends get engaged.
  • Trying new foods because you’re a cultured individual now…except the new thing you tried tastes like crap and you find out it’s blood sausage.
  • Your host mom overfeeding you
    • Hello, StudyAbroad 15
  • Trying to not be so “American” and blend in
  • Falling asleep in class. Oh wait, that happens at home too.
  • Meeting new people
    • #ERASMUS <3
    • Some of the best kinds of people I met and some of the best trips I have taken were through Erasmus and I strongly encourage it.
    • Step out of your American bubble and hang out with internationals not just locals too!
  • Having the time of your life
  • Finding yourself

I know the last two bullets are somewhat cliche but it is true. When you’re on your own not knowing anyone in a foreign country, your best friend, at least for the first couple of days is yourself. You get to learn who you really are because you are depending on you to get you through the day. Studying abroad is having everyday events happen abroad where you can’t deal with them in the same way. You get hungry at one a.m. you can’t just head out to the nearest McDonald’s and order drive-thru. You can’t drive to Wal-Mart or the pharmacy if you get sick at night and need Tylenol. You lose your debit card you can’t just walk to your bank and order a new one. Living abroad is having to change your lifestyle to fit in because you are not going to be living the “American” way anymore.

One of my Spanish friends and a few of my other friends from my program!

One of my Spanish friends and a few of my other friends from my program!

Some just don’t realize that there are bad days too. Everyone tells stories about how they got lost in Germany or they saw the Louvre, they walked the Great Wall of China, they took an African safari, but no one wants to tell you that they spent the night crying because they were so overwhelmed by all the changes. That they were having a rough time adjusting. They felt out of place, like they didn’t fit in. When they write their blog they only write about the good times, their travels because they want you to believe everything is all rainbows and sunshine. Well it isn’t.

When I was in Rome, I lost my wallet. Now it wasn’t smart of me to carry everything that I did in that wallet, but we were in a hurry to catch our flight to Rome from Barcelona and there was no time to think clearly. When it happened I was so frustrated that I could not find what I was looking for, I couldn’t understand a lick of Italian and I became careless. When I finally figured out that I didn’t have my wallet I lost total sense of …well everything. I couldn’t even sit down and cry because I had no idea what to do. I lost everything and there was nothing I could do about it. We raced to the police station to report my wallet but of course with my luck, it was closed. -_- Thank God for friends like mine because they helped keep me cheerful even though I was feeling down in the dumps.

These two beauties were my saving grace in Rome. Love them!

These two beauties were my saving grace in Rome. Love them!

Some of you might be reading this and thinking to yourself, “But you’re in freaking Europe, what is there to be sad about? At least you get to travel.” Yes, I know that. What I am trying to convey through this post is that, yea, I am having a great time. I had the opportunity to travel and I took it. Who wouldn’t? But every incredible and amazing opportunity has its risks and downfalls. You have to be prepared for those days that aren’t going to be so great. The days you will cry at night. The days you will find yourself feeling alone. The days where you will miss your family and home the most. The days where you realize that taking this chance wasn’t so you could enjoy yourself abroad but so that you could truly realize and appreciate what you have at home.

Crazy friends that I miss from back home.

Crazy friends

My beautiful family

My beautiful family

Luxembourg/Luxemburg/Lëtzebuerg

“Really small and lots of fun” could be an ad for a car, but it also nicely covers Luxembourg. The country is the clear outlier on the GDP-per-capita list among its European sisters, but what a cool place it is!

I was first there in October, for just a short time on my way back from Brussels. It was cool enough that I had to return, so Rachel and I spent a day there for the “New Year” half of our December-January break. I will be going back for a third time in June when my parents visit, regardless of whether or not they finalize their travel plans cough cough. (update: Because I write slowly, plans have since been at least written down somewhere).

Autumn overtakes Luxembourg City.

Autumn overtakes Luxembourg City.

This doesn't show much of Luxembourg, but it does show how happy people are while they're there.

This doesn’t show much of Luxembourg, but it does show how happy people might be while they’re there.

Luxembourg is one of the handful of non-Germany, german-speaking countries in the world, but French and Luxembourgish are also official languages. Although my spoken french has dwindled to a mere speck since I started studying German, I was surprised to find that the french signs in the museums and on the monuments were far easier to read than the german ones that contained the same information. I also managed to “parle français” to secure us museum tickets “pour deux étudiants,” though the receptionist may have just been patient and polite. Hard to say for certain.

