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:

 

 

 

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

My Goals for a Year-long Exchange in Germany (A Bilingual Text )

Mein Name ist Stephanie Ford und ich studiere Deutsch an der Georgia State Universität in Atlanta. Seit Januar 2015 bin ich eine sehr engagierte und motivierte Deutschstudentin. Außer meiner Studiumarbeit sehe ich täglich YouTube-Videos an, lese die Nachrichten auf meinem Handy, höre Musik, spreche mit mir selber, oder mit jemandem, der bereit ist, mein Deutsch zu hören. Wenn ich genug Zeit habe, lese ich auch Romane, schaue mir Filme an, lerne Grammatik und neulich viel Wortschatz. Weil ich schon ein fortgeschrittenes Niveau erreicht habe, ist ein Jahr langer Aufenthalt in Deutschland einer der besten Wege, um meine Deutschkenntnisse noch zu verbessern. Auf Deutsch könnte ich denken und sogar träumen. Ich möchte C2 erreichen, und die deutsche Kultur tiefer kennenlernen. Wenn ich an der Friedrich-Alexander Universität studieren würde, hätte ich nicht nur die Chance meine Deutschkenntnisse zu erweitern, sondern auch die Chance in und um Bayern zu reisen. Und ich könnte mich wirklich entscheiden, ob ich in Deutschland arbeiten möchte.

(My name is Stephanie Ford and I study German at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Since January 2015, I have been a very engaged and motivated student of German language. Apart from my university studies, I watch videos daily, read the news on my phone, listen to music, speak with myself, or with someone who is willing to listen to my German. When I have enough time, I also read novels, watch movies, learn grammar and, recently, a lot of vocabulary. Because I have already reached an advanced level, a year-long stay in Germany is one of the best ways to improve my German skills even more. I could even think and dream in German. I want to achieve C2 and get to know the German culture deeper. If I had the chance to study at FAU, I would not only have the chance to expand my German skills but also the chance to travel in and around Bavaria. And I could really decide whether I want to work in Germany or not.)

Sehr intenstiv möchte ich mein Deutsch üben. Ich würde auf jeden Fall die Möglichkeit benutzen, Radio auf Deutsch zu hören, deutsches Fernsehen zu gucken, sowie den Zugang zu deutschen Bibliotheken, Buchhandlungen und natürlich der deutschen Universität zu verwenden. Ich würde gerne Germanistik, andere Fremdsprachen, und verschiedene Kurse in Verbindung mit Linguistik, Kultur und Geschichte nehmen. Vor allem könnte ich mich mit Deutschmuttersprachlern unterhalten. Bayern ist eines der schönsten Bundesländer. Ich möchte viele Städte und Ländern in der Nahe von Erlangen besichtigen. Ich habe es vor, Englisch in Deutschland zu unterrichten, und diese Erfahrung wäre sehr praktisch, weil ich mich für ein Studentenvisum bewerben und mich auf die deutsche Kultur einstellen muss. Ich möchte meinen Sprachtraum erfüllen, viel reisen, und sehen, was ich in der Zukunft machen möchte.

(I want to practice my German intensively. I would definitely use the opportunity to listen to German radio, watch German television and utilize the access to German libraries, book stores and of course the German university. I would like to take Germanistik, other foreign languages, and other courses in connection with linguistics, culture and history. Above all, I could converse with native speakers. Bavaria is one of the most beautiful German states. I could visit many cities and countries close to the city of Erlangen. I have the intention of teaching English in Germany and this experience would be very practical because I have to apply for a student visa and I have to adjust to the German culture. I want to fulfill my language-dream, travel a lot, and see what I would like to do in the future.)

How to Prepare for an Exchange in Germany

Dear readers,

Germany is a popular place for international students (from all over) to study because of the almost free university education. Many Masters programs are offered in English. Furthermore, Germany is known for its reliability, high-quality products and technological innovation. Therefore, many international students want to take up their studies here and make use of the prestigious and diverse programs offered at German universities. There may also be Erasmus students from other European countries or American students, who aren’t interested in completing their degree here but want to do an exchange. Germany is a popular tourist destination for Americans and is celebrated for its different but not too foreign culture.  I have collected some YouTube channels that have many videos about German people, culture, lifestyle, language and how things are in Germany. They should help you get to know Germany and the Germans better.

