My First Trip Abroad in Photos

My project “Austauscherfahrungen” has been active for more than a year now. To celebrate this occasion and reflect on the roots of this blog, I have put together this post—My First Trip Abroad in Photos.

There are two ways to “read” this entry: you can either start from this page and click on the photos that interest you, or you can start by clicking on the first photo and then go from photo story to photo story.

 

The first time I went abroad I was 18 years old. I went abroad the summer after my freshman year of university. It was not an organized trip with my university, nor was it a group trip through an organization offering study abroad opportunities to American students. I signed up for a summer language course with an international language school, Goethe-Institute.

I was from a small (southern) American town and somewhat bad at directions. Naturally, I had some expectations of Europe, but I was open-minded and unafraid to travel to Germany by myself. I wasn’t too nervous before I took off—I only worried about organizational matters. At first, it was a challenge to navigate train stations and flow with the pace of Germany, but I soon met friends at the language school and spent a fantastic summer abroad.

Some quick tips I have are: to enjoy the small things and give yourself time for reflection. Also, you have to be bad at something before you can be good at it, so don’t be afraid to try something new. Ultimately, I gained a strong motivation to study German further and changed my major to German once I returned home. For more on my study abroad in Germany summer 2015, check out this article~Getting Started with Studying Abroad

 

Introduction aside, here is My First Trip Abroad in Photos:

 

 

 

So, you want to start learning Russian? (Five Quick Tips & Book Recommendations)

Dear readers,

This will be a short post about tips on how to learn Russian efficiently.

These were suggestions from my Russian sociology professor (a Russian historian, Chekhov fan and funny guy) for our five-week stay in Russia 😮

For Part 1 in this series click here —->            russian-meme-1

 

1. Be a bit Russian .

IMG_6059
A bath house in the gardens of Catherine Palace, Pushkin, St Petersburg, Russia (SUMMER 2016)

2. Hear/watch music, cartoons, and movies . I LOVE Soviet Kino!

3. Read classic literature ...

4. Read about history ...

5. Take advantage of free Russian materials on YouTube and VKontakte.

vk-vs-facebook-660x524

 

 

And to conclude this post… some books I recommend for learning Russian:

TEXTBOOKS

VOCAB BOOKS

RUSSIAN READERS

GRAMMAR BOOKS

 

More Russian Related Posts:

Online Resources for Learning Russian—>Free Russian Learning Resources on YouTube

Tips Part 2 (coming soon)

Tips Part 3 (coming soon)

 

 

Напишите мне что-нибудь на русском~

❤ Стефани

 

 

Returning Home After 13 Months Abroad

 

Returning home to Georgia, U.S.A after 13 months abroad was surreal. I spent 7 weeks in Kiev, Ukraine. And before that, I was an exchange student in Erlangen, Germany. During my 11-month stay in Germany, I didn’t visit home a single time.

 

img_9336
The Court Square ~ Newnan, Georgia

 

I left behind a different reality in Europe and had a hard time suddenly slamming my brakes to match with the pace of life in a good ol’ suburban town.

 
The population of my hometown (Newnan, GA) is approximately 30,000 people, which is about the same as the number of undergraduates at my alma mater, Georgia State University. Although it has been a humbling experience to revisit my hometown, I do not feel that my roots are here, and it is quite clear that the suburban lifestyle of southern American towns, or at least this one, is too mundane for someone like me.

 
I no longer have the stresses that I had here as a teenager and I feel as if I am on a different level than other long-term residents… as if I am not defined by or confined to the old rumors. I see that my hometown is continually becoming more modern and more culturally diverse. But, I still have sympathy for the kids, who feel stuck here and have not had the chance to travel, or the chance to develop their beliefs at university.

 

img_9326

 

It was hard coming back. Having conversations with family or old friends can be challenging. The best way to describe the scenario is Plato’s Allegory of a Cave. In other words, we limit reality to our perceptions. To become enlightened, it is necessary to see life outside of the cave. The cave represents the states of most human beings. Those who return to the cave and try to recount what they have experienced meet disbelief from those who have not left the cave. We need more than just the naming of things; we also need reflective understanding. Travelling and learning foreign languages allow us to grow past only seeing the shadows in the cave.

 
I am still learning languages and working on a few small projects until my “medium-size” projects take off—I am looking for local internships and work while continuing plans of travel in the States. And my “big project” is getting accepted into grad school.