Before we get going, here’s a short list of things not to like about Luxembourg:

  1. The flag looks like a faded version of the flag of the Netherlands (both are in the generic “2 darker colors with a lighter band in the middle” pattern)
  2. It’s not the cheapest place to visit
  3. You might have to explain where it is to people who haven’t heard of it before.
Flag of Luxembourg, from my brief stopover in the fall. The single car on the road does not reflect reality.

Flag of Luxembourg, and royal residence. From my brief stopover in the fall. The single car on the road does not reflect reality.


Walk out of the train station and go to the right down the big road. You’ll be wanting to handle Luxembourg City on foot, since the traffic isn’t that great. You’ll be doing a fair amount of walking, but that’s the best way to see the city. Go straight past the expensive shops and the malls – they’re just the same as anywhere else. You’ll come to a viaduct over a gorge, and that’s where the real fun begins.

This is just a bridge, but it's a cool looking bridge. Stone viaducts are nice distinct bits of architecture, and if you look at the people, you can get a sense of just how deep this ravine is.

This is just a bridge, but it’s a cool looking bridge. Stone viaducts are nice distinct bits of architecture, and if you look at the people, you can get a sense of just how deep the gorge is.

I could try to explain the layout of the city, but if you just know that it has gorges going right through it,

View down the ravine from above.

View down the gorge from above.

View up the ravine from below. Notice the people both above and below the walls.

View up the gorge from below. Notice the people both above and below the walls. I know this is basically the same picture as before, but whatever.


What is it that makes Luxembourg so much fun? It’s tricky to say for certain. Maybe I was excited about celebrating the new year with Rachel, but that doesn’t explain why I enjoyed it the first time. A city with this much topography in such close proximity to your usual urban amenities is bound to be a good time.

It probably has something to do with the public and accessible ruins. In one place, we just walked into a residential area, which led us right into some more ruins. Unlike Heidelberg, these ruins were explained. Not a complete history, but at least signs that gave a brief indication of historical significance.

The ruins are typical fortress parts, and the newer building is a retirement center. I think it's this juxtaposition that makes the place so neat.

The ruins are typical fortress parts, and the newer building is a retirement center. I think it’s this juxtaposition that makes the place so neat.

I’m really not sure why we didn’t take more pictures. Sorry about that.

This is just another rail viaduct, nothing special. But the picture was taken from an old mill/protective structure to keep bad guys out of the ravine while still letting water in.

This is just another rail viaduct, nothing special. But the picture was taken from an old mill/protective structure to keep bad guys out of the ravine while still letting water in, and in that sense is kind of neat.

Who needs a selfie stick when you have long arms?

Who needs a selfie stick when you have long arms (and when you can find other ways to look like an idiot, not pictured)?

More picturesque. Old town.

More picturesque. Old town.

Straight Outta the Highlands

Hello!!! So a couple weeks ago, the weekend after I got back from Rome, my friend, Lauren, and I took a little excursion to Scotland because why not.

Hilary-Duff-Why-Not-Gif

Seems like a good enough reason right? Well I was so excited to go I could not stop talking about it. It has always been a dream of mine just like coming to Spain and traveling to Italy and Portugal. This trip has been a lot about accomplishing my goals and realizing my dreams.

Scotland has these thingies too!!

Scotland has these thingies too!!

My Scotland experience can be summed up in one word: hitchhiking. The UK is quite expensive compared to both Spain and the USA. So naturally I decided to save a few pounds and walk everywhere. However, since I have been living in Spain the past few months where they use the metric system, my perception of distance has been a little off. So I have no idea if something is far or not. Now, I measure everything by time. “It takes 30 min to powerwalk to school; It’s 20 min to the BK plaza; It’s an hour to the bus station, but if you take the bus it’s half an hour.” So a few of the cities I visited in Scotland are Edinburgh (pronounced e-din-bruh apparently), Inverness, Culloden, and Dores. Originally the plan was Inverness and Edinburgh but it worked out that we got to visit two other cities….unintentionally.

Lauren and I flew into Edinburgh and had an interesting experience trying to find where to exchange our euros to the british pound to pay for our hostel. The following morning we explored Edinburgh a bit, did a little sightseeing before we headed to the bus station to catch our bus that would take us to Inverness. (#Outlander!- currently a series I am reading written by Diana Gabaldon, also now a TV show, and it takes place in Scotland) Our bus ride was three hours long of beautiful scenery as we went from the Lowlands to the Highlands. Unfortunately I fell asleep for most of the ride so I wasn’t able to capture the beauty or see most of it.