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Photo by Ingo Joseph on Pexels.com

Getting to know Germany better before you decide to study here or before you take off on your journey will not only help to develop your intrapersonal perception of coming to Germany but it will also make you closer to being well-versed when it comes to dealing with differences between America and Germany. But before we begin by discussing some resources to aid your preparation, I want to emphasize the following:  “Preparing” allows you to burn off some stress before your trip  and maybe feel a little more confident and ready, but there are of course going to be some challenges that you simply can’t prepare for and some things may sound way more scary reading about them than how they will actually be when you are abroad and doing them yourself. So take a few ideas from here and there, try to prepare based on ideas from multiple people but ultimately, you just need to trust yourself and remain calm. I’ve already written three other posts on the topic. Check them out:

Getting started with studying abroad

Let’s Talk Money ~Studying Abroad in Germany~

What to Pack for a Study Abroad in Germany

For this post, let’s start with some resources to help with your mental/emotional preparation! Here are some insightful articles I read before coming to Germany:

  1. Culture Shock
  2. Study Abroad
  3. Tips for Living Abroad (with a focus on meeting people)
  • While on the topic of meeting people abroad, I want to mention a few websites you could use to meet new people: Tandem language exchange app (as well as HelloTalk language exchange app), Meetup.com, Facebook groups as well as local events and events posted by businesses shared on Facebook. Instagram is also a good way to follow local businesses/events. Also take advantage of university events (read your emails and check out flyers), activities, meet-ups and clubs as well as the events and clubs happening in your dorm. Work, doing an internship, volunteering and taking classes outside the university are also easy ways to meet new people.

And as mentioned, a list of YouTubers who will teach you about Germany and the Germans (not in any specific order):

  1. Kate Müser
  2. DontTrustTheRabbit
  3. Hayley Alexis
  4. Germany vs USA
  5. Wanted Adventure
  6. Antoinette Emily

While in Germany, look to prove stereotypes wrong rather than looking for confirmation. Allow your views to develop and get to know yourself better.  Be prepared to face many negative stereotypes about Americans, but don’t take it too personally. I’m not saying most Germans dislike Americans, but American culture has been spread across the globe and some not-so-favorable stereotypes accompany it. Some American tourists do set bad examples for us all.  The bad comes with the good. Just be yourself with a bit of awareness. If the person believes in the stereotype so strongly, then you can’t convince them otherwise. You can be proud to be American, miss your native culture, want to explore the world and expand your cultural knowledge all at the same time.

That’s it for this post!

Hope you found it useful,

Stephanie

The Unforgettable Capital Cities of Slovenia and Lithuania (Part 1)

Dear readers,

It’s time now on my flight leaving Greece to reflect on my trips in Europe and put my adventures into words. I’ve been on three trips (or maybe 2 1/2 is a better description) since the last time I wrote about my travels. A bus ride and morning stop in Liechtenstein with half-a-day spent in Innsbruck, Austria. Two days in Vilnius, Lithuania. And three days in Greece (Epanomi and Thessaloniki). In this post, I will cover a trip I made back in September then begin with my trip to Lithuania. In the following post, I will discuss my bus ride to the German-speaking countries of Liechtenstein and Austria and finish with my time in Greece.

The semester has started again in Germany. Three weeks of classes are already behind me. I still have German language classes; I finally got to have Russian again and I’ve even started a beginners French class. In just a few weeks now, I will be a college graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in German Language & Literature. I have about 3 1/2 more months in Germany before I return to Georgia, USA. As far as my next plans.. well, I’m planning to apply to a couple honors graduate programs both in the USA and in England. I’d like to study journalism, history and maybe even something connected to art or politics. When I return to USA, I want to travel—slowly see all 50 States. And before I make it back to the States, I want to study Russian language in Ukraine for at least four weeks. Not to mention, I would also like to work as an English teacher in Asia within the next few years. Another travel goal, is to visit all former countries of the Soviet Union.

You may ask if my trip to Slovenia was in September why am I writing about it now? But, it’s all connected and my trip there was amazing so I think it’s worth sharing. It’s a trip that I definitely recommend! Two weeks into my study abroad program here, my intensive German language course started. It was Monday-Friday. (Fridays ended a bit earlier.) The class lasted at least 3 hours each day. That means that with a relatively small group (about 15 students), we got to know each other during the 2 1/2 weeks pretty well. It was also still vacation time so most students weren’t too worried about their studies yet. We talked a lot and had a nice time together. One of the other female students mentioned a travel group called Euro Trip Adventures, that was going to Slovenia over the weekend. I hadn’t heard much about Slovenia, but the suggestion intrigued me and I bought myself a ticket. Unfortunately, the tickets were sold out before my friend could get hers so I ended up going alone. As I mentioned in the post about Switzerland, Euro Trip Adventures can be an easy way to get know new people while traveling. So it turned out just fine going alone!

~night time in Ljubljana, Slovenia~

Overnight bus rides are quite exhausting–as was my bus ride to Slovenia and back again the next day to Germany. Space is limited and you have to be able to kill time during the journey. I recommend bringing water, healthy snacks, a pillow, your phone charger, cash, a book or games and toiletries for freshening up. My stop (in Erlangen, Germany) was first so I had gotten comfortable and was able to fall asleep by the time the last group got on the bus. Euro Trip Adventures usually stops in at least 4 cities in Germany to pick up all the travelers. It was a actually pretty funny because I laughed out loud in my sleep–no idea what I was dreaming about–and quite a few people heard me and I ended up waking myself up, but not really caring that I had laughed, and falling back asleep. I ended up making friends with the guy who sat next to me. So I hadn’t scared him too bad by laughing in my sleep 😀

In the morning, we stopped at a truck stop so that we could freshen up, use the bathroom and have breakfast. It was still another hour or two before we reached Lake Bled in Slovenia. By the way, most buses offer snacks and drinks so cash always comes in handy! The tour guide collected the money from everyone who wanted to do a tour of Ljubljana. That’s the capital of Slovenia and quite a lovely city (more about it soon.) The tour either cost 10 or 15 Euros.

