Category: Europe (page 1 of 8)

Setting Goals vs. the Reality of Studying Abroad

Author: Emily Neuharth

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Going into my study abroad semester, I knew that Cambridge was going to entail a change of pace compared to my constantly over-packed Valpo schedule; it was even part of what drew me to this program. As I was mentally preparing for this experience, I was making an ever-growing list of new habits that I wanted to implement while abroad, envisioning myself coming back from Cambridge as a well-balanced and just in general “better” person.

A candid of me in front of Kings College Chapel (sniped by my visiting friend Hayley).

Much of what made up my “New and Improved Emily” to-do list were things that I have been wanting to implement into my life for years. I always reasoned with myself that it’s not necessarily my fault that I had yet to make these changes— I’ve never had the time or margin; my academic, extracurricular, and social commitments at Valpo have always kept me me running straight from one thing to the next. This kind of lifestyle has always created the environment for me to best succeed, even though I always ended every semester completely burnt out. I kept functioning that way partly because it’s what I’ve always known but also because I truly believed that the impressive list of accomplishments that I’d have to show for my hard work would always make it worth it.

The semester before I went abroad marked my halfway-point in college, and I had started reflecting on my time at Valpo and what I wanted for my second half. That previous summer and second semester of sophomore year I had made significant strides in the academic and professional spheres of my life, but at what cost? I had been motivated during all of those late-late-nights and too-early mornings by the fulfillment that these achievements would bring me. While they did make me happy, helped me better discern what I wanted for my future career-wise, and the affirmation it brought from others fueled my self-confidence greatly, it was hard to truly enjoy everything when my mental and physical health were so depleted. I’d also somewhat subconsciously traded in a lot of what had been socially-fulfilling for more of those material accomplishments (like choosing to pour my energy into winning contests and getting good grades instead of relaxing or catching up with my friends). But at some point along the way I had stopped asking for help and leaning on others, so I realized too late that those victories are not very special anymore if I couldn’t celebrate them with my support team.

Taken at the Glasgow Necropolis, Scotland

Because I’d been fairly successful ahead-of-the-curve, if you will, I had always been prompted to keep going by comparing myself to others and by this voice in the back of my head always telling me that “it can only go up from here, you still have so much time left at college” etc. And it was effective. At least, it was effective in piling up external affirmations, but when I finally gave myself a little bit of time to reflect, I began to understand that those kind of achievements were not truly fulfilling me in the long-run. However, I do feel very grateful that slaving away for those past two years had given me a enough wiggle-room to pause and take a breath so that I could make those kind of observations when I did.

With all of this context in mind, I confirmed my application to study abroad in Cambridge. Remember that idealized dream I mentioned earlier? …Living independently in a small European city where I would wake up early without prompting and magically resolve all of my issues? My (unrealistic) list of goals went something like this:

  • Stop procrastinating all of my assignments
  • Write creatively on my own everyday
  • Learn how to cook and eat healthily everyday
  • Do yoga or workout everyday
  • Go to church every week, maybe join a Bible study
  • Get into a regular sleep pattern (i.e. stop staying up and waking up so late)
  • “Make the most” of my time abroad

While all of those goals are good ones, most of them have this “all or nothing” mindset. One of the first topics we covered in my British Life & Culture class were some of the differences between American and British lifestyles (shocking, I know). The difference that’s been the most relevant and difficult for me to adjust to has been in realizing that America encourages extremely competitive atmospheres where we have been trained to believe that “failure is never an option.”

Taken at one of my favorite places I’ve been to yet…A beautiful Medieval town: Lavenham, England.

Now, I’ll agree that achieving all of these goals in a few months would be unrealistic for anyone (and I’ll agree that I’ve also had an issue in the past with romanticizing new situations and the magical affect that it could have on me). However, I do have one caveat: there is definitely something about the idea of “studying abroad” that promotes this kind of mindset. At least in my case, everyone I talked to who were either promoting it or who had been abroad themselves, shared different stories with similar themes of unprecedented self-growth and that was what truly made me want to go abroad.

Perhaps needless to say, I am 3⁄4 of the way done with my time abroad and I have not fully accomplished any of those goals. I have certainly been working on a lot of those goals but I have also failed, repeatedly, at a lot of them. Almost everyday I have to resist the urge to just cancel all of the goals completely and wallow in self-criticism. But, I am slowly learning how to both function and make mistakes.

