Valpo Voyager

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Category: Tübingen (page 2 of 6)

All posts from students studying abroad in Tübingen, Germany

Totebags and other Souvenirs

So, upon settling into university life for real, my life has come with a lot of first in the last week. Here are a few:

1. First German Doctors Visit

Although Germany is famous for its nationalized healthcare system, I did not get to experience it firsthand until this week. I had been feeling sick for a while, but until last Friday, I didn’t actually feel sick enough to do anything about it. So once I woke up with no voice, I decided it was time to visit the apothecary. In Germany, the pharmacy is called the apothecary and it is kind of like an in between place for small ailments like colds and the flu that do not require a prescription, but could still use some homeopathic remedies or a bit of medicine. However, once I got to the apothecary, I was quickly advised that I would need to go see a doctor. Within the next 10 minutes, I was on my way to a  nearby doctor’s office and in less than ten minutes I was back on my way to the apothecary to get antibiotics. I was incredibly surprised how quickly it took for  me to go to the doctor. It was easy, since all I had to do was show my insurance card and give my address and phone number and since I only had a small ailment the doctor looked at my symptoms and then told me what needed to be done about them. This may have been an exception since I came kind of close to closing time and the practice was small, but I have never experienced a doctor’s visit that has taken less than a half hour’s wait and I was shocked by how efficiently my visit was handled.

2. Feijoada

Some of my friends are other exchange students and amongst these one of the largest nationalities are Brazilians. I was lucky enough to be invited over to one of my friends houses to try the national dish of Brazil, feijoada. It is a delicious dish of black beans served with rice. Although this has nothing to do with German culture, I really enjoyed getting to know something about the home country of many of my friends and it was great to try a delicious home-cooked meal from another country as well.

3. Visiting with Eva

I went on my first visit to a German friend this week. My friend Eva lives in a nearby town where she has lived since graduating from Uni Tübingen. We worked together 2 summers ago at a language immersion camp, so when I got to Germany, I was sure to get in touch with her to arrange a visit. I got a lovely tour of her town called Esslingen, which has retained a lot of the architecture of the middle ages like Tübingen, but also a lot of the architecture of the Industrial Revolution which is different, but equally beautiful. I also realized how fortunate I am to have friends nearby. It occurred to me suddenly that the best part of this trip was seeing Eva because she is a good friend and that she is the first person who I have seen in the past two months, that I have known for more than two months. It was really great to hang out with someone who I know and love for a change of pace, rather than someone who I am getting to know.

4. Improv Group

When I got to Germany, I received an e-mail from the international student group at the university asking if I would like to sign up to have a German mentor. I immediately said yes and was quickly paired up with someone. I was happy to find that my mentor, Maike, was absolutely fabulous. We hit it off right away and she invited me to join her improv theater group in Tübingen. This experience was really wonderful. It was great to have a situation in which it was acceptable to just talk to Germans, but less formal than most of the classroom settings in which I had previously experienced. And hopefully the practice of having to speak without too much prompting will help me to improve my language skills even more.

A map of Köln, because I have been collecting maps lately.

A map of Köln, because I have been collecting maps lately.

5. Köln

I went to Köln this weekend for a conference for my scholarship this weekend. Basically, this trip was whirlwind 24 Hours heading up north on the train and listening to two whole presentations and getting to hang out with some very interesting people. I really enjoyed being in Köln because it is near where I lived during my exchange year and it was nice to see some of the culture differences between the Northwest and the Southwest of Germany. The main difference was the beer, which in the south is usually as heavier Hefeweizen and in the north a lighter Kölsch, which is a much more bitter beer. It was overall a great trip, but by far the highlight was the totebag that received as part of my scholarship. Totebags are surprisingly popular here in Germany and I must say I have been eyeing them with envy since arriving here. Needless to say, I was perhaps embarrassingly overjoyed once I arrived and was immediately handed a totebag, which I proceeded to carry around with me for the rest of the day. Sometimes it is the little things in life that count the most.


6. A Valpo Visit

On Monday a few weeks ago, Professor DeMaris from the German department was asked to be a keynote speaker at the opening for an art exhibit in Rottenberg about the Indiana Dunes. She was nice enough to show me the city and teach me a bit about Josef Eberle, the former owner of the Stuttgarter Zeitung and a donor to Valpo. It was a lovely tour and I really enjoyed reconnecting with Valpo in the process. Rottenburg is a lovely, beautifully preserved city much like Tübingen except with one big difference: it is not a university town. Although much of the architecture was similar, it gave the town a much different feel to see it brimming with people of all ages as opposed to mainly twenty and thirtysomethings.

