Tag Archives: Germany

Tips and Tricks for Studying Abroad

One thing that’s amazing about coming from the U.S. to Europe to study is the immense difference in spatial recognition you recognize almost immediately after entering Europe. You’ll notice that the little map on the screen in front of your seat on the plane flies from one country to the next in what seems like 30-60 minutes (yes, that short) and the lines that you see on that map don’t recognize state or provincial borders but rather whole nations. It blows me away that nations can be so tightly packed together and yet so vastly different.

 

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Regions of the U.S. certainly have their own gross differences – the busy pace of the coasts versus the slow lifestyles of the Midwest and South, the drastic differences of English accents across regions (Southern drawl, New England accent, Cali slang, Midwestern accent, etc.), and even the hospitality of the states bathed in sunshine (the South and the West) versus the more distant demeanor of those of us in the North/East. (New Yorkers aren’t mean! We’re just cold and busy!) But ultimately, traveling the U.S. is still exploring American turf. You’re under the same federal jurisdictions, you share the language, and most likely you’ll be at least somewhat familiar with the culture.

Not in Europe. It’s fascinating to live on a continent where driving an hour and a half to the Northeast, I’d be met with Belgian German. An hour after, we encounter Germany. Driving east would lead you to the romantic world of Italy, and even further east and you’re in Eastern Europe, a very different place pretty separated from Western Europe in terms of culture and inclusion in the international realm.

Recently I spent spring break traveling with a bunch of people including my friend from New York, friends from my study abroad program, and some of their friends. We went to Cologne, made a little stop in my hometown in Germany, and then flew to Rome.

 

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Maybe it was just the gritty vibe I got from Cologne (Germany), but this cathedral looks much better filthy, on a snowy day.

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I promise, Rome’s Coliseum is much more impressive in person. Out of maybe 500 pictures, only two of them really dented the vast and magnificent beauty of these ruins.

 

It’s fair to say one of the things all of us international students studying abroad in Europe look forward to is traveling. I mean, why wouldn’t we? We were all bold enough to leave our homes, probably for a place with a new language, and a very different culture… so why not take it further? This blog post is based solely on my personal travel experiences, and I hope the advice in it is helpful to those of you who are already travelers or look forward to studying abroad. Of all the traveling I’ve done, traveling as a student abroad has been some of the most enlightening and interesting experiences I’ve had, and along the way I’ve picked up many tips and tricks that I hope will make traveling a breeze.

10 Do’s and Don’ts of Studying Abroad:

  1. Do plan ahead. See what your cheapest travel options are, and compare prices between companies. Goeuro.com is great for comparisons, but make sure to also look into local car-sharing services (like BlaBlaCar here in France) as well as cheap bus options (like Flixbus, a personal favorite) and airlines (Ryanair is amazing in Europe).
  2. Don’t go crazy trying to plan all the details ahead of time. Give yourself extra wiggle room while traveling. You’ll never know when you (and maybe your friends) want to stop for something to eat. You also don’t want to try to buy tickets for everything you’d like to see in advance because it could be that you all decide to wander around instead of sticking to a schedule, and you don’t want to be anyone’s mom pressing them for time.
  3. Do spend some time alone. I know you’ll be excited to travel with old or new friends, and you might feel safer in a group or with friends, but trust me – this will be necessary to balance your moods and process all the new things you’ll be encountering. I find that most people who travel together (especially new friends) sometimes squabble over small details with people they really like, even over really small things! Most people can get over that, but I find that spending time alone like having breakfast by yourself at the hostel or taking a safe walk in the middle of a large public park in the afternoon can clear your mind tremendously and take the edge off being surrounded by people with their own ideas and agendas the entire time you’re abroad. Make sure to remember to prioritize some self-love and self-care.
  4. DON’T PACK EXCESSIVELY. I cannot stress this point enough, and it really should be the first point. For cheap flights in Europe, you pay for everything, including checked luggage. That means as a financially-strained student, your best bet is a carry-on full of re-wearable (and comfortable) clothing, one pair of shoes, only the essential toiletries, and 100 mL bottles of any liquids you may need. Save room in your luggage for souvenirs and things to bring back. You’ll definitely thank yourself later! Over-packing isn’t just impractical and annoying, but can actually hurt your experience. For example, in Rome, we found ourselves walking for hours every day because there happened to be a taxi strike! Now, please don’t let this happen to you. Me and my good friend were miserable walking around Rome, trying to find a cab, holding our huge carry-ons. Just remember, anything you might find yourself needing you can buy when you get there. Anything you can’t is probably not a part of this society and you won’t need it to survive. Take the leap of faith and enjoy the raw experience for what it is.
  5. Do try and befriend locals! The best way to get to a know a place is through its people. Not only will they be able to help you with the practicalities of their home but they will have the best insight on what to see, do, and eat. Plus, you may end up with a new life-long friend.
  6. Don’t eat at super touristy places, at least not all the time. I get it, you’re hungry. You’ve been walking all day and you see a gimmick food place really near to the last tourist destination you went to. If you can, try to look up places with good ratings or get recommendations ahead of time. I know this is a little bit more work, but it’s always worth it. Those of us coming from big cities know very well that tourist areas are over-priced, and often offer the worst quality of foods that the city has to offer. At first, I thought Rome’s food was waaaay overrated. I was disappointed with the Italian culinary experience I had been fantasizing about for years. It wasn’t until my Roman friends reached out to me on Facebook and gave me recommendations, or when I started looking up popular restaurants on Google, that I found myself in food wonderland. However, keep in mind that if you need something quick and small to keep you going, you don’t have to avoid all the tourist spots forever. Just try not to eat there for all three meals, all the days you’re there!