This kind of reflection has directed me towards a lot of self-exploration and questioning: Why do I struggle so much to find internal motivation? Have I been using over-packed schedules as a crutch my whole life? Why is “trying my best” or even “trying at all” not enough for me to feel proud of what I have accomplished?

Taken at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridge— in SPRING weather!!

3 Things I’ve Learned Over the Past 3 Months:

  1. Failure is OK, half-way-done is OK, procrastination is OK (i.e. everything does not have to always be perfect).
  1. I was blaming my unwillingness to take control of my life on having a super busy schedule.
  1. There is no universally agreed-upon standard of “making the most” of my time abroad that I should be trying to meet. Everybody’s “most” will look different.

But I don’t want to come away from this experience with self-frustration and regret being the predominant themes just because I didn’t meet all of the unrealistic goals that I had set for myself. If my original intentions for these goals and for studying abroad in general was to grow, then I should challenge myself to work towards something that does not have an obvious, external destination or end-product.

I think I am learning that if I can set goals that will help me make “being present” my new habit, then I will certainly return home as someone who has grown and will continue to do so even once I’m back at Valpo.

3 (Realistic) Goals for My Last Month:

  1. Try not to compare my experience to those around me or to others who have studied abroad.
  1. Try to do one thing everyday that grounds me (e.g. going for a walk, journaling, Facetiming a friend or family from home).
  1. Try not to get too caught up in final papers and exams or future plans. Instead, focus on making memories and spending time with my new family of friends— I am sure I’ll be missing them all so much this summer.

Eric and Nolan posing in front of a sign we stumbled upon in Glasgow, Scotland. We thought it was fitting for our Valpo family.

Culture Rocks to Culture Shocks

Author: Garrett Gilmartin

Location: Granada, Spain

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Anyone who has travelled, whether it be from one state to another or one country to another, knows that seeing new plants, people, or buildings can be breathtaking. This was my experience arriving in Spain. Of course, I had some nerves because I did not know anyone in my program. There are other students from Valpo within the program but I knew as much about them as I did everyone else I met upon arrival. Nerves aside, I was extremely excited to be able to use Spanish in a setting other than a classroom.

Culture shock was a big topic before leaving the U.S. and throughout orientation here in Spain. This trip was not the first time I had travelled outside of the United States, so I did not understand the idea of culture shock. It did not make sense to me as I love to absorb information on other cultures, religions, and people, and could not imagine feeling uncomfortable in an environment rich with information for me to absorb. I was wrong… Moreover, despite the mini courses and orientation I went through, I still feel as though culture shock is nothing like what I was told to expect.

I was told that culture shock, without the fancy dictionary definition, was essentially feeling a mixture of homesickness, loneliness, and uncomfortability. That was without a doubt spot on to how I felt when culture shock set in. What was surprising was exactly when the shock set in. My director here in Spain told me once that she had seen charts showing a vague timeline for how one should or might feel while studying abroad or spending a large duration of time in different country, however, she has observed that instead of one large dip in the chart, where student’s feelings of loneliness kick in, there are often two dips before returning home which students are not ready for.

The first is soon after arrival, when it sinks in that the student really is abroad and cannot just call up their friends to go out anymore.This dip in comfortability is often accounted for in standard charts. The second is about half way through the program (in my case a semester) when culture shock hits the hardest because the mix of excitement to go home and hearing from family and friends how things are happening and changing without the student being there can make them feel like they are missing out. This second dip in emotion is the surprising one. Personally, at this point I felt so detached from the life I knew back in the U.S. but also not a perfect fit for Spain. For me this was like losing a sense of belonging to anywhere.

How I dealt with culture shock might not be a perfect fit for others, but (logically) my solution for not feeling like I had a home was to make one. Obviously, I could not try to rebuilt that feeling with Valpo or the Chicagoland area because that is not where I am. So, I really focused on the opportunities in front of me. My host family is wonderful.

I have a host mother and father as well as a host brother who is fifteen, which is actually quite unusual. Most host “families” here consist of a host mother and possibly her grown children who visit now and again. Anyway, that’s just the immediate family that I live with in Granada. There is an older daughter and an older son who have moved out. The daughter comes back to visit often and the son owns one of two total bars in a small mountain town in the region Alpujarras. We often go to visit him on the weekends to help with the bar and get some work done on my host father’s farm. These weekend trips and being able to help with some work has made me feel like part of the family. I am even getting to know many other people who live in the town.