Lake Bled itself was such a stunning and serene site. We had about 3.5 hours there, which was plenty! The lake was an amazing color and so clear. We had enough time to climb the steep hill and enjoy the view from the castle. The view was incredible! Being at the castle and looking down on the water was magnificent and fairy-tale-like. My eyes  devoured the scenery. We also had time to have cake at the castle-café (the view was also quite nice from the other side of the castle at the café) and more time to explore down below and walk around the area near the lake. There was an entry fee to the castle–about 10 Euros. Slovenia is part of the European Union and uses the Euro so we didn’t have to worry about exchanging currency.

The bus ride from Lake Bled to Ljubljana lasted–if I’m not mistaken–about 90 minutes. At Ljubljana we had about 8 hours to explore the city. The tour leader took us from the bus stop into the city center and told us where we would meet for the tour with a local guide. Before the tour, we had time to explore some of the city. I had lunch and got to check out many different parts of the city like the center, some side streets and the market area as well as the many bridges. I hadn’t done too much research about tips, sightseeing or the history of Ljubljana before the excursion, but I learned quite a bit on the tour! The tour guide was awesome. He was a history teacher and seemed passionate about the city and his country. The city was charming. The history quite interesting. And overall, we got to see a lot during the tour. What I got from the tour was that Slovenia is an interesting mix of Slavic, Roman and Germanic/Austrian heritage. You can see multiple influences in the architecture. There are, of course, authors, poets and thinkers that are Slovenian–part of their own story and heritage. Quite a lot of history is represented in artwork and sculptures in Ljubljana. I was engaged and impressed by the beauty of the city and its history. The tour even included a trip up to the castle in Ljubljana. After the tour, we had more time to explore the city. I got to try local beer and wine, see more areas of the city and experience the beautiful night-time atmosphere of the lights and bridges.

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To conclude, I thought Ljubljana was clean, charming, cute, inviting and somewhat romantic. It felt like the city greeted me with a nice, warm hug. And I learned more about history. There’s never just one story and our world is so rich with different cultures that aren’t mainstream but still very special. Stay tuned for Part 2 which will be about my trip to Lithuania and an update about my studies here and back home!

Sincerely,

Stephanie F.

Getting Started with Studying Abroad

Dear readers,

I would like to discuss “studying abroad” for American college students.

Studying abroad is a rich experience to undergo during your college years. The first time abroad is life- changing. You see yourself and your native culture with different eyes. You get to experience everyday life of those who live thousands of miles away from your native country and listen to new languages. You also get to see, firsthand, the wonders of the world–whether it be something historical in a city or a gorgeous landscape.

But studying abroad isn’t cheap. It also isn’t easy. It requires thought, decision-making, and planning. Your approach and attitude truly change how you perceive your time abroad. You should pick the right country for the right reasons. Everyone is different, so you have to decide what the “right reasons” for you are.

Your internal reasons for studying in that place should outweigh the external reasons.

What do I mean exactly? Your reasons for traveling to Germany are: because you have a German girlfriend/boyfriend, you like the German language and you want to ski in the Alps. International relationships can be very interesting and fulfilling, but if that’s your only reason for traveling abroad, your time there may be very challenging and frustrating since you do not have a personal connection with the country itself.

But when you are also interested in the country because of its language & culture and you have travel goals, the trip will feel much closer to your heart. How much you enjoy it will depend on your attitude (and maybe the weather and people around you) but you’ll feel more of connection with the place when there’s something inside of you that brings you there.

 

However, I must admit: sometimes you just have to start somewhere. Everyone must be bad at something before they can be good at it. A new experience may give you the motivation to start an entirely new chapter in your life… And I want to share my story with you.

The first time I traveled to Germany seems like so long ago. And I’ve changed in so many ways since then. Although every day wasn’t perfect… I wasn’t so outgoing and definitely didn’t have an idea what learning and speaking a second language meant, I experienced being abroad for the first time and had some encouraging, fun experiences.

The first program I did was not connected to my university in any way and it was open for all people—not just college students. I pretty much found it by chance. It’s an easy story to tell so I will start from the beginning:

I knew that I wanted to learn how to speak German so I decided to start courses at Goethe Institute Atlanta. While browsing their website, I also read that they offered classes in many German cities for international learners of German language. I can’t remember exactly what was on my mind then but I decided that I wanted to take a course in Germany to speed up my German learning and see the country for the first time. I did have some unrealistic expectations though.. thinking that four weeks would be enough to have me speaking the language. There were certain days where I held some conversations but I still spoke a lot of English. I also didn’t study intensively or use everyday interactions to practice the language.