 

img_9230

 

A few days passed, and I was no longer waking at 4 in the morning. I guess it’s also not so bad being around people who really know you and not just the exchange student version of you… with friends who have not just seen how you’ve bloomed, but friends, who also know the “Georgia Red Clay” that you grew in and how your branches developed.

 

Sincerely,

Stephanie F.

 

 

 

Goodbye, Kiev! ~Back Home After 13 Months Abroad~

I had a simple, relaxing weekend before my 18-hour trip back to the States. On Saturday evening, there was even a beautiful sunset in Kiev.

Luckily, I lived in a room with a balcony. Although there was a noisy street outside, I still enjoyed having a view of passerby and of the many trees. When I search for a new place to live, an apartment with a balcony is on my list.

I headed out early on Sunday morning and caught an Uber to the airport. The international airport is located out of the city center and there is no metro connection, so buses and taxis are the only forms of public transportation. I got to the airport in plenty of time to get my ticket and hand over my luggage.

My flight from Kiev to Istanbul was about 2 hours long. I didn’t do any sightseeing in Istanbul—I had to run directly to my connecting flight after landing. I found the gate as they were doing security checks on boarding passengers.

Turkish airlines provided a pleasant experience. The aircrew was friendly and professional; the services they provided made the long flight manageable and more comfortable. I was in the air for 12 hours! I watched a total of 3 movies because I couldn’t catch any sleep. During the first 6 hours of the flight, it felt like time would stay moving so slowly that I wouldn’t be able to take it anymore, but, once I knew that there was only an hour left before landing, time felt like only a matter of a few short seconds that needed to pass before I would arrive.

I was ready to go! To hop of the plane, collect my luggage and set foot in Atlanta. In Kiev, I was settled and had a sense of home, so I wasn’t homesick, but during the flight I became excited thinking about going back to the States and seeing my home state of Georgia with new eyes. I was also thrilled to see family and friends and to have all my belongings together in one place. My suitcases were quite heavy—40 kg total. No, there wasn’t any gold in them—just books 🙂

Once I stepped out of the airport, the sultry Atlanta weather (despite it being 8 p.m.) greeted me kindly. Although everything was familiar, it was still a strange experience to be back after so long. This feeling of being back home will be the topic for my next entry.

Yours truly,

Stephanie F.

Countries Travelled (Year-Exchange in Germany)

#places visited while living in Germany

Hello everyone!

I’ve left Germany already and my first three weeks in Kiev have flown by! I’m enjoying my Russian lessons here and am staying busy. I’ll be sharing some new stuff soon 😉

In the meantime, I wanted to do a short, fun blog entry.. about the places I went while living in Germany! To make it more interesting, I’ve also listed each country’s name in the languages that I speak/study in order of decreasing fluency (English, German, Russian, French.) The only country that I had been to before was Germany**.

 

zoom out countries visited

 

countries visited

  1. Germany – Deutschland – Германия -Allemagne
  2. Slovenia – Slovenien – Словения – Slovénie
  3. Switzerland – die Schweiz – Швейцария -Suisse
  4. Liechtenstein – Liechtenstein -Лихтенштейн – Liechtenstein
  5. Austria – Österreich – Австрия – Autriche
  6. Lithuania – Litauen – Литва – Lituanie
  7. Greece – Griechenland -Греция – Grèce
  8. France – Frankreich – Франция – France
  9. Poland – Polen – Польша – Pologne
  10. Hungary – Ungarn – Венгрия – Hongrie
  11. Czech Republic- Tschechien – Чехия – Czechia
  12. Ukraine – Ukraine – Украина – Ukraine

 

I hope to tell you about the amazing city of Kiev soon.

Best of luck! ~Stephanie F.

 

**Note: this is not a full list of all countries I’ve ever visited. It only covers places travelled during my year-long exchange in Germany 🙂

The Unforgettable Capital Cities of Slovenia and Lithuania (Part 2)

The amazing Vilnius, Lithuania

Hello hello! Nice to have you on my blog=)

If you have read Part 1, or the introduction to this blog, you would know that I attended Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia and majored in German. Yes, I said “attended” because I have already graduated! I graduated summa cum laude with Advanced Honors as well as an overall GPA of 4.10 and a major GPA of 4.17.

Not only did I finish my major coursework here in Germany by doing online courses with my home university, but the summer semester has also ended in Erlangen. The semester seemed really short and there were many holidays. It started in April and ended mid-July.