The reality is that everyone experiences culture shock or deals with culture shock differently, but hopefully I can prepare others a little bit more for their trips abroad by revealing how I dealt with it. Other ways to build a family like setting here is to be brave and make friends in and out of one’s program, as I have in Alpujarras and Granada.

Stockholm, Sweden; Reutlingen, Germany; Paris, France

Author: Shannon Ilg

Location: Stockholm, Sweden; Reutlingen, Germany; Paris, France

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

October 20, 2018

Stockholm, Sweden. A beautiful city! Although, it was rather chilly to walk around all day (40,000+ steps, if anyone is counting…) so I ended up purchasing a coat from a second hand shop and a touristy winter hat. Both of them have since then been wonderful additions to my travel wardrobe. Side note… my silly self decided that I wouldn’t need a winter coat so I had originally just brought a jean jacket and a slightly insulated raincoat. I think I would have been okay just in Reutlingen, but with all of the traveling I am certainly glad to have bought the coat and the hat.

October 21, 2018

To save time on traveling by train I secured a cheap flight back from Sweden. It was certainly a great choice, as I got to see the beautiful sunrise over the wing of the airplane (and also saved myself from a 24 hour journey…). Upon flying back into Hamburg, we significantly lowered travel time, and also were able to stop briefly in Berlin again, where we attempted to buy currywurst where we had previously (a delicious sausage street food). Unfortunately, the vendor was not open yet as it was 9 am, so we settled for a chain restaurant.

October 22, 2018

The next morning, Reutlingen greeted us with the first frost. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

October 23, 2018

Another day, spent completely in the walls of the study room, working endlessly on homework. I mean, this is *study* abroad… we can’t just travel all the time! (Although I have done a fair job of traveling every spare moment)

October 24, 2018

I just have to say kudos to the chef of this wonderfully magical mac and cheese that breathed the life back into me at 2 am. It was delicious. Thank you, Lauren.

October 25, 2018


Here you see the contents of approximately 73% of the meals I eat when I’m traveling. A) it’s cheap. B) it’s quite delicious. C) it’s easy to pack upwards of 5 meals for two people at the same time. D) It’s relatively light and packable. E) You can easily carry peanut butter and jam, Nutella and honey, or a number of other combinations so it doesn’t get boring. F) I mean, I could go on, but I think you get the gist…

Oh, by the way, this is the start of Fall Break for classes in Reutlingen (although I still had to keep up with my 3 classes from Valpo), and this countertop is in Paris.

October 26, 2018

Oh, look at that! The Eiffel tower! In all honesty, I was not expecting a whole lot from it at all. My thoughts were approximately ‘it is an overrated hunk of metal that everyone likes taking pictures of’. But it was actually really cool to see in person! It was a lot taller than I was expecting, and you could see it from very far away. Although I don’t think I need to go back any time soon, it was certainly worth the time to go see.

October 27, 2018

So as you can see, I had a pigeon on my arm. This was in front of Notre Dame, and there were a bajillion of these birds out there. There were some men selling bird food that you could attract them with, some people having ten or twenty birds on them at the same time. I happened to have a bunch of stale granola with me, so we used that and had the time of our lives waiting for our tour to begin.

Fall Break

Author: Liam Bodlak

Location: Paris, London, Dublin, Rome

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Fall Break at Valpo is usually pretty short. It’s a time to go home for a bit, recharge, see people, and come back to school to finish out the time until Thanksgiving break. Thanksgiving isn’t as widely celebrated in Europe, so Reutlingen University doesn’t give us a break for it. That makes our weeklong fall break the longest one of the year, and my friends and I took advantage of it. Over the course of the break I traveled to Paris, London, Dublin, and then Rome.

First off was Paris. We left Thursday afternoon, and arrived that night. Paris was slightly different than I’d expected. I’d heard about Paris syndrome, which is an extreme reaction from tourists when Paris doesn’t live up to their expectations, and so my expectations wavered between excited and nervous. Paris was not what I expected, but I liked it. It was somewhat crowded and dirty, but in an endearing way. I appreciated the grittiness of the downtown area. It just felt so alive and exciting. Granted, it was a little annoying to be crammed in with everyone on the metro, but I really appreciated the vibe of the city. The nightlife was great, the tourist attractions (we saw the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Notre Dame Cathedral) were everything they’re cracked up to be, and we somehow found a Steak and Shake in the middle of the city. No complaints about Paris.

