Author: Liam Bodlak
Location: Reutlingen, Germany
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?” -David Foster Wallace
I’d heard this joke before. David Foster Wallace is one of my favorite writers, and I’d read the speech-given at Kenyon College in 2005-a few times before. However, I read it again about a week ago, and it just stood out to me. This joke, in my opinion, describes what the study abroad experience is all about.
“Water” in this case, is just our daily surroundings. We don’t think of it at all. It’s just where we are. Valpo is Water. Founders is Water. Our classes are Water. And we just keep swimming. I fell into this mindset my sophomore year. I had tunnel vision with my immediate social circle, and with Valpo in general. I didn’t think much about big picture things, I just went to class, went home, did things around campus, and called it a night. All of that was Water to me. I never truly appreciated the good or seriously questioned the bad. I just kept swimming.
Study abroad changed a lot of that for me. I thought more about the world, and our place in it, as Americans, as young people, as human beings. I met people from all walks of life, and every different continent. I was more independent than ever before. I failed-many times-but every time something went wrong it just taught me more. Growth is never easy. Growth doesn’t come from staying inside your comfort zone. It comes from good old fashioned fear. It comes from trying new things and failing miserably. It comes from living in a country for a whole semester without even speaking the language. I grew up a lot this semester. As a student, as a friend, and as a person. Living in a foreign country was difficult, but it’s the best kind of difficult. It gave me perspective. Being able to see Valpo as a small part of a larger whole was extremely eye opening. I figured out what the Water was.
So, in summation, I think this semester went well. I can’t say I have any major regrets, and I honestly think that this semester changed me more than any other semester has. I’m going to miss this place a lot, but I’m eternally grateful for what it’s brought me, and the person that it’s shaped me into. I’m coming back to Valpo as a more well-traveled person who’s better equipped for life at VU and elsewhere. Germany was amazing, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who’s even considering going. It’s been an amazing time, and I can’t wait to make it back to Europe again sometime in the future. Until next time.
Valpo Class of 2020
Reutlingen Study Abroad Class of Fall 2018