What I gained from that experience was that I left my native country for the first time. I had my first experiences navigating to new places, using public transportation, and buying food from different places. I also met many international people. I changed time zones. I didn’t have any air conditioning. I used a new currency. That was June- July 2015.

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There are a few other things I want to share about that time that maybe be insightful for you: First will be about the language school I attended. Second will be a specific experience I wrote about during the time. And before sharing my second time abroad, I will include a few more things that stand out to me about my first time in Germany.

The Language School

 

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The reasons I chose the location I did were as following: I wanted to be in a city near the place my grandmother was from. I wanted an apartment with WiFi. I wanted the apartment location to be close to the school so that I could go by foot. And this school even had a cafeteria, where I had breakfast and lunch. Apart from that, the prices were good. The city seemed cozy and inviting. And although it was small, it seemed like there would be enough activities to stay busy and have fun.

I remember everything seeming like it was going really fast—at the airport and at the train station. And I thought Germany was absolutely beautiful. I loved looking at the countryside while riding on the train. I didn’t feel far away from home but I definitely felt American. Europe had a different flair than USA. It felt more serious, more competitive, and more elegant. It wasn’t the first time I had feelings of being critical about my native country and native culture, but it became much more obvious for me. It seemed most Europeans were cosmopolitan and multilingual. Nobody made me feel bad for being American. In fact, even though I was shy, I had an open heart and was curious, so many people reached out to me and I had a great time.

I shared a bedroom so it would be cheaper. We had a private shower and toilet. In the basement of our place was a shared kitchen for the building. My roommate ended up being another American girl who had some experience traveling in Germany already and was going to stay in Austria for a year. We weren’t the best of friends but we got along well enough. She showed me where the supermarket and other things in town were. And she was part of a bigger group with whom I spent a lot of time.

Getting to Germany was a big step. But the language school was helpful with getting us students there and situated. There was a bus waiting for us at the train station to drop us off at the school. Once at the school, we received information about our accommodations and were able to drop our bags off. We also did an interview as part of the placement test. Since it was already late, the actual written test was the on the next day. So I ended up showing up to my class once it had already started. No big deal except no English was allowed!! That was understandable since we were a classroom full of international students learning German.

The reading and writing weren’t the hardest part of the course for me. Listening was pretty hard. So was speaking. Especially the pronunciation. I remember asking my Turkish friends from the school like “what should I do.. my head doesn’t want to understand German?” They said that I just need to learn more. I didn’t realize then how important it was to train listening and practice speaking– preparing for situations and correcting mistakes. We often had writing assignments for homework. In class, we did presentations of what we wrote. We still trained basic grammar. We played games. And we had a workbook that guided our learning. We did many types of activities to get us interacting with the language and to start talking about everyday stuff. I didn’t love going to class but it was okay overall. I also didn’t do much revising in my free time.

 

My First Experience at a Train Station in Europe

Here is a short account I wrote during that summer: So what does it feel like to be outside your home country for the first time? ~July 2015~
When my plane first landed on July 6th, I exited the Frankfurt airports only to come back into the airport to go upstairs to find the underground train station. At first, using the train ticket machine seemed impossible because it did not connect to Stuttgart Bahnhof. An Italian man named Luigi saw that I was having trouble and at first asked me if I was Italian. He suggested that I take the train to Frankfurt Main and so I took the train there with him. When I exited the train station, I walked up and down the same street until a guy working at a hotel saw that I needed help—he took me to Frankfurt Main train station. He spoke with someone who worked at the train station to get me to the right platform, but unfortunately it was not the right one for the ticket I bought. I didn’t know to print off the info either because the ticket doesn’t automatically have the platform number on it. I tried to ask a lady for help and look for the right platform, but I ended up missing the train and had to wait for a few hours until the next train came*. During that time span, I ordered a small strawberry milkshake and a mineral water and I paid a Euro to use the bathroom. There, I changed my top since I was feeling a little gross after being in the same outfit. Then I sat around some more before my train arrived. I was on the train (I reserved my seat) and the lady came by to check my ticket. It was a pretty nice ride to Stuttgart Bahnhof and I was exhausted so I may have drifted off during some of the train ride. At Stuttgart Bahnhof, I was having a difficult time finding Schwaebisch Hall-Hessental in the search results, but I finally found it. When I was waiting for the train, some people saying the train wasn’t coming today, so we were redirected to another train.

*By the way, there is always a large billboard with the train times and each station displays the trains too. But for some reason, I simply couldn’t find the platform that matched my train ticket. :/

 

Great Memories from My First Summer Abroad

You probably could tell that I wasn’t used to navigating in Germany or using trains, but the story goes on so let’s continue! Another good thing about this location was that the city was pretty easy to navigate and there was a pretty awesome program planned for that month by the language school. Each week there was a Stammtisch at a different restaurant. That was a good way to practice German, meet the other international students and enjoy an evening out. The school also had its own little bar that was open on Friday nights. Drinks were cheap and there was good music. Of course there was dancing too! The school really offered such a diverse and fun-filled summer program. There were dance classes. You could go out and draw the city. You also had the chance to participate in a local summer fest and bring food from your country. In addition, we toured a local brewery. They served us free beer and dinner. Well, I think the tour cost 3 Euros. We also took a bus to Neuschwanstein castle. We had the whole day there and also got to visit the town nearby. My summer there was more than just planned events though. I had a blast eating ice cream with my friends, watching movies at home, going to the movie theater, and many other little experiences.