Next up was London. It was really nice to have a city without any language barriers, and be able to communicate without difficulty with everyone I met in the city. The weather was nice, and we got to explore a lot. It was interesting to see the different immigrant cultures that are bigger in the UK than other places. There was a Jamaican restaurant next to our hostel, and being able to have authentic Jamaican food and drink was a cultural experience I don’t often get to experience. It didn’t hurt that it was open 24 hours (speaking from experience, jerk chicken is better at 4 AM). London was similar to Paris in the sense of all the tourist attractions, but the people were a lot more interesting than any sort of tourist landmark. The energy of the city makes it what it is, and it’s something that wasn’t lost on me.

We stopped in Dublin for two days after that, and even though we weren’t there for long it was probably my favorite place we went on Fall Break. It was a beautiful city, the people were conversational and friendly, and the Guinness Factory lived up to the hype (the highlight was the sky bar on the top floor, which overlooked the whole city of Dublin). We went out on Halloween night, and the atmosphere was incredible. The people we met were excited to talk about all sorts of things with us, and we met a variety of interesting people as we made our way through the nightlife of College Green. Dublin was an incredible city, and I hope to be back someday.

Our final destination on break was Rome. As with the other cities, it was everything it’s hyped up to be. The food was amazing, the Roman ruins were fascinating, and I got to meet up with a friend from home who showed us around the city our second night there. The highlight was probably the Vatican. I’d seen so many pictures of it before, and it more than lived up to my expectations. It was an incredible, deeply moving experience.

All in all, Fall Break was a great time spent with great people. I got to see some of the most important cities in all of Western Civilization and some of the most beautiful sights in all of Europe, all within the span of a week. I could not be happier with how my Fall Break went.

Twenty-Four Hours in Edinburgh

Author: Emma Hecht

Location: Edinburgh, Scotland

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I don’t have class after noon on Tuesday or at all on Wednesday. So, for fun, I got on Kayak a couple weeks ago and just looked at flights that would get me somewhere and back in about 24-36 hours (Kayak’s explore tab is my best friend). What I found was a round trip flight to Edinburgh, Scotland for 19 pounds… that’s less than 25 dollars.

I got into Scotland around 7 pm on Tuesday evening, went to a pub for an amazing dinner of steak & ale pie and chocolate cake, and then headed to my hostel. I went to bed relatively early so that I could get up at 5:45 am in the morning and climb a hill/mountain/cliff, “Arthur’s Seat” and be at the top for the sunrise. I tumbled out of bed around 5:52 and began the forty minute walk to Arthur’s Seat. It was raining very slightly. It was also pitch black. Five minutes away from my destination, I reached a forest. Apple Maps thought it was a good idea for me to go through it, but I wasn’t convinced. So I stood and looked at it for a good two minutes, deciding if climbing a mountain was worth risking getting kidnapped. Then I saw cars passing on the other side of the forest and their headlights shed enough light for me to see that the forest was about ten trees on either side of a paved sidewalk. I crossed through without any threats to my safety and worked on figuring out where the paths were to climb up, using three feet of light from my iPhone’s flashlight to guide me. At one point I saw a distant light through the dark and I thought, “Oh wow they marked the path with lights, this is great!” But then the light started moving and I realized it was a person. (I concluded it wasn’t a murderer because murderers wouldn’t wear a light that drew attention to them.)

I remembered that I had a map on my phone of the different paths that there are to Arthur’s Seat, so I whipped that out and saw I was closest to the red path, which was described as a “very steep climb” and I thought, “a) it’s extremely dark out, b) it’s been raining, so there will be a good amount of mud, c) I’m wearing boots with very little traction, and d) I have very little experience climbing.” So, I’m on what I can only hope is the red path and I’m making all sorts of wrong turns on paths that aren’t really paths, until it starts to get light and I make a beeline through some grass that leads up to some peaks. I’m not actually convinced that I made it to Arthur’s Seat, but I made it to somewhere tall and it was beautiful.

After the climb, I went to The Elephant House, the café where JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series, or at least The Sorcerer’s Stone. I’ve loved Harry Potter since middle school (who hasn’t?) so that was pretty amazing. I had a cup of tea (as you do in the UK) and a piece of carrot cake.