First off, I absolutely LOVE Inverness! It’s a small little town but it is so cute! It’s located right by the River Ness and it’s quite a historical city. I mean it’s been there for at least 300 years. It’s the perfect little small town! The Scottish people are so friendly like our Southerners, except the Scots have weird accents. Don’t get me wrong, I love it! but I can’t understand it =( I kid you not.

Mini history lesson because there’s no way you can appreciate my experience if you don’t know anything about it.

So on April 16, 1754, the gallant Highlanders who fought for Prince Charlie and Scotland fought on Culloden Moor and sadly, that day was the last of the Highlanders and their ways. It was the bloodiest of all the Jacobite battles and the last fought on British soil. It lasted a little less than an hour. ***Jacobites were the supporters of King James VII (of Scotland) and II (of England) and his heirs. He ruled from 1685-89 but because he was Roman Catholic he was exiled and replaced by his daughter Mary and her husband, the Dutch Prince, William of Orange.*** There were three main Jacobite risings: 1689 “Bonnie Dundee” which ended rather quickly, “The Fifteen” (Mar’s Rebellion 1715-16), and lastly, (with which the Battle of Culloden pertains to) “Forty-five” (1745-46) when Charles Edward Stuart “Bonnie Prince Charlie” led the Scots against the Hanoverian dynasty.

Whew! Now isn’t learning fun?! The important part here is, I’m a history nerd, especially when it comes to warfare and the like because I have huge respect for those who fight and are willing to give their lives for what they believe in. Their reasons don’t always have to be religious.

Well back to the story, Lauren and I hiked all the way there…I think Lauren said it was around 6 miles?.. Took us about 2 hours, including the fact that we were slightly a little bit lost but we made it. It was beautiful and an awesome experience.

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Next on our list is our hike to Loch Ness! For all you future travelers!!….TAKE A TAXI OR THE BUS, YOUR FEET WILL THANK YOU. Trust me. 9 miles in cold, windy, rainy weather and you’re hungry and trying not to get hit by a bus or a car…the experience will change you. On the bright side, we made it to Loch Ness!!! OMG. Nessie was sleeping though :/ Here’s the funny part about our hike to Loch Ness, I bet it will make you laugh. Are you ready for this?.. Once we made it to Dores (the tiny tiny city at the tip of Loch Ness) we asked when the next bus to Inverness was. The bartender told us, “Oh honey, you just missed it.”

Excuse me.

I just walked 3 freaking hours to see Loch Ness. I have been walking all day (Culloden Moor), I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m cold, I’m not having it today and you tell me that I am stuck here and I have to walk back 3 hours to Inverness. I don’t think so. We’re calling a taxi! And so, we got a taxi (the ride was only about 20 min tops -_- and it took us three hours walking) but we made it back to Inverness tired and ready to go to bed. I’d say it was all in a good day’s work!

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The next day we boarded our bus to head back to Edinburgh. This time I actually took some pictures of the ride back but they’re not that great as I’m not a photographer and quite frankly I was anxious to get back to my book (Dragonfly in Amber- Diana Gabaldon #2).

I feel like Edinburgh has a totally different feel than Inverness. It’s more bustling and lively but a little less like home. Our last day in Edinburgh was an interesting one. We got to pet an owl, see lots of bagpipe players, and the world’s most pierced woman. (Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture).

Overall, I fell in love with Scotland and want to go back sometime in the future! It was one of my favorite trips I have taken since being abroad.  Scotland is so rich and full of culture I totally recommend you to go there for a visit, you will love it! I promise.

Bacpacking through Scotland got us like...

Bacpacking through Scotland got us like…

 

In Ulm und um Ulm und um Ulm herum

Prologue: The title is a german tongue-twister. It means “In Ulm and about Ulm and all around Ulm”. I never really appreciated how funny the expression was until I saw it in writing.


Some of us are mustering our best Einstein hairdo imitations, while others are just enjoying Glühwein.

Some of us are mustering our best Einstein hairdo imitations, while others are just enjoying Glühwein. I’ll leave it to the reader to discern who is who, never mind that I am visibly holding a Glühwein mug.

Ulm is notable for being the site of the tallest church in the world (for now…Barcelona), the birthplace of Albert Einstein, and the home of one of the greatest names in German Baroque music. Ulm is included in the German Faculty’s list of day trips for the Reutlingen program, and is easily my favorite of them. Rachel and I stopped here during the “Christmas half” of our time together in December-January, and was definitely a highlight, even upstaging Prague in terms of enjoyment (probably helped by the sniffles that had plagued us by the time we got to Prague).

Einstein = one stone. Puns that money can buy.

Einstein = one stone. Puns that money can buy.