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There was one disco in Schwäbisch-Hall that we went to several times. I had such a blast dancing and meeting people from all around the world. One time I even went to a bigger disco outside of the city and I really loved the atmosphere of German discos. I always went with friends so I felt safe and comfortable. Because it was summer, it was such a great time to have a beer in a Biergarten. It was my first time to have a legal drink! (since I was only 18) And it was such an exciting experience to order a beer and get a Pfand back when I returned the glass. There was also a fair and I had a great time seeing the beautifully decorated rides and having a feeling of being back in USA.

Two good things that I did back then were: 1) I enjoyed myself. Just by participating in activities, meeting new people and being immersed in German language, I learned a lot without stressing myself about learning. That is something I learned the hard way this go around during my exchange year here. Studying is a good thing. And if it is something you enjoy, there is no harm in it, but real life interactions and experiences are much more memorable than just taking notes. 2) I lived in the moment. I wasn’t trying to see all the major cities of Germany in one month. I didn’t have to record every moment on my phone. I took it day by day and focused on what was in front of me.

Once I returned to USA, I did experience some reverse culture shock. My friends were there to pick me up from the airport. And everyone was excited that I was back. Somehow I felt sad and even missed Germany. The stress about finding the right gate at the airport was over. I could easily use my mother tongue. But I missed Germany’s beauty, I viewed USA differently and I felt a bit bored being American in America. Alright. I will conclude this part by sharing what I remember about how I felt before I left: I honestly wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I didn’t have any big worries. It felt like a big experience, but overall, I was relatively relaxed and neutral about it. Following are a few photos of the trip. =)

 

Second Summer Abroad

I’m not going to include as many details about my second summer abroad (the following year). My intentions are to compare the types of programs, how I handled things, and complete my college story in relation to traveling and studying languages. In May 2016, I spent another month in Germany. With the same type of language school but in a different city. This time I was in Mannheim. And I had a goal to really learn German. I was still nervous about exploring the city of Mannheim on my own, but I meet a handful of good friends and we had some good times in the city. This time I also had friends from my German class and we spoke only German together. I got to visit Heidelberg and Darmstadt with a group from the language school. I also made it all the way to Aachen to visit a new friend I had made. And at the end of my trip, I spent about five days in Stuttgart, where I visited my great uncle and also did some sightseeing. Here is a little text I wrote in Mannheim about arriving to Germany for the second time:

Mein Flug nach Stuttgart war gut. Ich habe einen alten Mann kennengelernt. Er ist Amerikaner und liebt seine Familie sehr. Ich konnte nur ein bisschen schlafen. An der Passkontrolle habe ich Deutsch gesprochen. Heute Morgen bin ich zuerst zum Stuttgart Bahnhof gefahren. Dann bin ich mit dem Zug nach Mannheim gefahren. Ich musste mit der Strassen- Bahn zur Sprachschule (Goethe-Institut) fahren. Im Flughafen habe ich nach dem Weg gefragt. Es war einfach Goethe-Institut zu finden. Ich hatte ein kurzes Interview, aber ich hatte den Test schon online gemacht. Ich beginne in einem B2.1 Kurs. Ich werde versuchen, nur Deutsch zu sprechen. Mit anderen Studenten habe ich nur Deutsch gesprochen—auch mit den Angestellten Goethe-Instituts. Hoffentlich habe ich einen schönen Besuch hier und lerne viel Deutsch.

(My flight to Stuttgart was good. I met an older gentleman. He is American and really loves his family. I was only able to sleep a little bit. At the passport control, I spoke German. This morning I first travelled to Stuttgart train station. Then I travelled to Mannheim by train. I had to ride the trolley to the language school. It was easy to find the school. I had a short interview, but I had already done the test online. I will start in a B2.1 course. I am going to try to only speak German. With the other students, I have only spoken German–also with the employees of the language school. Hopefully, I will have a nice visit here and will learn a lot of German.)

 

Leaving Germany for Russia

So now it’s time to finish up this entry by including some information about my Russian trip and explaining a bit more how study abroad works at my home university in USA. Before we apply to any programs or scholarships at my university, we have to visit an informational session at the study abroad office. There you learn about the types of programs offered, scholarships, how to raise money and you have the chance to ask questions. Our study abroad office has a website and also an online platform you use to apply for the programs and also any scholarships from the study abroad office.