I went to a few other museums throughout the day, including the National Museum of Scotland, where I saw Dolly, the genetically engineered sheep! My high school biology teacher would be so proud that I remember things from her class.

I was sitting in the Edinburgh airport, waiting for the screen to announce my gate and I got on Kayak and asked where they could take me for December 4th and 5th. So now I’m going to Oslo for 14 pounds. The train ride from Cambridge to the airport and back is going to cost me more than that.

Paris Weekend Adventure

Author: Ulises E. Hernandez

Location: Paris, France

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Europe is famous for its food, culture, parks, monuments, and buildings. Located in Paris, France, The Eiffel Tower is one of the most iconic monuments in Europe. With less than two months remaining in our study abroad program, my best friend and I decided to designate a weekend to visit the wonderful city of Paris. From the Cambridge study center, we took the train to London where we took a bus to France. You might be thinking, England is part of the United Kingdom island?!? Yes, that is correct, England is part of an Island, but thanks to the outstanding European engineers, a tunnel was constructed that allowed the connection between the British island and the European mainland. The bus ride was 7 hours long and it dropped us off outside of Paris.

The very first major building that we visited within about an hour from arrival to Paris was the Cathedral of Notre Dame. We had the opportunity to go inside to look at the most amazing artwork and religious artifacts. Hundreds of tourists from all over the world visit the Cathedral and many of them go up the towers to get a better view of the city and also to look at its amazing bells. Due to our narrow time frame and tight schedule, we were unable to go up the tower, but we did take time to take a few pictures outside the cathedral.

During our visit, the weather in Paris was very cold and windy, but that didn’t stop us from visiting the Eiffel Tower. After taking the metro located about a mile away from Notre Dame Cathedral, we ate dinner at a French restaurant a few blocks from the tower. After eating an amazing lunch and having experienced very strange service, we walked to the tower and we got in line to enter the enclosed area around the tower. From the ground level and to the first and second floor, Ben and I took the stairs. The view from the top of the tower was amazing and we had the opportunity to see the entire city. By the time we made our way down the tower, it was already dark so the lights came on while still inside the tower which to me was a very unique experience.

On our second day in Paris, we visited the Louvre Museum. This museum has a lot of artwork and also has very historically important artifacts from all around the world. One of the most famous artworks in the museum is the Mona Lisa, which attracts a lot of tourists. After walking through the museum for a few hours, we took the metro to visit the very famous Arc de Triomphe. The Arc is actually much bigger than what it seems in the pictures. Ben and I took a few pictures from across the street of the Arc and we walked around the city. Before we left Paris, we took a cruise that takes you to see the major tourist destinations since most of them are located near the river. Overall, we had a very interesting and amazing experience in Paris, France.

Oktoberfest!

Author: Liam Bodlak

Location: Munich/Stuttgart, Germany

Pronouns: He/Him/His

“What’s the history of Oktoberfest? Like, what’s the significance?”

A friend asked me this question, and I honestly didn’t know how to respond. I’d been to the festival three separate times-twice in Stuttgart, once in Munich-and I was unaware of any sort of major historical significance of it. So I did my research, thought about it, and finally figured out what Oktoberfest was all about. The answer is that, in 1810, King Ludwig I put on a festival to celebrate his marriage to Princess Therese, and the event sort of caught on and was celebrated every year.

My first Oktoberfest experience was in Munich. Me and three friends took a late train from Leipzig to Munich, and after arriving, met up with our Airbnb hosts. After a survey of our Airbnb (complete with a box shower that kept the water warm for about thirty seconds), we were all ready to start our day at Oktoberfest. And what a day it was. We found ourselves in the Hofbrau House, where we found ourselves seated next to two Scotsmen, who we spent most of the day with. We talked about various topics, including the Midwest (“Indiana’s the one with a lot of NASCAR, right?”) and Unicorns (the national animal of Scotland, because Scotland is amazing). I also received travel advice from a very friendly Dutchman, who talked my ear off about how Rotterdam was better than Amsterdam. A few hours later, I was feeling pretty hungry. I went to a McDonalds right outside the venue, and was reminded again that Europeans don’t have sweet tea. (I tried explaining it for a solid 10 minutes to someone in Copenhagen and he couldn’t wrap his head around the concept. If nothing else, Americans are outdoing the rest of the world in the field of sugary drinks). We eventually got back to the Airbnb, and we left the next morning. Munich Oktoberfest was a success.

