And now the fall semester is winding to a close, and as I look back on my summer semester abroad, I am reminded of all the things that studying abroad has taught me and has helped me grow as a person. Although there are probably more things than what I have written about, this is what came to mind first.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow lines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
It’s OK to be on your own sometimes.
While living in Germany, I lived in an apartment with three other German girls, none of whom ever spoke to me. It was the equivalent of living on your own, but only in a one-room apartment. Since I am an only child, the quiet didn’t seem to bother me that much, but when it did get to me on occasion, the fact that I was living alone just made me have to get out of my apartment and visit friends, or explore the city. Travelling on your own gives you a chance to actually take in everything around you, instead of being distracted by your friends’ conversation.
It builds confidence.
Whether it was figuring out the rail system, or looking for cheap and clean hostels, you learn to be confident in yourself and trust your own instincts. Especially when everything is in another language, it can be a bit intimidating, but you have to know (or at least look like you know) what you are doing.
Anytime is the right time for a Bratwurst.
Anytime of day, whether it’s lunchtime, dinnertime, or almost midnight, you somehow find room for a €1 Bratwurst from Domplatz. Even though some Germans said that they weren’t that great, they were the cheapest Bratwursts in Erfurt, and very rarely would you get a stale Brötchen – that only happened if it was almost closing, or if they were at the end of a bag…
It’s never too late to discover new places.
Even during my last few days in Erfurt, I discovered a new park, and a new alternate route into the Altstadt! Even after living in one place from years (or in this case months), you can still find new places to explore. The world is such a fascinating place!
Take advantage of the proximity to other European countries.
Everything is relatively close together in Europe! Use this to your advantage, and travel to other countries. Since we were only allowed to miss two classes of each course, and each course met only once a week, you could technically skip a full week of classes and go backpacking! This is exactly what I and three other friends did! We skipped a week of classes and travelled to Rome! With the help of cheap travel and accommodations, it was a relatively cheap trip! We found round-trip train and airfare for less than €100, and 6 days in a bed-and-breakfast was around €250 per person! If you walk around the city, you are really only paying for food and souvenirs during your trip.
After classes were completed and before I flew back to the United States, I had a little over a week to carry out any last ditch travel plans, and that’s exactly what Anneka and I ended up doing. It wasn’t really spontaneous, since we did have to plan in advance for this, but it was definitely worth it! We bought a ticket that allowed us to use any train (including high-speed trains!) for 5 travel days within two months. Our ticket package included Benelux and Germany, and we definitely took advantage of the opportunity in front of us. We travelled through Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany: 11 cities within 6 days. (I know it seems a little ambitious, but we did it!) The cities we visited were (in this order): Luxembourg, Brugges, Bruxelles, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Münster, Dortmund, Essen, Düsseldorf, Köln, and Bonn.
Trains are almost never on time…
I had many late trains while travelling abroad. You just have to be patient and know that you will get through this hassle. From our Benelux trip, Deutsche Bahn was the only train company that was late. Trains in other countries were very punctual compared to Germany. The worst train delay we had was on our return journey, from Bonn, back to Erfurt. We had to travel from Bonn to Mainz, where we would catch a connecting train that would take us back to Erfurt. However, there were MAJOR delays and our first train was over an hour late. We had no chance of catching our connection and it was the last valid day for our ticket! AHHH!! Since we had no idea what to do, we hopped on a train to Frankfurt, in hopes that there would be possibly more connections since it was a bigger city. While on the train, we asked a ticket collector what our best option was, and thanks to her, we were able to catch a train the next morning back to Erfurt with very little hassle! The downside to that, we had to spend another night in a train station.
Sleeping in a train station is not ideal, but doable.
When you are in a bind, and the next train isn’t coming until the morning, if push comes to shove, you can sleep at the train station Just be sure that you are travelling with at least one other person, so that you can take turns staying awake and keeping watch on your bags and surroundings. If you plan on doing this as part of your trip, it can get pretty chilly at night, so either be prepared for cold, or pack an extra jacket. Or both.
HOLA is a great thing when you want to watch your American shows that are blocked by GEMA.
No other explanation is needed. This little app that works within your browser, changes the VPN of your computer to think that it’s in another country. This was a life saver when I needed to catch up on Grimm and The Walking Dead while abroad.
Making friends with other international students is one of the best parts of studying abroad.
Most likely, they are in the same situation that you are, so they are your support system and understand what you are going through. You will also have lifelong friends from all over the world once your semester/ year abroad is complete.
Travelling pushes buttons you didn’t know you had.
From my experiences abroad, I learned that I am such a pain when it comes to finding the hostel from the train station. Anneka can vouch for this, since we have now travelled through 6 different countries together, and everytime, without fail, I would get fed up with the crappy directions that google gave us, and get really moody until we found the hostel. Then everything would be fine.
Wanderlust is an actual condition that you can never get rid of.
Ever since returning from Europe, all I can think about is when I will go back, and where I will go next trip, and which of my new international friends I will visit first. Also since returning, I have been reading so many lists about travelling, and secretly agreeing with every point they make. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:
I have then proceeded to look at maps like THIS and think, “Wow… I need to see more places and travel more within the United States.”
Your travel companions will be your new lifelong friends.
Maybe this is because you bond over the same travel experiences, or maybe because you are all the other person has, but you definitely become very close friends and will always have a travel buddy, even once you return home. Luckily for me, my travel buddy goes to the same Uni as me! (Talking about you Anneka!)
Pack lightly when backpacking.
The only way not to kill your back while travelling is to pack light. The only way to do this is to wear the same outfit for multiple days. No one will notice if you change your scarf or jacket for the pictures! Other travelers will understand, and this is completely acceptable in my book!