During the informational session I learned about AIFS (American Institute for Foreign Study.) With AIFS, I either wanted to visit a Spanish-speaking country or Russia. In Germany (2015),  I met some Russians which got me interested in Russian culture. I thought summer of 2016 was a good time to start learning Russian. Before I left, I skyped with a teacher for a few months and could read the alphabet and knew some basic words. But communication was very hard. Looking back, I don’t regret going when I did. However, I could have studied the language, culture and history more intensively before I left. I was still learning German and studying at university and in May of that year I was in Germany for a month so I probably wouldn’t have had enough time to do any more than what I did. And maybe, two trips abroad in one summer was too much. I had already been away from home for a long time and I didn’t have enough time to invest in preparing for the Russian program since I was in Germany. But anyway, let’s continue.

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My program to Russia was with AIFS, which is an external program from my university. I had to do additional paperwork to get my courses transferred and to receive my summer scholarship for the coursework I did. One form was called “intent to study off-campus” which was for the financial aid office. The other form was about the course work and I had to have each course personally signed off by a professor. For example, an art professor signed off for the Russian art course. A politics professor for the politics course and so on. Then I had to have my advisor do a final signature before I turned it in to the study abroad office. That is a different process than study abroad programs that are from my university–organized by professors. For such study abroad courses, you sign up the same way you do for normal classes and fill out your information on the online study abroad platform. And for the year exchange I am doing now, you register study abroad place credit holders and when you bring your transcript back after the exchange, then you can get the credits added.

And here is a quick snapshot of the Russian study abroad program:

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Even though I made it to several museums and different places in addition to what was included in our program, there was still so much I wanted to see and do! The program was awesome. The city was awesome. Five weeks just wasn’t enough. I would recommend a semester there to make full use of all the options and see more of the city and do nearby excursions.

Another suggestion I have if you do a similar program where a large group of students are all together is to make friends with two smaller groups. People with similar interests tend to group up fast so be very outgoing in the beginning! Don’t be afraid to do things alone either, but I truly suggest trying to have two different groups of people that you connect with and can do things with.

It would take several blog posts to cover a full-reflection (as well as a report) of what I did during my time in Russia. But I’m sure you are a bit curious how it was to be in mysterious, dangerous Russia, so I want to share my perception of Saint Petersburg and how it changed over the five weeks I spent there. My first impression was like wow, it is so beautiful. And I noticed immediately that the atmosphere (how the people behaved and the appearance of the country itself) seemed a lot more distant, serious and melancholic than Germany. For at the least the first two weeks, I was so impressed by the many things to see and felt like it was amazing to see the city both as a tourist and exchange student. Later on, I ended up feeling sad, too. Even doing everyday tasks required a lot of effort and I felt very un-Russian. I felt a bit alone and far away from home. And by my last week there, Saint Petersburg ended up warming up to me. I met new people casually in public. I ended up hanging with a friend who had broken away and done their own thing the previous weeks. My coursework was coming to an end and slowly I was making use of the Russian language.

When I returned back home to USA, I made the decision to apply for a year-long exchange in Germany. I ended up not getting accepted into the program, but I had already made the decision to spend a year in Germany. So when applications for the Erlangen exchange from my university rolled around the following spring, I had to apply! I have been living in Germany for 7 months already. And I am not ready for my time here to end.

That was my introduction to studying abroad for American students. Each day I experienced something special. I also encountered new things that helped me grow as a person. My first two summers abroad were just the beginning! I plan to share several posts about my current study abroad here in Erlangen, Germany.

 

Enjoy the spring,

Stephanie F.

First Time Visiting a Concentration Camp (August 2017)

Dachau

September 1, 2017: I saw a concentration camp for the first time this week. I was in Munich before I traveled to Erlangen. I went on a tour to Dachau. Even though I was physically at the place, it was still hard for me to picture the terror that occurred there. Because something so terrible, yet so controlled is simply unthinkable. The tour guide really knew a lot about the history of the concentration camp and I learned a lot of details that I previously did not know. For example, that Dachau was used as a safe place for refugees in the 1950s.

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Memorial artwork to commemorate the lost lives during the years 1933-1945

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On the grounds of Dachau near the maintenance building and entrance
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a multifunctional unit that was used for registering new inmates; the quote on the roof of the building is translated as: “There is a path to freedom. Its milestones are Obedience, Honesty, Cleanliness, Sobriety, Hard Work, Discipline, Sacrifice, Truthfulness, Love of thy Fatherland.”

 

Dachau was the model for other camps. It was first. The quote on the front gate of the camp reads “Arbeit macht frei.” Working was supposed to “rehabilitate criminals and other wrong-doers.” There were some German speaking victims who lived in the camp, but many came from different countries and could not speak German. The largest group of prisoners came from Poland, followed by Germany and then citizens of the former Soviet Union. Therefore, some of them could not even understand these quotes, which were supposed to guide their every-day thinking. As soon as they arrived at Dachau, prisoners were stripped of their individuality and basic human dignity. It did not matter if they had a uniform that fit or shoes that matched. Their entire body was shaved. They were placed into a category according to “the crime that they committed.”  (See below.)

marking system

Arbeit macht frei
front gates
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liberation by the Americans

 

Apart from having to work 12-hour shifts after only eating a thin soup, the victims were subjected to various types of torture by the guards. The fear and discipline there was so intense that guards barely had to supervise when prisoners admitted new prisoners or had a role as a leader among fellow prisoners. Many prisoners died from starvation and diseases since hygiene was so poor and quarters were so close. Although the Nazis tried to keep it hidden, many prisoners committed suicide by jumping onto the electric fence surrounding the grounds.