Bis bald!

Uni: Week 1

So, this past week was the first week of German university for me. Although most of my fellow Valpo students back home are halfway through their Semester, Germans Semesters are almost a full 2 months behind in schedule.


A reenactment of how I would have posed, had I remembered to take a first day of uni photo.

A reenactment of how I would have posed, had I remembered to take a first day of uni photo.

My schedule itself is quite different than any that I have had since beginning college. Most notably, I don’t have any classes at all on Monday. This was a surprise for me, but I was also kind of glad to have a day of the week off, in order to do more preparation before starting a week of classes. Additionally, all of my classes meet just once a week, but for much longer periods than I am used to, ranging from 2 – 3 hours long.

The dreaded cum tempore in its natural habit.

The dreaded cum tempore in its natural habit.

On Tuesday, I had my first class, a seminar on Comparative Politics of European Parliamentary Systems. This class taught me about in important rule of German university: C.T., or cum tempore. This Latin phrase means that the class actually starts 15 minutes later than the time listed in the registration. Expecting the usual German punctuality, I showed up to class 5 minutes early to get myself settled in before preparing to take notes. Much to my dismay, no one else showed up for another 20 minutes, leaving me to worry about whether or not I had found the right room or if I was sitting in the wrong hall.  Fortunately, 10 minutes after the scheduled lecture time, people started to trickle in and I was able to determine that I hadn’t messed up the location of the seminar, but rather the time. In the end though, I’m glad to have a few extra minutes to spare on the way to class.

On Wednesday, I had 2 seminars and a lecuture. The first is called Intercultural Communications. I already love this course because it is so applicable to my everyday life.  The class is made up of a great mix of foreign and German student from many different countries, so it is full of intercultural communication itself. The project at the end of the class is to make a portfolio of what we have learned about intercultural communication.

The part of the castle in which I have my class.

The part of the castle in which I have my class.

The second of the two seminars is from the department of European studies and is called Name and Region. Name and Region is exactly what it sounds like: it’s an analysis of the names and the regions the come from with a focus on the southwestern region of Germany where the university lies.  I think this course will be a bit challenging for me, because it’s in somewhat new territory subjectwise, but I’m excited to learn about it nonetheless. Also, I should mention that this class takes place in the basement of a castle. So, no matter what it will give me a good anecdote.  The final class of Wednesday is called An Overview of Wurttembergian Church History. This is a theology course that I’m taking to fulfill my upper-level Theo credit, but I’m excited about it because it again focuses on the region in which I’m living. Already, I’ve heard about the influence that the Church has had on the culture here, mainly through a series of medieval laws concerning cleaning that have instilled a love of tidiness into the region. It will be interesting to learn more about the other impacts that it has had as well.

Thursday is a again another seminar called “Hot Topics.” This is offered by the department of German as a foreign language and I took it to work on my academic German. The course focuses on academic language and debate rather than simply casual speaking. I’m excited to see what I will learn from it.

Finally on Friday, I have my final lecture called First-Language Development. This is a linguistics class that focuses on how children attain their first language. It already seems very fascinating and complex, but I’m so excited to learn more about the details of language learning and how people process it. Last semester at Valpo, I took an introduction to German Linguistic, which I really enjoyed and I’m excited to jump into this topic more deeply.

An online PDF textbook!

An online PDF textbook for my Polisci course.

Another interesting thing that about German university. is that textbooks are usually either provided by PDF or available free of cost from the library. I was excited to find out that I would be saving money on textbooks after attending my first classes.   The first week was in my opinion quite good. I enjoyed all of my classes despite the rainy weather and my being sick. Now I’m ready to see where the classes and the presentations that start next week will take me. Mostly, I’m just glad to be back to the life of a university student.

Bis Bald!

The Lowlands

So, in the free week between our German course and the beginning of the semester, my friend Charlotte and I decided to go to the Netherlands for a few days.  One of the things that struck me the most was the number of bicycles in the Netherlands. Although we stayed in large metropolitan areas, there were often few busses or running cars to be seen, but instead an ocean of bicyclists. At first, this was a bit disarming, but once we learned the correct way to walk through a steady stream of bicyclists, it became easy to navigate. We first stayed in Amsterdam, which was basically a giant art tour.

On the first day, we spent about 4 hours walking through the Rijksmuseum, but I honestly could have spent all day if not for the lack of accessible bathrooms. It was absolutely fabulous to see such great works of art from such different periods of time, all of which were equally fascinating. The museum taught not only about Dutch art, but also about Dutch history.