Two weeks later, I spent two nights attending Wasen (Stuttgart’s version of Oktoberfest). Stuttgart was slightly smaller than Munich (Munich is around the size of San Diego, and Stuttgart is closer to Louisville), but it was still a great time. Highlights included multiple singalongs of Country Roads (John Denver is evidently huge in Germany) and having one of the people at my table scream, unprompted “I AM THE POLISH ANGUS YOUNG!”, a quote made exponentially better by the fact that there wasn’t even an AC/DC song playing at the time.

Everything was so overwhelmingly beautiful. From the rides, to the food, to the way the whole festival lights up at night. I was awestruck the entire time I was there. I felt a sort of togetherness with the people there. All of us were strangers that became friends for a few hours. We had fun together, but in a few months we’ll all be back in Scotland, or Ireland, or Poland, or wherever we’re from, and we’re all going to be a distant memory and a funny story to someone else. But that word-togetherness-is something I definitely felt at Oktoberfest. Just from little interactions, I felt a closeness with the world that I don’t normally experience. We’re all very different-culturally, spiritually, economically-but for a few hours, we were all together.

 

 

My First Month Abroad: Reutlingen, Berlin, and Ireland

Author: Mark Young

Location: Germany/Ireland

One of our first days in Reutlingen we climbed Georgenberg, a nearby mountain with a beautiful panoramic view of Reutlingen and the surrounding towns. Nearly all of the houses here have red roof.

 

Walking through the city provides many gorgeous views of the natural and man-made landscape. Houses often have neatly paired stone and vines which give off a rustic and aged feeling.

 

The dogs are extremely well trained here — many are walked without leashes. This good boy was waiting outside a cafe for its owner.

 

We visited Tubingen in our first week here. Tubingen is home to the University of Tubingen which causes the city’s population to be one-third student. It is a very pretty and historic city.

 

Just a short walk from the dorm you can find many gorgeous views of the Swabian Jura.

 

Our first trip was to Berlin. This is the Altes Museum at night. Hitler once addressed mass rallies up to a million people on the steps of the museum. It now holds antique paintings, drawings, and other classical pieces of art or history.

 

This is the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. It contains 2,711 slabs of concrete arranged in a grid. It was designed to replicate the Mt. Olive Cemetery.

 

We also visited Sanssouci, the summer palace of Frederick the Great. It is often considered the German Versailles.

 

After our trip to Berlin, I went to Ireland, with a two day delay in Mallorca, Spain. The rocky coastline of the Celtic Sea was gorgeous and sublime.

 

As if the rest of the coast wasn’t magnificent enough, the Cliffs of Moher commanded respect and admiration. Standing next to such a sheer drop-off was both terrifying and exciting.

 

Back in Reutlingen, a couple friends and I climbed another mountain and watched as the sun set over the city from a ruined castle’s tower.

 

The one month I’ve been in Reutlingen has been wonderful. While language barriers can sometimes cause minor issues, the people are accomodating and friendly; the city is historic and pretty; and the landscape is a nice change from the plains of Indiana.

The First Month

Author: Liam Bodlak

Location: Germany/Denmark

I’ve been in Germany for about a month now, and it already sort of feels like home. My classes started today, and while being the only American in my Business Stats class is kind of weird, it’s not too bad. I’ve been traveling a lot, meeting people from all sorts of different backgrounds, and learning a lot about Europe in general. I had a lot of time to do what I want given that I’ve only had two classes up until now, but even with a full course load my schedule isn’t too terrible. Not speaking German has definitely been an issue, but I’m learning a little bit every day, and most people here speak a little bit of English anyways.

So far I’ve been to a number of places in Europe, both within and out of Germany. First, I was in Berlin for about a week, then I spent the weekend in Copenhagen. Both places were amazing, filled with culture, nightlife, and great people. Berlin especially has great historical significance. We went to a number of WW2 monuments, and the tone of it intrigued me greatly. As Americans, we have such a positive view of World War 2 because we won in just about every regard possible. The US benefited from that war more than anyone, and we’re proud of that to this day. However, the Germans suffered the greatest defeat of the war, and the tone of their monuments reflect that. They’re somber, reflective, and show a country that wants to move strongly forward without forgetting its dark past.