 

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Pizzeria Bonci in Roma. We made friends with William, pictured behind the counter, a local from Astoria, Queens now living in Italy. He told us that he plans to open restaurants in Chicago this upcoming year and New York the next!

 

  1. Do something every day. There’s no point in wasting time, money, and energy traveling to a new spot just to hang out in the Airbnb, hostel, or hotel. If your friends are feeling lazy, suggest finding a new eatery or a park where you all can lounge. If no one wants to leave, go do something yourself. Being somewhere new is exciting, but if you haven’t been anywhere, what is exciting except for the actual transit?
  2. Don’t carry tons of cash at once. You might think that cash is practical, in case of an emergency and when you’re going out. You’re not wrong. In this case, I support carrying some cash on you at all times (I myself like to keep 30 euros on hand at all times – enough for a taxi ride home in an emergency). But some folks carry too much, and there are a couple of reasons I advise you all not to do this. The first is that if something happens (which I doubt it will!), you don’t want to lose all the money you have. The second is that carrying cash encourages you to spend more (at least according to most people), and if you’re traveling on a student’s budget you might not necessarily want to do that. As a bonus, most places will accept international bank cards. Stay safe, stay practical, stay financially responsible.
  3. Do try to supplement your education with some outside learning. I know, I know. I can practically hear the nerd jokes now. But think about it. Schools and classrooms prepare you practically all of your life to learn about the world in practical ways. For me, my high school Greek, Roman, and world history lessons flooded back as I explored ancient sites in Rome we used to discuss. Seeing these places brought real perspective to some of these lessons, and let me imagine history in a deeper context. Learning about different peoples’ culture allows you to critique the world of politics, pop culture, and social norms from broad viewpoints. Understanding what is happening in places you visit and what they’ve overcome as a state or a city or province is critical to your experience there, and the world we live in that is constantly changing around us. Hearing the German perspective on American politics, after beginning to understand the French perspective, helps me understand our own impact around the world as well as how to embrace the differences in our cultures. Some folks in the world never get to experience the intensity of formal education that we as college students get to, and learning practically is how they become informed adults. Even when we finish our education, we never stop learning, so start learning practically now. You will become a better, well-rounded person, and no one can ever fault you for your openness to learn and your expanding depth of knowledge.
  4. Don’t forget to LIVE YOUR LIFE. Breathe, and take it all in. Try new things, especially things you wouldn’t back home. Eat something your friends stare at you slack-jawed for trying. Attempt to speak the languages in the first words or sentences you might’ve picked up. Learn the culture by embracing it. Prepare yourself to be changed by your experiences. Try to leave all your preconceptions at the door. If you open up to the world, it’ll open up for you and you might just find many new things that shape who you’ll become.

 

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The Trevi Fountain in Rome gave me such good memories and high hopes for the rest of my adventures. Sitting and thinking in front of those gorgeous multi-hued blue waters underneath incredible and ancient art really brought me back to how lucky I am to have this opportunity.

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Filed under Tammie in France, Western Europe

Change is Inevitable

It’s been 2 months and I am still very much in love with Lüneburg.

It has remained beautiful, it has remained welcoming and, as I predicted, it has proven itself to be the perfect place for me to achieve my study abroad ambitions.

As my time here draws to an end, I often find myself thinking about what I expected to happen. I find myself thinking about the excitement I felt during the very first hour of arrival. I find myself remembering how anxious I was to experience what Germany had in store for me. And I often find myself looking back on something that my German professor said to me right before I left for my program.