Some of the highlights were:

On the next day, we went to the Van Gogh Museum. It was absolutely fabulous. Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists and seeing his work and the progression of his life was wonderful.  I really liked seeing how his use of color and the wide brush strokes that are a signature of Van Gogh’s work evolved overtime. Many of the works from earlier in his life areMy favorite work was one of his self portraits, which I was unfortunately unable to photograph.


A Vermeer from the Rijksmuseum

Another painting from the Rijksmuseum

Another painting from the Rijksmuseum

On the second to last day, I finally fufilled my dream of visiting Vondelpark, a large, Central Park-like area located at the southern end of Amsterdam that I had read a lot about and was excited to see. I was not disappointed. It was actually a beautiful piece of property that was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city and its bikes.

Finally, Vondelpark!

Finally, Vondelpark!

On the last day in Amsterdam we went to the North end of the city, located across the IJ lake and went to a great market and the EYE Film Institute which had some nice little exhibits about Dutch film, . Later, while waiting for the train to Utrecht, we waited at the public library, which aside from having a spectacular view, also had a lot of books. I took some time to just sit down and read, in Dutch, which is very linguistically similar to German, so much so that you can understand much of it without having learned the language.


An absolutely adorable canal in Utrecht

Utrecht is a much smaller, although very friendly city that is packed with churches. There were 22 total each with its own unique set of bells that at times filled the airwaves in the city. I am a huge fan of churchbells. There is something about the unconscious keeping of time that is so beautiful about them.  On our first night in Utrecht, we went on a Lumina Trajectum tour of the city. This consisted of a scavenger hunt for a bunch of lights throughout the city, its canals and landmarks that took us right through the old city of Utrecht. Later, when we visited one of the churches on the tour, Sint Wiliboald’s, I found an answer to a question that had been on my mind since coming to the Netherlands: why did it cost money to look at the churches? In Germany, churches are usually free of charge to visit and therefore one of the easiest ways to see beautiful architecture and history if you’re travelling on a budget, but since arriving in the Netherlands, we had only been able to find one or two churches that were open to the public. The answer I found lies in the structuring of the churches themselves. In Germany, the church is financed through a special tax that registered members of the church are required to pay, so there is always sufficient funding for church upkeep. In the Netherlands, congregations are separate organizations from the groups that own and maintain the church buildings (which may sometimes be the government). Therefore, the cost of maintaining the historical church buildings is not always covered by the congregation alone, but by the people who come to look at the churches.

View from the windmill's balcony

View from the windmill’s balcony

A poorly lit picture of the Dutch invention that helped to make windmills more efficient

A poorly lit picture of the Dutch invention that helped to make windmills more efficient

One of my favorite parts of the entire trip was the tour of a sawmill we took while in Utrecht. It is one of only two working sawmills in the Netherlands and the tour that we got was absolutely amazing. The windmill, aside from being the Netherlands national symbol, is actually one of the things that helped to launch the Netherlands into the wealthy nation that it became during the first industrial revolution. Because of good wind catching land that existed in the Netherlands, sawmills were able to be easily built to process wood from places like the Black Forest in Germany, conveniently located just along the Rhein river.

I also enjoyed many, many Dutch foods. The first was Gevulde Koek, a cookie filled with marzipan. Marzipan is one my favorite foods, so combining it with basically anything was a winning combination for me. I also had some salted licorice. Many people do not like the strong and bitter taste of salted licorice, but I enjoy the herbal flavor that it has combined with its sourness.

I also enjoyed eating Gouda. Charlotte and I were trying to save money, so we decided to go shopping at the Dutch grocery store instead of eating out at every meal.  I think that this is the best way to get to know a foreign culture, to stick your head in a grocery store and see what you can find through the everyday food that is offered. It was interesting just to look at the shelves and see what there was to eat. I found some lovely salmiak (salted licorice) that I enjoyed.

Overall it was a great trip. I really enjoyed seeing how a culture that seemed so similar to German culture on the surface could be so different once I learned a bit more about it.

Bis bald!

Der Milchautomat and a look at German food culture

So, in the past week, I have discovered something absolutely amazing just down the road. There is an milk dispenser right near where I live that gives fresh milk 24-hours a day. It’s kind of whimsical, especially coming from someone who’s lived in suburban areas most of her life.  I was especially excited to find the automat because the milk here in Germany is slightly different than in the United States.


Fresh milk from the lovely milk automat.