My next trips are to Budapest and Prague before I finish packing to leave my 11-month stay in Germany and travel to Ukraine to do a homestay while attending an intensive Russian-language course. It is bittersweet to leave because by the second semester, I really had a routine here, started opening up more and had better classes. Plus, summer is a great time to be in Germany! But, I know that I will return someday and it’s time to bring all the wonderful and challenging experiences I’ve had here back home and touch base with my loving family and friends. I have been a bit Germanized so it will be an adjustment being back home in Georgia, USA. So enough about my finished studies and future plans let’s talk about the amazing Vilnius, Lithuania!

Vilnius_Street_Art
Street art gives a city more character

But before I get into my trip there, I want to share a bit of information about the country Lithuania and its capital Vilnius:

Lithuania is one of the three Baltic States located east of Denmark and Sweden in northern Europe. The population is estimated to be just under 3 million. It shares borders with Latvia, Belarus and Poland.

baltic-states-map-max.jpg

The official language, Lithuanian, is one of only two living languages (along with Latvian) in the Baltic-branch of the Indo-European family. Fun fact: Among Indo-European languages, Lithuanian is conservative in some grammatical and phonological aspects having retained archaic features otherwise only found in ancient languages like Sanskrit or Ancient Greek. It is therefore an important source for reconstructing the Proto-Indo-European language.

Lithuania is a member of the European Union (including the eurozone and Schengen Agreement.) Here is a short timeline of the country’s history:

  • The shores of the Baltic Sea were inhabited by various Baltic tribes for centuries.
  • The Kingdom of Lithuania was created in the 1200s. Kind Mindaugas unified the Lithuanian lands and declared the first unified Lithuanian state.
  • In the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe. Present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and parts of Poland and Russian were territories of the Grand Duchy.
  • There was a two-state union between Lithuania and Poland in 1569 (the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), which lasted for more than two centuries until the Russian Empire annexed most of Lithuania’s territory in the late 1700s.
  • Around the end of WWI, Lithuania’s Act of Independence was signed, founding the Republic of Lithuania.
  • During WWII, Lithuania was occupied both by the Nazis and the Soviets. By the end of the war, the Germans had retreated and the Soviet Union reoccupied Lithuania.
  • In March of 1990, a year before the Soviet Union formally dissolved, Lithuania declared independence and became again the independent State of Lithuania after 50 years of Soviet occupation.

Vilnius is both the capital and largest city in Lithuania with more than 570,000 residents. The city is in the southeast of Lithuania. It is the seat of the main government institutions of Lithuania and is on a global-scale both economically and culturally important. Architecture in the Old Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, and, in 2009, Vilnius was declared the European Capital of Culture.

The Old Town, with well over 1,000 buildings built over several centuries, is the historical center of the city. Vilnius is primarily classified as a Baroque city, but there are examples of Gothic, Renaissance and additional styles of architecture. Following are some of the highlights of the Old Town.

Vilnius University
Vilnius University
1200px-Vilnius_Dawn_Gate
The Gate of Dawn, one of five original city walls, which has a painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary inside
122709
The Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have miracle-working powers
Literature street - Vilnius
Literature Street with over 200 tiles to commemorate authors who have lived in Vilnius or foreign authors with a connection to Vilnius and Lithuania
The-St-Peter-and-St-Pauls-Church-in-Vilnius
17th century Baroque ~Church of St. Peter & Paul ~
pet-paul-mitt3
Inside are more than 2,000 stucco figures

Travelling to Vilnius, Lithuania: My friend and I had actually planned to do a trip with a travel group but the tickets were sold out after we tried to purchase ours. She searched for cheap flights and we ended up booking two trips: one to Vilnius and the other to Thessaloniki, Greece. In the end, we saved money on these trips and got to do and see a lot more. Before our trips, we met up and watched some travel videos about our destinations and we both researched sightseeing to have in mind while exploring the new cities. I would recommend spending at least 3 days in Vilnius and maybe even up to 5. I’m not saying you would be bored after 5, but you would have had plenty of time to see major sites without being so rushed. We were there for 2 days, which was still very nice but I really felt at home in Vilnius and, looking back, there were a few more things that I would have liked to have seen.

Day 1: We had a very early flight, which meant that as soon as we arrived, the exploration was to begin. From the airport, we took a bus in the city center. We didn’t get off at a specific point but decided we could walk from there to the areas we wanted to see. We had coffee and started to take in the new atmosphere. Two of my first impressions were: how well-dressed and fashionable the women were and that most workers spoke good English. Some of the older people, who had outdoor stands for example, also still spoke Russian.

img_1023
Excited to start exploring Vilnius!