Ulm itself is quiet and mature, even with the excitement of the Christmas market and the holiday shopping that were underway when we arrived. The city is situated in the heart of Swabia, where the Danube goes from Baden-Württemberg into Bavaria. It isn’t particularly geographically exciting, though on a clear day, one can see the Alps from the top of the Minster. Rachel and I did not have such luck, but we enjoyed the view nonetheless.

The Danube (Donau), viewed from the top of the Ulmer Münster

The Danube (Donau), viewed from the top of the Ulmer Münster. Or maybe from like halfway up.

With its prime location on the Danube, Ulm has a lovely little fishing quarter. Great place to get some fish (surprise) in the restaurants, but also a good place just to escape from cars in a medium-sized city. Plenty of pedestrian bridges spanning streets and streams, lots of people walking dogs – very romantic. Being winter, it was also cold when we got there, so we skipped being sappy and cute, and dove right into the warmth of the Christmas Market.

The fishing quarter is in here somewhere, but the buildings are so close together that they obscure everything that makes it wonderful. Our B&B was also in here somewhere, I think, but its name and location are all but forgotten.

The fishing quarter is in here somewhere, but the buildings are so close together that they obscure everything that makes it wonderful. Our B&B was also in here somewhere, I think, but its name and location are all but forgotten.

There is nothing about the Christmas market in Ulm that distinguishes it from other Christmas markets. It doesn’t have the medieval flair of Esslingen, and it lacks the magic of the first one of the season. However, it does highlight a very important point: When you study abroad, it’s worth studying abroad in Germany for the Christmas markets alone. Christmas was invented by German pagans a long time ago (oversimplification), and you really get a special appreciation for the holiday by experiencing it in Germany. This also highlights another point: If you’re set on studying in Germany, but are flexible on the semester in which you go, it’s definitely worthwhile being there for the Christmas markets. Having been abroad for the entire year, I can say without a doubt that Christmas is the time to be here. That is, unless something incredible/local happens here in May or June, but if it does, I have yet to learn about it.

Christmas Market in Ulm. Even with the high person density, there's something magical about Christmas markets that makes them desirable places to be.

Christmas Market in Ulm. Even with the high person density, there’s something magical about Christmas markets that makes them desirable places to be.

Climbing the Münster is a definite must do. If heights aren’t your thing, there’s plenty to see and do inside as well.  In addition to the usual amenities of your typical Gothic cathedral, the Ulmer Münster also features very progressive stained glass installations, and has columns is reminiscent of rows of large trees in a forest. While most gothic cathedrals feature light and airy architecture, this was a particularly striking example. Probably just the lighting.

Memorial to holocaust victims in the Ulmer Münster. One of the many examples of fairly progressive stained glass found here.

Memorial to holocaust victims in the Ulmer Münster. One of the many examples of fairly progressive stained glass found here.

The openness of the Ulmer Münster's nave.

The openness of the Ulmer Münster’s nave.

I have it on good faith that Valpo’s President Heckler also likes Ulm – one of his favorite places in Germany. That’s all the recommendation anybody should need.


This is part of a few posts I’m doing on my very favorite travel destinations. We’ll call it “Part Ulm,” because that sounds enough like a number if you don’t think about it at all.

Anti-travel recommendations

“Oh, you’re going to be in Europe? You have to see _______.” –many people to me, prior to my departure.

Many times, this advice is wonderful. Such tidbits have led me and/or my family to discover gems like Hallstatt (Austria), Ulm (Germany), and Bruges (Belgium).

However, there are plenty of duds mixed in with this well-intentioned advice. Here are my recommendations of places you can absolutely skip.


Real quick, one of the quickest ways to judge the value of wherever you travel is the density of selfie sticks. The fewer, the better. This method certainly isn’t 100% foolproof, but it’s a great quick test.

Some clever Germans will refer to the selfie stick as a Deppenszepter – an idiot scepter. I absolutely love this term, and have made it my mission to tell everybody who cares to listen.


So many people recommended the Nürnberg Christmas Market. It’s the largest in the world. Christmas markets are wonderful, so it would make sense that the largest delivers the largest dose of wonderful, right?

My fiancée and I were here on our way to Prague, and spent the afternoon at the market. It was the last Saturday before Christmas, and the crowds were INTENSE. It was nothing short of underwhelming and awful.

Instead of checking out the Nürnberger Weihnachtsmarkt, I would recommend going to Oktoberfest in München to experience the crowds (and the alcohol to take your mind off of them), and then just go to any Christmas market anywhere other than Nürnberg.