"Storable" Milk from the grocery store

“Storable” Milk from the grocery store


Instead of getting big gallons of milk, like many Americans do, German milk comes in litres. That is no big surprise considering the size of most German refrigerators is comparable to mini-fridges that most college students have in their dorm rooms. However the milk itself is also a bit different. It is called “haltbare Milch” or “storable” milk. This means that until opening, it can be stored for quite some time without refrigeration. The milk tastes perfectly fine on its own, a bit different from fresh milk, but perfectly acceptable. However, since I drink a lot of milk, I prefer to drink it fresh instead of out of the carton and the dairy farm nearby was the perfect solution.

This is the perfect time to talk about the overall differences in German food. German food is what I would describe as fresher. When you walk into a supermarket, there are not always very many ready-made options as in the U.S. The grocery stores themselves are a lot smaller and the frozen food section is also a lot smaller.  Germans usually go shopping every 2 or 3 days as opposed to once a week, so the produce used to cook is usually fresher as well. There are also a higher fat content in German milk than in American, with most people buying 1.5%-whole milk instead of fat-free or 2%. This goes along with the idea that the milk is less processed and contains more of its original nutrients. The biggest exception to this, I have found is broth, which comes in a powdered form which much be reconstituted in water. But again, I think this has to do with fridge space which is usually reserved for things that absolutely must be refrigerated. Another exception are eggs which are kept out of fridges both in grocery stores and in homes. These are sold in 10 or 6 packs instead of dozens, which again fits with the motto of going shopping multiple times a week. Bread is of course purchased freshly from the baker, although it can also be bought from supermarket shelves at a lower price but sometimes lower quality.

In attempt to add another level of depth to my discovery of German food, I asked my flatmates a few questions about their own shopping habits. Most of them responded that they actually go shopping a few times a week, but that their families go shopping less often and also have larger fridges. They said that this was mostly due to lack of planning on their part and spontaneous decision making. They also said that students tend to eat less fresh food (something very true in American culture) because it takes longer to prepare. One of my them even said that usually, one doesn’t tend to cook freshly until around the age of 30 or when they have children. When it comes to milk, none of them drink fat-free milk, but solely on the grounds that it tastes better as opposed to it having any large health benefits. As with anything, this was a decidedly unscientific way of describing German culture, but I thought it would be interesting to see what a few people think anyway. When I asked what they thought about the sizes of German fridges, the responses varied from finding the size of the fridge impractical to not needing anymore space. Once my classes start up, I will hopefully have some more serious topics to write about than just milk.

Bis bald!


Unexplained Cultural Phenomena: Or, What I don’t Understand about Germans

So despite the total 1 year and 1 month total that I have ever been in Germany there are many things that Germans do that just don’t make sense to me. So I decided to ask around and see what explanations I could find to what I largely find to be  the conundrums of German culture.

1. Bottled Water:


Although tap water has been proven to be higher quality than many types of bottled water, Germans still buy their water from the store instead. Especially considering the efforts of the average German to maintain an eco-friendly lifestyle,  I was surprised that so many reusable bottles were in circulation (and I really mean circulation, there is a very well running bottle recycling program in Germany that incentivizes recycling by offering money for returned bottles- and this unlike the recycling program in the U.S. is located in every grocery store entryway). My teacher explained this as being caused by the historical health benefits of drinking water in spa towns, where springs produced mineral-rich water. Eventually the health water was bottled and sold in popular stores. Even though the water sold in stores is of the same quality as the kind found in a faucet, the idea that buying water is healthier has stuck.


2. Covered Legs:

So Germany, as you may have heard is known for being a notoriously  liberal country. Some of my classmates have already come to class wanting to know how they can politely ask their flatmates to please not walk around the flat naked quite so often. However, when the Germans do wear clothes, the ones that I have seen so far tend to be pretty covering. Even on a hot day, women will wear a skirt with tights or long pants.  Men wear skinny jeans instead of shorts as well. Every time I wanted to wear shorts or a skirt without tights, I felt like I was wearing a sign that said “Guess who’s an Ausländer (foreigner)!”  At first I wracked this up to the simple pragmatism that is the explanation for so many a parts of German culture. But then I started to realize that even when I thought it was okay to be wearing shorts (i.e. hiking up a mountain on a 25 degree Celcius day), nearly everyone else was wearing jeans. To answer this I went not to my teacher, but to my street smart Tutor, Joanna, who seems to have her finger on the pulse of German fashion (and yes, I know how weird that sentence might sound, but these are the logical things that go through my head whilst contemplating German culture). And the answer was, actually just the pragmaticism that is the explanation for so many things in German culture.