The first crematorium was too small to keep up will all the deaths and a second had to be built. (The second featured disinfection “showers” in one part of the building.) Apart from the physical abuse from guards (some really awful forms of torture were used) and lack of nutrition and individuality, prisoners also lived in extremely crowded conditions. Where 200 men should be living according to the size of the housing, 2,000 men were living there. The beds were not divided but rather a huge wooden bunk bed.

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The barracks
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Each of the 32 former barracks are no longer standing, but they are indicated by the foundations you see here.
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The perimeter fence
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“Remember how we died here”

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gas chamber disguised as a shower room “Brausebad” ; reported to have never been used
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the first crematorium

 

The true situation of the camp was not portrayed in newspapers as such. Work camps were supposed to be something good for the country. The Nazis didn’t build murder camps in their back yard in order to hide what was happening in a neighboring country like Poland. There were numerous concentration camps in Germany and a few death camps as well, but Dachau is not considered to be one of them. It is still estimated that there were 200,000 prisoners at Dachau and deaths as high as 30,000.

If someone tried to escape the camp, they would have most likely failed due to the ditches and large electric fences around the grounds. There was also an SS academy (SS: “Schutzstaffel”- a Nazi security group) nearby as a final threat. Prisoners also saw the academy when they were walking by foot to the camp during arrival–a threatening introduction to Dachau. Sick were kept separately until they got better (if they got better). Even some experiments were held there such as tests with air pressure to see what humans could withstand as well as hypothermia experiments. Hundreds of prisoners suffered, died or were executed in the medical experiments.

Political prisoners, who had attempted to murder Hitler or who had committed similar crimes, had larger quarters in special facilities. For example, Georg Else, a Swabian carpenter who attempted to kill Hitler on a lone mission, lived under relatively favored conditions until he was shot dead in front of a wall in Dachau. Else had installed a time-bomb in the Munich Beer Hall, where Hitler commemorated the anniversary of the failed Nazi 1923 putsch. Due to foggy weather, Hitler changed his travel plans to an earlier train ride and the bomb went off after Hitler was already gone. Such political prisoners were killed before the camp was liberated by Americans under Hitler’s orders. If seeing all these horrible facilities as an informational museum wasn’t heart-breaking enough, they also played a film that told the story of the Holocaust and of Dachau with original footage.

There are also numerous artistic and religious memorials throughout the grounds that commemorate the victims and urge us to never forget. WWII and the Holocaust are discussed to great extent in American schools. What isn’t discussed enough is the 150 years leading up to the Nazi siege of power, which teaches us how such horror developed due to political instability and poor living and working conditions. The horrible crimes that were committed were not based on a single decision, but were part of a long process of terror, propaganda and total control by the Nazi government. We might be aware of fascist aesthetics and hate among others, but would we be willing to stand up to it? Would we be passive and live off the struggle of others? Or would we too become a victimizer when our governmental authority tells us that it is okay? (A video series about social psychology– to help us understand how such horrible things could happen anywhere)

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“Never Again”
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The colors and symbols represent the marking system used to label inmates. However, on this memorial piece there is no pink represented (for homosexuals)
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“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men”

 

The following photos are of the various religious memorials at Dachau.

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Jewish memorial

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more than 6 million Jews fell victim to Nazi tyranny
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The Mortal Agony of Church Chapel
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Protestant Church for Reconciliation
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Russian Orthodox Chapel

 

That’s it for this entry! I shared what I learned about the camp during the tour. I introduced the camp and some of what happened during the Third Reich. The Third Reich is a very extensive topic in German History. Too much has been destroyed and lost to even paint a full picture of every atrocity that happened at Dachau. But, we know enough to hopefully never allow something like the Holocaust to happen again. And I hope that you are feeling grateful rather than depressed after reading this. I strongly recommend Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. The book is a response to the question: “How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?” Frankl was a psychologist and Auschwitz concentration camp inmate.  It is a book that very well may change your perspective about the purpose of life.

Currently, German students take day trips to such camps to learn about the Holocaust. Learning about history is just as important as being aware of what is happening in the moment all around the globe. Remember, not all Germans were Nazis and not all Nazis were German. We should never forget, be informed of today’s news and self-reflect. Thanks for reading about my experience at Dachau!

 

Sincerely,

Stephanie F.