Our first destination was an alternative district of the city with an interesting history: Užupis, which means place beyond the river.

It used to be one of the more run down districts during the Soviet era, but it is now home to bohemian artists and their many galleries and workshops. It was declared an independent republic on April Fool’s Day in 1997.

We were able to catch one of the “free” tours (meaning only tips for the guide and no set price) in Užupis and learned some little details we wouldn’t have known otherwise.  It has its own flag, currency, president, cabinet of ministers, constitution, an anthem, and an army (numbering approximately 11 men). It’s not recognized as a Republic by any government, so it’s hard to tell how serious it’s meant to be taken.

By the way, you can get your passport stamped there. Here’s an informative video from Deutsche Welle if you’re curious for more: Uzupis. Supposedly, prices are really rising in this area and housing is no longer as affordable as it once was for local artists. The district is definitely worth a visit though.

img_1032
“place beyond the river” (one of nine bridges)
img_1037
This mermaid is said to attract visitors from all around the world. Those who surrender to her charm stay forever.
img_1038
Just a man walking his cat xD

img_1065-1
See his backpack? it’s a statue dedicated to travelers
img_1066
Try connecting with the cosmos here ~

img_1044

img_1058
symbol for artistic freedom

img_1067

After the “free” tour, we had lunch and decided to find some Kvas. Kvas is a traditional Slavic and Baltic drink made from rye bread. It is classified as non-alcoholic and I think it’s delicious! It’s similar to soda/fizzy drinks but has a unique taste.

img_1077
Happy about the Kvas

I suggest doing a tour with a local guide to learn some interesting facts and not miss out on some cool areas of the city. It didn’t feel too large though and we were able to navigate fine with Google maps.

We went to the main square, climbed the tower and enjoyed the beautiful view before we climbed the hill to the Three Crosses. Between the square and the hill is a castle (actually on another hill), but due to renovations we could not climb up there; however, the view from the hill of the Three Crosses was incredible. We didn’t feel cheated by not having seen the castle. If you need directions, don’t be afraid to ask locals –like I said many speak very good English and seemed friendly enough to answer a few questions.

It’s always nice travelling with someone who has similar interests so that you’re in agreement about what to do. It also makes for a nice atmosphere when you can exchange impressions of a new place with someone who you connect with. We really felt at home in Vilnius and loved the city. One thing that we didn’t expect was to get lucky with shopping. We went to a mall and several different stores and I found some great items that you wouldn’t find where we live in Germany. It’s a fashionable city with good selection!

The rest of our day was spent eating good food (both sweets and a nice dinner), exploring more of the city, finding a hotel room and checking out the city again at night. Here a few snapshots of our shenanigans.

img_1140
Lithuanian National Drama Theatre ~Feast of Muses~ Muses of Drama, Comedy & Tragedy

Day 2: Since we had seen so much on the first day, we took it a bit easier the next day. We started with an amazing breakfast. With more delights of East-European cuisine like buckwheat porridge and tea with raspberries.

Our next stop was the Vilnius Museum of Genocide/KGB prison. Many parts of the exhibit are written in Lithuanian and/or Russian, so a tour guide would be helpful; tours are available in English and Russian. At the museum, you can see authentic cells of a former KGB prison and former offices of KGB officials.

The museum was established in 1992 and is a symbol of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania–a time that was both hard and tragic for Lithuania and its people. Lithuania lost its independence and was brutally repressed, but in the museum you have the chance to discover that many Lithuanians were self-sacrificing and persistent in their fight for independence. There is also an exhibit about the Nazi occupation and the Holocaust in Vilnius.

After the museum, we did more shopping, exploring and spent some time at the river after grabbing snacks from a super market. That is something I recommend for tourists in a new city. It’s cheaper than always eating out and you have a better idea of what natives buy, cook and eat on a regular basis.

img_1317
Lithuanian cuisine: Cepelinai, a potato stuffed dumpling with ground meat, cottage cheese or mushrooms
img_1318
Lithuanian deserts

Well that’s pretty much it about our time in Vilnius. We caught the bus early the next morning to the airport. I loved the city and I think you will too. Since it’s not so well-known, I found it necessary to add some facts about the country and Vilnius itself =)

For more information about what to do and see in Vilnius, check out:

With love,

Stephanie

Let’s Talk Money ~Studying Abroad in Germany~

This post is going to be short and sweet. Let’s talk finances. How are the prices in Germany? What are my expenses? Getting a residence permit/student visa.. how much per month do you need?

bank notes bills bronze cash
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Hello everyone!