3. Internet security

So this one is less a conundrum and more soemthing that just occured to me as being very different. Germans are very very careful about the online footprint they leave. If not made clear by the outrage after it was revealed that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone was being tapped by the U.S. government, Germans are very conscious of their online footprint and the effects that this footprint can have on their real lives. One way that this has affected my daily life is in the form of online banking. I decided to do online banking, because it is convenient for me since I don’t live in the center of the city. When I signed up, I was told in great detail about the many contracts that I would have to sign and return and given a small machine about the size of a calculator. This machine is called a TAN machine (TransAction Number). In order to access my banking information, I have to physically stick my bank card into this little maschine and then put sensors up to a flashing graphic on the screen in order to receive a code which I then have to type into the computer in order to do anything. I personally think that this is very interesting and probably a very good thing, what with the growing threat of cyber crime.

My little TAN Machine

My little TAN Machine

I also noticed a difference at the library where one must first insert a student id into the printer before being able to print out papers. First you send the document to the printer, then you go and insert your card and select print. This has two main benefits. One, you are physically at the printer when your document prints, so no one will lay it off to the side or throw it in the recycling bin. The document is secure. Additionally this prevents over-printing by bringing in an additional step to the printing process. If you decide at the last minute that you actually don’t want to print the document or have made a last minute change before printing, there is a last-minute change to opt out of wasting paper. I am a fan of this system because of it’s paper saving qualities and efficiency in organizing the printing at such a large university.

4. Barefootedness, everywhere.


My feet looking very, very alternative

So according to the teacher of my language course, it is possible in Germany to go shopping, or eat in a restaurant in without wearing shoes. Coming from a country where the phrase “No shirt, no shoes, no service” exists, I was a bit surprised. Americans are mostly taught that going barefoot is somehow unclean. This, like many other practices belong to what Germans refer to as “alternativeness.” Unlike the American definition of this term that has to do more with punk music, German “alternativeness” is more of a term used to describe an environmentalist way of living. Other qualities that might qualify someone as “alternativ”  are having dreadlocks, being a vegan, or wearing a specific type of pants made from fair trade materials that sit looser around the legs. This style is quite popular in the region of Germany that I live in, which due to the popularity of the Green Party has something of a name as a green region. I don’t know quite how I feel about the blatant categorization of  people like this, but I would like to note that this label is much less attached to the worth of person as it is to a descriptor of their outward appearance. Kind of a shallow term to describe the shallowness that inherently lies in an appearance.

These findings are in no way definitive, but I thought it would be interesting to share with you some of the things that have been most fascinating to learn out about German culture.

Bis Bald!

Another Wanderung

So it has become something of a habit that I go hiking at least once a week with my friends. And  I thought it was about time that I summarize some of the fabulous hikes we have taken together.

Hiking, it should be noted is a very German pastime. The subcategories of hiking are “Spaziergang” which involves a jaunty walk lasting less than 2 hours and “Wanderung” which must last at least 2 hours to qualify for this category regardless of level of difficulty.

A sequoia tree (originally from California) found in the forest in Schönbuch park

A sequoia tree (originally from California) found in the forest in Schönbuch park

Bebenhausen: It was only a short bus ride from Tübingen out to this idllyic small town, but we ended up taking a 13 km hike around the Schönbuch forest preserve. One of the highlights of this hike was the small forest libraries located towards the start of the trail. It was charming and I was able to lend out a small thriller (called Krimi), which is one of the more popular genres in German popular literature. It was interesting because there was actually a gate at the entrance to the park, but it was free for everyone to open, so it was really an enclosed park. We did not originally intend to go 13km but as it turns out, we took a real Wanderung after all. We ended up going through some gorgeous wine mountains and landing in a small town nearby. All in all it was a great day under the open skies and my first experience being in a national park in Germany. It also convinced my friends and me that we should keep hiking.

A slightly too-dark picture of the Blautopf

A slightly too-dark picture of the Blautopf, I promise it is very blue.

Blaubeuren: This hike actually took place during our class retreat. We went on a tour of the monastery located in the town of Blaubeuren and then proceeded to the Blautopf, or blue lake in town. Blaubeuren actually has a special connection with the University of Tübingen because it is where the bishop who asked the pope for permission to open the Uni Tübingen lived. Then we went past the blue lake to some ruins located on the top of the mountain. Although it did not technically take 2 hours to get to the top, this was a much more difficult hike than in Bebenhausen. Afterwards we hiked to a giant cross and memorial on the top of a hill in Blaubeuren. This was actually nice even though the first hike had been kind of tiring. It was good to have an afternoon off of classes to just enjoy nature and be outside.