The Berlin Wall was also incredible. So much has been said about the wall, its significance, and its eventual tearing down. But one thing stood out to me when I was looking at the wall. There was a lot of graffiti on the wall, some of it political, some of it apolitical. One piece of graffiti stuck with me, however, and I still think about it now two weeks after leaving Berlin. The message reads “ TO ASTRID, MAYBE SOMEDAY WE’LL BE TOGETHER ”. It’s not clear who wrote this, or when it was written. It’s heartbreaking to imagine someone who misses someone else badly enough to get near the top of the wall and write a note that might not even reach its recipient. I figured that, with the amount of people who saw this message every day, and the far reach that social media has, that someone would have found the story behind it. However, doing research on the message just leads to tourists taking pictures of it. It sounds sentimental, and I doubt that any sort of conclusion will come on what happened to these people, but I can’t help but wonder if the writer of this message ever found Astrid, and if that someday ever came.

Then we went to Copenhagen, which was a fun experience even if it was only for two days. We marched with the Danish army through the streets for the changing of the guard, got lunch on the Nyhavn waterfront, and wound up bar hopping in the city for a little bit. We weren’t there too long, but even so, I can honestly say that Copenhagen is one of the most aesthetically beautiful cities I’ve been to.

After a few days back in Reutlingen, we were back traveling again, this time to Leipzig. I honestly didn’t expect Leipzig to be as much fun as Berlin given its size (Leipzig is slightly less populous than Milwaukee) but it’s an amazing city. The nightlife was surprisingly great, every club we went to had great music and fun people, and the cities small size worked to our advantage, as everywhere we went was within walking distance. After Leipzig me and three friends went to Munich to partake in Oktoberfest for a day. It absolutely lived up to my expectations, the vibe there was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The Scottish guys I hung out with there had been there for three days, and if I have the opportunity I definitely want to spend a week or so there. I had an amazing experience, but I feel like I barely scratched the surface of Munich Oktoberfest.

So, all in all, it’s been a fun month. I’m looking forward to the rest of this semester, and all the traveling, experiences, and growth that comes with it. I’ll be keeping this blog updated regularly, so hopefully you’ll all be hearing from me again soon. Tschuss!

 

Reflecting on the Netherlands

Author:  Rachel Silcox

Location: Utrecht, Netherlands

While abroad, one university professor told me that while I may come to this place as 100% American, I would leave only 95% American. Over those months spent in another country, we start to act, think, and feel at home there, even if just a little bit. This has certainly been my experience in the Netherlands. A once far off dreamy, tulip and bike clad land, Nederland has in a way, become a second home. While I may not speak the language, or look Dutch at all, the sounds and sights of the country do not seem strange or foreign anymore, in fact they feel quite comforting.

When I came back from my fall break trip to Italy, as soon as I got on the plane back to Amsterdam, I started to hear Dutch. Italian was foreign to me and having spent a week in that environment, I was excited to get back to what I knew! When I heard the throaty g’s and unique accent of the Dutch language, I immediately felt at home. This was the strangest feeling though, because I did not even recognize what these people were saying, yet somehow it still felt like home to me.

I wanted to come to Utrecht to become a global citizen and I have grown in that venture. I love how I was able to adapt to another culture and start to feel a part of it. It was a challenge in learning to be frustrated, confused, and hopelessly lost, and being able to conquer those feelings. At some moments, I felt like a complete outsider, unable to communicate or effectively function in this system. Other times I felt like I completely fit in. When I had to tell the cashier or store clerk, “sorry, I just speak English,” I felt like I was an intruder. But on the other hand, when I had a “conversation” with an old lady speaking Dutch by smiling, nodding, and laughing at the right moments, I felt completely Dutch. I felt like this sweet old woman could have even been my grandmother. There were hundreds of other moments on both sides of the spectrum, but through these moments I grew the most. I learned to try my best to adapt to a different way of living, to not feel defeated if I couldn’t the first time, and to realize I could try again.

 

I think this best summarizes my stay abroad: feeling like an outsider, but growing in my understanding and action to start to feel like I belonged. While my experience at University College Utrecht was heavily shaped by my transition to Dutch culture, it has broader implications. At first, I struggled to adapt to a new lifestyle, but eventually I was able, and it even started to become like home. Regardless of the specific culture I adapted to, I now know I can adapt, fit in, and be at home in another place. Through study abroad, I have not only learned that I can adapt to new environments, but I have also learned how. I think this is the most important lesson I have taken away from this experience, learning how to be, not just an American, but a global citizen.

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