This post is going to be short and sweet. Let’s talk finances. How are the prices in Germany? What are my expenses? Getting a residence permit/student visa.. how much per month do you need?

  •  A regular cup of coffee costs 2- 2.50 Euros
  • A loaf of bread (375 grams) costs 1.09 Euros
  • 0,5 liter of beer costs about 4.00 Euros
  • A sandwich at a café costs 1.80-3.00 Euros
  • A Döner costs between 3.50- 4.50 Euros
  • A train ticket (Erlangen to Nuremberg- a distance of about 15 miles with car ) costs 4.80 Euros
  • A bus ticket (in Erlangen) costs 2.20 Euros
  • My monthly prepaid phone plan costs 9.99 Euros for 200 minutes/messages and 1.5 GB of data. I get additional data (300 MB) for 2.99 Euros more. Vodafone is actually not the cheapest provider, but I just wanted to quickly find a company when I arrived and create a German number so that I would not have to continue paying international fees with my American provider. I think I paid an extra 10 Euro in the beginning for the sim card, but some of what I paid got transferred to my balance. Vodafone also has an application for smart phones, which makes it easy to manage your plan and add money when needed.
  • My internet costs 16 Euro a month (offered by my dorm- no limit on the number of devices or data)
  • Germany requires that all residents pay a fee to ZDF/ARD (the Rundfunkbeitrag). Luckily, students can share the costs with their floormates since they aren’t living in proper apartments: Rundfunkbeitrag & Student fee. I think it turned out that we only paid about 15 Euro per semester.
  • I personally don’t have a television. I also don’t pay gym fees or attend any private classes at evening schools. Nor do I have a car since I either walk or use public transportation.
  • Some other monthly costs you’ll see later =)
  • Check out this video to see: What can you buy in Germany with 5€?

 

{Shopping} Without closely examining all prices in Germany and comparing them to the prices in USA, I can still say that food (especially at the grocery store) is relatively cheap. But, clothes tend to be a bit more expensive here. Also, I think there is generally a wider selection at American malls than at German malls.

Food is imported from countries in the European Union and the quality is quite good. So you can eat healthier here and not spend too much if you cook at home, but you may notice that shopping for clothes is a bit better in USA.

Even though clothes aren’t that cheap, I think that basic cosmetics are also pretty cheap here in Germany.

{Taxes & Insurance} Before we move on to what I spend on a regular basis and how much is required for a student visa, it’s worth mentioning that taxes here are much higher. They also have a sales tax (MwST). Workers also pay more taxes. And Germans love insurances. So, a good sum of money is also required for insurance. I have been happy with my health insurance here.

Paying out of pocket when having insurance is an American concept–not a German one. If there would be another difference.. it would be that “free” may exist in USA, but in Germany you get what you pay for. Don’t expect free water or to use the restroom in public places without paying.

 

Okay.. now my expenses!

{Weekly Spending} On average, I spend about 75 Euros per week. This can be more or less depending on how many times I went out to eat, what I got at the grocery store and if I bought gifts for myself.

{Monthly} So, in a month, I spend about 300-400 Euros on food and other shopping.

{Rent, Insurance, School Fees} Let’s add in other costs like my rent, health insurance and school fees: the school fees are only twice a year (once every semester) and the fees also cover our student ticket so that we can travel for free in the evening and on weekends. It is 114 Euros each time.

My health insurance is 90 Euros a month and my rent is 250 Euros (including utilities.) Yes, health insurance is required for international students who aren’t from the European Union.

{Food Costs} I don’t live all that frugally but I also don’t eat out at a nice restaurant every week or buy a lot of material goods.

{Travel} Not included are my travel costs (to, let’s say, Greece for a weekend) because they are one-time costs rather than a sum of usual monthly spending. My total monthly expenses are about the same as what is required for a  residence permit.

{Money Needed- Student Visa} The required sum is 8,700 Euros for one year–725 Euros a month. And here’s a website with more information on the subject:  Student Visa and Residence Permit. 

Spending and budgeting are subjective, but I hope this gave you some idea of what to expect!

Keep in mind that, depending on your program, you may or may not have similar requirements/costs. There are shorter study abroad programs that organize everything for you as well as summer language schools that can offer accommodation. They are not the same as applying to be a full-time student (even if temporarily- for a semester or a year.)

 

Good luck with your studies,

~Stephanie F.