The view of Schloss Lichtenstein

The view of Schloss Lichtenstein- named after the light colored stone on which it sits

Lichtenstein: This was perhaps the only one of the hikes that actually had a goal at the end. We hiked not to Lichtenstein the country (which is in fact properly spelled Liechtenstein in German),but to Castle Lichtenstein located about 40 km from Tübingen. We took a bus most of the way and only ended up hiking a few kilometers. This was most definitely a Spaziergang. It was very easy and partially paved and of course ended in a castle and a biergarten. The castle itself was modeled after a book at the wish of Count of Urach, so it was literally something out of a fairytale. It was located on the edge of this beautiful cliff and had a gorgeous view. This hike was one of the best planned so far and we even remembered to bring a cake along to eat at the end of the trip up to the castle. This castle also has a connection to the University because its owners were relatives of Count Eberhard Karl (for whom the University is actually named).

Bodensee (Lake Constance):

The English translation of the name of this lake will always remain a mystery to me, but it was really gorgeous no matter what it was called. This trip was yet again in conjunction with my German course. We took a bus from Tübingen down to the lake to first look at the Marienkirche located on the shore of the lake. We went to Schloss Meersburg where Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, a very important German poet lived and learned about her life a bit. My favorite part however, was neither the castle, nor the church (although both were cool), but the stone-age museum that we saw on the lake. The stone-age museum was actually a collection of reconstructed stilt houses in the lake. The houses were built because the provided optimal protection from animals and allowed for easy access to trade routes.

100_1461    100_1462

This was interesting to me because it was something that I had never expected to see something like this in Germany. With the abundance of castles and churches, it is easy to forget that there were periods in German history before any of that was built.  So, this wasn’t really a hike per se, but we still had quite a good Spaziergang between the different points of our trip and enjoyed a nice day on the lake.

The “German-ness” of hiking reminds me of an important cultural difference between the U.S. and Germany. Germany, at least the Green-Party-dominated region of Baden-Württemberg, is a country that is very aware of its relation to nature. Aside from the fact the Green party, which bases the majority of its politics on an environmental viewpoint, is a major player in parliament, Germans themselves seem to take into account the environment in small ways in everyday life.  Recycling is precisely sorted out people are more willing to take public transportation systems and always bring their own reusable bags to the supermarket. The bike lane is something to fear whilst crossing the street due to the number of bikes zooming past at any given moment. And its not to say that these lifestyle choices are not without their marginal benefits: gasoline is much more expensive here in Europe so it makes sense to drive less, the urban sprawl allows for more public transportation in more places and German grocery stores charge for plastic bags making it cheaper to bring your own bag. However, I find it overwhelmingly positive that such initiatives exist at all and that care for the planet is in the forefront of everyone’s minds. And with all the gorgeous opportunities to hike, how could you not want to do everything to protect the planet?

Bis Bald!

In Ulm und um Ulm und um Ulm herum

So, this past week my class took a week-long trip to the small town of Blaubeuren, just outside of Ulm. Blaubeuren is adorable and famous for it’s blue pond created by a chemical reaction between lime and carbon dioxide and the poem about it written by Eduard Mölrike. It was a great week filled with German learning, hiking and many, many excursions.  I had one of those coming full circle experiences because I visited a city for the second time in my life. That city, as shown by the three times it appears in the title of this post, is Ulm. Ulm is the home of the world’s tallest church tower, which I have now had the pleasure of climbing not only once, but twice. It was in fact the topic of my admission essay to Valpo, about however the world seems to be getting smaller and smaller, there are always surprising new things to learn as we go (that is a summary, the original was a very extended metaphor made worse by the fact that I had been abstaining from the English language– something which I think can be made clear is happening again based on the almost 3 lines that make up this sentence).

Ulm ca. 2011 I'm proud to say that I got almost the exact same shot.

Above: Ulm ca. 2011 I’m proud to say that I got almost the exact same shot. You’ll note the subtle differences to the below shot of the Danube ca. 2014



One of the things that surprised me most was the way that my teacher described the tower. The Ulm Münster as it’s called was funded by the people of Ulm. The city itself was not very clean, being there was no modern sewage system at the time it was built and the church could house almost 5 times the number of people than the population of Ulm itself. For these people, my teacher said, coming to the Münster was like coming to heaven. It was clean, it was quiet, there was room to spare. Going back there now reminds me of how much framing influences how we perceive the world around us. Now, in a world filled with images, music and modern sewage, the Münster does not seem like quite such an astounding building, but at the time it was built, it was really one of the greatest feats of its time.  And the same thing goes for everything that we see in life, the more that we see, the more that we have to compare it too, and the more we can learn about the reasons why things are the way that they are in the world.