What to Pack for a Study Abroad in Germany

~Here is my first attempt at writing a list of what one may need for a study abroad in Germany. ~

Things to bring if living abroad for an extended time:

  • refillable water bottle (Water is not free in Germany! Do not expect a glass of water to come with your meal. You will have to pay for a bottle of still or carbonated water. In summer when you are travelling, having a bottle will save you money because you can easily refill in the bathroom or at public fountains. The water quality has to follow European Union standards so it is quite okay to drink from the faucet.)
  • power converter (you can order online before your trip)
  • recyclable bag (2x) (Another difference between USA & Germany- you pay for the plastic bags when shopping in Germany. So save yourself money by taking a recyclable bag with you before shopping. Use less plastic.)
  • “book” bag (You mean need it for your classes or to take what you need for longer bus rides/excursions.)
  • smaller purse (Having a smaller purse–or maybe just a wallet–is convenient when you go out to a bar or club.)
  • rags (at least 4 or 5)
  • 2 towels
  • nail clippers
  • Band-Aids
  • sheets (if you know the bed size) & pillow (if you have the space)
  • 2 folders for paperwork
  • a journal to write about your trip in
  • some loose paper and a few pens and pencils
  • 2 books to read
  • photos
  • a laptop
  • umbrella

Things to buy shortly after arriving:

  • sheets, comforter & pillow
  • cleaning supplies (spray, wipes, toilet bowl brush, broom & dustpan)
  • Advil
  • hand soap
  • a candle or air-freshener
  • detergent
  • dishes & dish soap
  • clear tape (to hang photos)
  • a small lamp
  • scissors (if needed)
  •  a small plant

Best,

Stephanie F.

New language, new life

How Learning A Foreign Language Has Given My Life New Meaning (originally written October 2016)

 

Learning a foreign language not only reveals how other societies think and feel, what they have experienced and value, and how they express themselves, it also provides a cultural mirror in which we can more clearly see our own society.” —Chancellor Edward Lee Gorsuch

 

Foreign languages have different structures, unique grammars, varying sound systems and dynamic expressions fitted for those languages. Therefore, stepping out of the comfort zone of one’s mother tongue can be very intimidating; however, learning a foreign language will invite you into the global community, challenge you to grow personally and will benefit you no matter your interests, career or age.

 

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Have you ever wondered what someone was saying in a foreign language you couldn’t understand? Have you seen Arabic written and desperately desired to read it? Each language has its own mystery. That means any language can offer you something new and thrilling—whether it be the diminutives in German, the free word order in Russian, or the alveolar trill of the “rolling” Spanish “Rrrrr.” You can learn a new way to insult someone—or compliment them. Most likely, you will choose a language that you enjoy hearing; however, refrain from being discouraged when you do not understand everything immediately. For instance, the beginning of your foreign language-learning journey is similar to the first time you hear a beautiful song where you are first captivated by the overall sound; then, you develop the ability to slowly pick out words, next grasp a gist of the meaning, and then, finally, the philosophical richness of the language.

 

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The study of Latin and Greek was necessary for scholars until the late nineteenth century. Maybe reading Homer’s Iliad in Ancient Greek is not a primary goal for us in the twenty-first century (everything is already translated into English, right?), but studying a foreign language in post-secondary education makes us stronger scholars. Not only is our scholarly aptitude enhanced because of the access to original material in a foreign language, but also because we become more creative, more flexible and better listeners once we have studied a foreign language. Each of these attributes lead to an improvement in the study of all other subjects.

 

DOLLS AND DICTIONARIES.jpgTranslation is possible but so much is lost in the process. There are many forms of language, such as academic, written, and colloquial. Academic language allows us to verbalize complex concepts through words like connotation or morpheme, whereas spoken language consistently changes and written language records history. Accordingly, when you are able to understand a foreign language, not only do you gain access into the daily lives of the speakers but also a glimpse into the minds of the thinkers and artists through literature, music, and overall new sources of information in the language.

 

PETERSBURG“[T]he traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep [.]” – Margaret Mead, American anthropologist. Traveling abroad is more than just a “vacation.” The more you know about a country’s history and how its residents live, the better you will be able to converse with those around you. The most satisfying travel abroad will be one in which you communicate in a foreign language. Through using your language skills, you experience an intangible, rewarding feeling as you navigate through the environment better, by ordering meals, bartering at shops and experiencing the cultural nuances.

 

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Learning a foreign language allows you to understand the world in which we live in just a bit better. Other languages are not English vocabulary hidden in different sounds. You may find yourself surprised when you have more in common with a native speaker of an exotic European language than someone from your hometown, which I have personally experienced. My community is no longer limited to my hometown, the state of Georgia, or even my country of origin—learning a foreign language has opened up the entire globe as a place of possibility for deepening my relationship with myself and others. Ultimately, learning German for almost two years and Russian for about half a year has improved my ability to learn, deepened my understanding of myself and has given me so many opportunities to meet people from around the world; therefore, it is no surprise that I enthusiastically recommend learning a foreign language to anyone.

 

 

Inspired to learn a language? Check out my Language Learners‘ Toolbox for useful tips on how to effectively learn a foreign language!

~Stephanie F.