Keep a souvenir from each city you visit.
Choose one method and stick with it. For me, I have collected postcards from every city that I have visited, and now I can look back through them and remember all of the places I have seen and things I have experienced.
Studying abroad is less about the studying and more about the experience in a foreign country.
Much to the dismay of my professors, I spent more time travelling and exploring new places than I did actually studying for the classes I took. All of my classes abroad were fairly easy, and the teachers were not as strict as the ones at my home university. I think that they understood that we were international students and just wanted to get a side of education with our travels.
A phone is really not that important.
After living a full 5 months without a phone was a nice break from the electronic device being surgically attached to every other American at home. It is why I agree with videos like THIS and THIS and believe that there is a world that exists beyond the 4-inch screen, 12 inches from our face.
Culture shock does exist.
I did experience some culture shock; however, mine was not when I arrived in Germany. I had reverse culture shock when I got back to the States. The only problem I encountered upon arrival in Germany was jet lag, and getting used to the time difference. The biggest culture shock, which I had to overcome, was the workload at my home Uni. The courses are so much more rigorous here than they were in Germany. I struggled to manage my time and focus on how much work I actually had to do to pass my classes at home! It has taken some time to get used to the workload again, but I think by next semester, I will be fully acclimated again. There was also the shock of having to drive everywhere, when I was so used to taking the tram and train everywhere. This shock I got over pretty quickly, though.
In theory, a blog is a great way to document your adventures abroad, but in reality, I let mine fall by the wayside.
When I first left the country, I blogged almost every week to try to keep my website updated. Slowly my blogs began to be spaced further and further apart, until I started to fully neglect my blog around late June. It was at this point that I just posted my pictures on Facebook, and neither posted pics, nor updated entries. I failed to share about my experiences about Berlin, Rome, Benelux, and my ordeal with my return flight home. Although I shared these stories with family and friends by word of mouth, these memories never made it to page.
Long stories short: You need at least a week to experience all of Berlin. Warm and sunny Rome was a nice change from rainy Germany and the Colosseum IS as great as they say it is. Benelux was such a whirlwind trip that I would like to go back and spend more time in each city. Luxembourg had an extensive system of Casemates that holds a lot of history for such a small country. Belgium has great beer, chocolate, and fries. The Netherlands have great cheese (Gouda!) and lots of tulip fields (although I did not get to experience these tulip fields, it is on my bucket list and I will definitely go back when they are in season!) The Kölner Dom is huge, and the Rheinturm in Düsseldorf has amazing views at night. You can see for miles from up there! (Although I was only up in the tower at night, I think you can see the Kölner Dom from there during the day!!) My return flight was cancelled, and I was booked on another flight, compensated for a night in a hotel, upgraded to economy plus, then upgraded to Business class at the terminal. (I would now recommend Lufthansa to anyone who asks! Such a pleasant flight, once everything was sorted out with United…)
Trust your gut.
This was the first time that I travelled internationally by myself, and it is a completely different creature than travelling within the United States. You have to have faith in yourself that you can accomplish anything! When my United return flight was cancelled, I was rescheduled on Lufthansa and upgraded to Economy plus. When I got to the airport the next morning, security was more of a hassle than usual – Once through normal security, I was “randomly” pulled aside to do a full body scan, where they had to swab the screens of all of my electronic devices, and then I had to power all of them on (I was flying about 1 month after THIS new law was added). Once getting through that hassle, of course my gate was at the VERY end of the terminal, and it was a 10 minute walk there, with the rolling walkways. Once at the terminal, I proceeded to stand in the line for the people at the desk without thinking about it. By the time I reached the front of the line thoughts of getting out of line versus staying in line had all run through my brain. Of course I decided to stay in line, just verify that I was booked on this flight, since my previous flight was cancelled. It was here, that the woman upgraded me to Business class, at no extra charge! I was one happy camper once on the plane! We got to board first, and then they served us drinks while Economy class was still boarding! The 3-course meal was served on REAL plates and we had a choice for each course. They also served us complimentary wine, if that was what we chose to drink. I was smiling from ear to ear the entire flight, and there was nothing that could stop me! Once we landed at Dulles, we deplaned faster than economy, which meant that the customs line was substantially shorter and I got my luggage and got through customs faster than my parents could get to the airport from work! I ended up waiting on them! (That never happens with international flights!) Was all of this just luck? Or was it because of a gut feeling? Even if your gut tells you to stand in a line for no reason whatsoever, trust that feeling… It may get you a $2,200 upgrade at no cost to you!
Have no regrets.
This one is a little hard for me, because I had one major regret at the end of my semester abroad. In the middle of the semester, a group of friends decided to go on a road trip to Croatia. It was a long weekend, and I had a paper due when classes started back up on Tuesday. I stayed behind in Erfurt to write my paper. I regret not going to Croatia with them. From their stories and photos, they had a phenomenal time and I wish that I had gone too. Instead of staying behind to translate one stupid paper, I wish that I had asked for an extension and went to Croatia with them. For most people, even getting the chance to study abroad is a once in a lifetime experience. Take advantage of every opportunity that you get. Don’t let any pass you by.
Never stop travelling.
As I write this, I am saddened by the fact that I am no longer in Europe for all of the festive holiday traditions, including Oktoberfest and Weihnachtsmarkt. I yearn for the day that I can return to Germany for the holiday season and experience the real thing. I made so many great memories that will last a lifetime and many good friends, with whom I hope to stay in contact for years to come. The world is such an incredible place and I just want to see it all! I have grown and matured so much throughout my travels, and the more I travel, the more I hope to grow and thrive on this breathtaking planet we call Earth. In the wise words of Saint Augustine, “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Never lose that wanderlust.
“Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.” – Aleksander Solzhenitsyn