Otherwise I have been doing my best to “live into” my new home, as one would say in German. I’ve been trying to think of ways to decorate my room and cook for myself to make my apartment more like home. Recently the addition of a new roommate from Spain has made it feel a lot more lived-in than before.  We’ve also been working on the first project for my German class. My topic is about the local dialect called Schwäbisch, which I have turned out to be surprising good at pronouncing. Although many people find dialects to be a sign of simple mindedness, I find them totally fascinating. They give language personality and are proof of socio-linguistic developmental patterns that created many smaller pockets of dialects as opposed to one homogeneous language.

One of the other things that I’ve noticed most about the German language is that although I understand most of what’s being said, some of the subtleties of German body language haven’t necessarily been totally clear to me. Instead of using a wide range of facial expressions or a drastic change in tone,  Germans like to change the structure of their sentences or throw in extra words in order to reveal their true emotions. When my teacher talked about this in class, I have to admit that something clicked in my mind. It brought back countless memories of me feeling like I was somehow unable to achieve the cool, collected calm that seems to permeate German culture. I think it might take a while before I can master the art of showing emotion verbally, but it will certainly be a challenge that I’m willing to take on. Hopefully that will make my German that much less frantic-sounding and more authentic.

And so I am off to go practice speaking without moving my face so much!

Bis bald!

Tübingen, bist du gar so hügelig?

After having been in Tübingen for a few days now, I have come to love the city an its charming atmosphere as well as the other Austauschstudenten in my intensive  German course.

I’m living in a so-called student city, which is basically a bunch of dorms that are all located in an area that no car can reach on top of a hill (all though the car bit isn’t exactly true, it best describes the feel of the area). My Wohngemeinschaft (WG) is made up of two hallways, each with three rooms and a bathroom that are connected by a kitchen, shared amongst 6 people. It’s really a lovely building and seems to have been recently renovated. What I really like about the student housing here is the fact that there are so many windows, each of which can be fully opened and are paired with the ever-charming Rolladen. Rolladen are a special type of blind that are attached to the outside of the window and can be changed to either block out the light, which make them great if your room is next to a street lamp. I’m in a single which is the norm here in Germany, and nice because I can go to bed as early or late  as I want (lately it’s been rather early, since I’m still suffering slightly from the effects of jetlag, although much less so than when I first got here).

Every day, I take the bus down the hill and into town to the university, where I have two classes to help me improve my German. One is based mostly on grammar and the other on overall understanding. I’m actually quite glad to have the grammar course, because we’ve been working on tenses like Futur I and Futur II that I haven’t reviewed in a while and doing really specific things like practicing pronouncing vowels with our mouths open at the right distance, which helps to immensely improve accents. Everyone in the course is required to speak German with each other and this has been working perfectly EVEN OUTSIDE OF CLASS!!! Anyone who knows me, could probably automatically recognize that this has been a long-standing dream of mine, to be surrounded by other people who want nothing other than to speak German (which admittedly comes true at my job during the summer, but seeing this outside the confines of Waldsee is somehow really surprising anyway). The second class is also fun, but I’m really loving the grammar bit.

I have also come to know a bit about the city. There is a gorgeous mix of old and new buildings, although in the main part of the city, the historic tends to be the best. It is also an incredibly green city. Everywhere you go there is a gorgeous view of the nearby mountains, which are currently a deep green color, meaning that soon they will turn brilliant orange (or at least I’m counting on that, but based on how many times I’ve heard discussion of climate change so far, they may stay green the whole year). On every street there are bike paths, which are surprisingly not separated from the pedestrian sidewalk (I can attest that I have almost been run-over on a number of occasions).  But everything is accessible by foot, even-supposedly- the student village that I live in, although I haven’t been able to get up early enough to try it out.  The famous hills that I have heard so much about haven’t gotten to me yet, but I do suppose however that on the planned hiking excursion listed in my German course syllabus will be the true test of the nature of Tübingen’s geography.

Bis Bald!



Because I was not able to move into my Stuendentwohnheim until September, I was able to spend a weekend at the Valpo center in Reutlingen. It was lovely to get to see another city and just do some exploring during the first few days.

The first day I was pretty jetlagged, but I did manage to say up until 10:00,  which helped immensely in getting used to the time change. The director of the Valpo center also invited me to join the group for lunch and dinner which was very lovely. I was surprised to be able to stay up until a normal hour (ten), which greatly diminished the effects of jetlag the next couple of days.