I apologize for the low-quality picture, but it both shows the crowds in Nürnberg and reflects the low-quality time that was to be had there.

I apologize for the low-quality picture, but it both shows the crowds in Nürnberg and reflects the low-quality time that was to be had there.

A slight redemption came in the form of a choir comprising old Bavarians. They were singing Joy to the World in the most stereotypically German way possible, particularly with regard to their pronunciation. Accents can tend to be masked by singing, but this was not the case here. Some of them were proudly sporting grumpy frowns. Like Rachel and I, they clearly wanted to be elsewhere. No amount of christmas joy or red tacky holiday sweater could have made the guy on the top left smile. While the sight of this particular gentleman did bring us smiles, it did not go very far to redeem the experience.


My German friend Dom told me when I visited him in September something to the effect of “I’ve heard Heidelberg can be beautiful and romantic, but I’ve never been there”. Or something to that effect 🙂

Heidelberg has the looks of a good destination, and it has the tourists and the reputation for being potentially worth the visit.  There’s an American Air Force base nearby, so many Americans have Heidelberg on their mind. I received several recommendations from people stateside, as well as from some people I’ve met here. There’s a castle in a great location above the city, with a sweeping view of the valley below.

We got there, and saw a glimpse of the castle ruins on the hillside. So far, so good. We walked the way from the hauptbahnhof towards the ruins to check them out. Hiking up the hill, we came to a ticket booth and gladly paid the fee to get to see the ruins. There were some good outlooks, full of people taking selfies and pictures against a backdrop of the valley underneath.

All three of me took advantage of the scenery in Heidelberg.

All three of me took advantage of the scenery in Heidelberg.

We walked inside, and the most notable attractions pointed out by any kind of sign were the exits. There was an apothecary museum and a stupid-large barrel. We skipped the museum, but scraped the bottom of the barrel and investigated the barrel. It was impressively large, but completely inadequately explained. Every sign that referenced the barrel was indicating its location. Nothing discussed its purpose or any significant facts. We walked around further. The only other accessible parts of the castle were outside, so that’s where we went. Looking at the place from the outside, it should have had promise. The ruins looked cool, and had chain-fences – clearly designed for people to be behind. Yet nobody was behind them. Maybe there was a good reason for this, but since this reason wasn’t made clear to us, we’re going to chalk it up to the castle, and the city along with it, as a stupid place to visit.

Part of one of the towers looked like it had fallen off. I had to go to Wikipedia to learn that it was for power storage, and was split in an explosion. This would have been great to know when the picture was taken.

Part of one of the towers looked like it had fallen off. I had to go to Wikipedia to learn that it was for power storage, and was split in an explosion. This would have been great to know at the time the picture was taken.

Take a leaf out of Rick Steves’ travel guides. He excludes Heidelberg, and for good reason.  Here’s a list of “good” reasons to visit Heidelberg:

  1. You’re completing a degree in tourist studies, possibly with a concentration in the Deppenszepter.
  2. You have a family member or friend who was/is stationed in Heidelberg, and you want to get a sense of their locale.
  3. You’re thinking about studying at, or are otherwise interested in the university – the oldest in Germany.

In some sense, Dom was right. Heidelberg has everything it needs to look fantastic. Really beautiful postcards of gorgeous ruins in a spectacular landscape. And Rachel and I didn’t have a bad time in Heidelberg – it was a pleasant way to spend our day. However, our enjoyment was largely due to getting to spend time with each other, partly aided by the ease with which we could mock the lack of things to do there.

“Only Americans go to Heidelberg – Germans never do!” admonished  Isa, a close German friend, upon our return. “I hope you learned your lesson to ask the locals first next time.”


I’m going to add Dublin to the back of this list, with the warning that my opinions are likely tainted by the fact that I wasn’t feeling so great while I was there.

The whole place smelled like manufacturing or welding, somewhat burnt-metallic and cringe-worthy, which definitely did not help to make me feel better.

I had also assumed that my expectation of ‘people being drunk in the streets’ was a false supposition. It was, unfortunately, an entirely correct supposition. Dublin is a great place for a lively party out in public, which is another way of saying that it’s not that great of a place.

Additionally, I am proud of my German heritage. I’m protestant and reserved and opinionated about the definition of good beer. Admittedly, I went to Dublin because I wanted to check Ireland off my list and because the $15 flight from Birmingham was too good to pass. This is massively unfair to Ireland, and I know that. I do hope to return at some point (especially to the lesser-populated parts of the country), and I hope that I will be feeling better when I’m there.

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