The second day was the Stadtrundgang (tour) of Reutlingen. Reutlingen is home to almost all major german manufacturing companies that have headquarters in nearby Stuttgart, notably a large Bosch plant. It has 100,000 residents spread out between the Stadtmitte (city center) and the surrounding areas that actually used to be indepedent Dörfer (villages). This makes it a Großstadt (large city), which is the largest municipal division that German has. It actually makes sense, but it seems to be a little small to me considering that that is the population of Naperville, IL, but in Germany the proportions for large cities are a bit smaller than back home.  The tour ended in lunch at a traditional German Kneipe (a mix between a restaurant and a pub) where we had traditonal Spätzle, a dumpling made with flour and water that is usually served with cheese and browned onions. A few of the other students and I also went to the wine festival that was going on downtown, which was very charming and provided me with my first piece of kitchenware. German festivals like to sell cheap souvenir glasses, something that will help in eventually filling out my dishware collection.

On Saturday, I went with the Valpo Intern Kaitlyn to the Markt, a giant farmer’s market in the townsquare of Reutlingen. It was great to see a lot of the vegetables that I hadn’t eaten in a while like Wirsing (Savoy cabbage), Kohlrabi (another type of cabbage), and Pfifferlinge, a type of woodland mushroom that is a sign of the impending autumn. I didn’t end up buying anything because I didn’t want it to go bad before I get to my WG (how I shall henceforth refer to my dwelling it stands for Wohngemeinschaft, or living community). In the afternoon, I joined the Valpo group to go to a game of the local football team SSV Reutlingen. I know that I am not British, but I personally prefer the term football to soccer not only because of its more accurate descriptive qualities, but also because it is the term that is used by the rest of the world to describe a sport that is of much higher importance to many other countries that it is in the U.S. The game ended in a tie with the other team scoring a goal in the final minute. It was a lovely day for a game and to sit outside. Later, I had the first of what I predict will be many bakery sandwiches. Germany has a great tradition of bread which (to me) can only be topped by its great tradition of putting things on bread. I had a tomato and cheese sandwich, but because of the high quality ingredients on it, it was honestly the best meal I’ve eaten so far in Germany.

And finally came my favorite day of the week in Germany: Sunday. Sunday in Germany is great because they are truly a day for resting.  Most shops are closed and because of this, there is an attitude of relaxation on Sundays that just is not possible on any other day of the week. I know people who do not like this aspect of German culture, but I really enjoy having a single day of the week in which I cannot be running around all of the time. I think that it is good to have a day to rest and recharge before continuing on with the rest of the week. For dinner, I had a veggie Döner. Döner are the quintessential German fast food. They are essentially like a gyro (although, debatably much better)  and the veggie Döner are basically a large flatbread stuffed with vegetables, a large slice of sheep’s cheese, cucumber sauce, and hot chili flakes. You can also order a Turkisch tea alongside them and it makes a great meal.

As for now, I am headed off to Tübingen to move into my WG and register for the intensive German class that I will be taking  for the next month. I can not wait to see what Tübingen has in store.

Bis Bald!

Packing Light?

So in my preparations so far for heading to Germany, I have discovered one thing: I am not a light packer. It seems like the last time I had to pack up all of my things for a year away, it was a bit easier.

In the process of trying to pack things for every circumstance, I think that I’ve forgotten my own best advice: I will inevitably forget something and that, in and of itself is part of the process. Forgetting and not being prepared and learning from the things that you forget are not a downfall, but an opportunity to learn something more. And that brings in a myriad of examples of things that I learned whilst I was previously studying abroad and things that I hope to continue to learn when I arrive in Germany.

I like to think of a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke’s novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge:

To what end should I say that I am changing? If I change, I do not stay the person that I was, and am something different than I have ever been. It is clear that I don’t have any acquaintances. And I can not possibly write to strangers.

What I like about this quote is although the character sees himself as a something that is constantly changing and how the changes in himself  relate to other people. He still refers to himself as the abstract “I” and, although this is the grammatically correct way of referring to oneself, the linguistic consistency that it provides asserts a continuity between the present narrator and the person that he expects to become. And it is that consistency is why it is important to be reflective when studying abroad. Not because you will change, but because these changes interact with the people and places that you already know and have helped to shape the perspective through which you see the new ones.

So as I am preparing to make a major change in my life, I think of not only the changes that I want to see in myself, but the connections of past influences have had on my life and how they have shaped my decisions up to this point.  This is basically a long-winded way of saying that I know that this year, although in a country that I have previously lived in, is still going to be a challenge, but perhaps in ways that I cannot predict or know.

And I’m most definitely looking forward to learning everything I can- regardless of what ends up in my suitcase.

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