She said, “You don’t know it now but you’re going to change so much”

I really didn’t know what she meant by that. I mean, how much could a person really change in just 10 weeks?

A lot, apparently.

“Change” somehow implies that one can spontaneously develop new characteristics when placed in a different environment. I’m stubborn, so I would prefer to think that being here has made me more aware of who I have always been. That my experiences in Germany have helped me nurse the characteristics that would have otherwise been suppressed or ignored. This has, in turn, modified the way I act, how I communicate, and my general world view.

 

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I’m not fond of being the subject of photos but I really loved the historic architecture that my friends and I encountered in Dresden and had to remember my reaction to the moment.

 

The most important way I’ve changed is in that I have become a lot more confident in my point of view. Previously, I spent most of my time fitting my perspective into the narratives of others. Instead of letting my unique point of view shine through, I sought to blend in. Blending in made it easy for me to make statements, engage in discussions, and be involved without exposing the facts of my life that make me who I am.

My cultural identity is a prime example of this. I was born in Houston, Texas but raised in Lagos, Nigeria. Despite my purely American accent, I spent more of my life in Nigeria (11 years) than in the United States (7 years). Yet I had always felt the need to hide this fact because I genuinely believed that, in order to connect with people and to be a good communicator, I had to be totally and completely relatable. Even if that meant ignoring the “Nigerian” in “Nigerian-American.”

Being here, and being a foreigner on both fronts has made me a lot more comfortable with being open about my cultural identity. It has actually helped me figure out exactly what that is. This happened with encouragement from the curious locals and fellow study abroad students who saw my name and asked me to talk about my background and went even further by asking about how it has shaped my personal identity. I realize now that there is so much value in being “all of me” while connecting and communicating with others. I don’t think that I would have been brave enough to come to this realization myself or change in the way that I have while in the United States, especially at this moment in time. So I have my study abroad experience to thank for this.

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Filed under Bioreoluwasheto in Germany, Eastern Europe

A Case for Short-Term Friendships

Before my study abroad program, I had always taken pride in the idea that I could both adapt to and eventually leave any given environment easily without any sense of loss or regret. This is because I have moved a lot during the past several years. And moving so much forced me to develop a passive character that did not necessarily reject close connections, but was resigned to the belief that close friendships do not last forever.

This frame of mind has honestly helped me look towards the future as I have said goodbye to different chapters and people in my life. However, I have to admit that it has become increasingly more difficult for me to do this. And the end of the first session of my program here in Germany has been my biggest feat to date.

 

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Ashley, Victoria, and I decided to break out of routine of classes and go explore more of our beautiful host city.

 

My program is split into two summer sessions, 5 weeks each. I am among the 20 or so students who are enrolled for all 10 weeks. I was aware of this when I arrived but I did not think that I would develop substantial friendships during a short study abroad program. I knew that I would meet interesting people and maybe become friends with a few but I did not anticipate meeting so many amazing individuals. Individuals that I will not have the pleasure of associating with when I return to the United States because we all go to different schools in different states.

 

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The beginning of the second session was filled with sad goodbyes. The only silver lining was having the opportunity to connect with the new students and explore Berlin with Michaela and Ben, pictured here.

 

Saying goodbye to friends who left Germany after the first summer session was very difficult because I had somehow found people who I instantly connected with on deep level. I found people who were willing to have difficult, sometimes controversial discussions, in an intellectual and empathetic manner. I found people who were willing to laugh at themselves, people who saw the value in sitting down and having a conversation with someone who is nothing like you. I found people who embody attributes that I strive to have.

Saying goodbye to them and knowing that I would most likely never see them again was hard to swallow. I honestly spent days afterwards regretting not saying yes to certain outings and travel opportunities. But thankfully after moping around, I soon began to appreciate the short time that I had with them. I realized that I was lucky to have had any time with them because our paths would never have crossed if we had not enrolled in the same program.

 

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Standing in this cramped (but huge) elevator with about 30 other students was the first time the reality of our fateful yet limited time together really hit me.

 

As I collected my emotions, I began to remember the moments that characterized my friendships with them. I remembered the five minute to hour long conversations. I remembered the excitement we shared together when we tried new cuisines or explored new cities. I remembered how we confided in each other during times of uncertainty. And I remembered so much more that made me happy for our time together, regardless of how short it was.

To add a relief from my self-introspection, I’ll talk a little bit about the people I said goodbye to:

 

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Long train rides would have been terrible without these two (Ashley and Victoria) to talk to. And also Charlotte who is not pictured.

 

The laughing, fiery red-head girl to the right in the picture above is Victoria. Victoria and I had no classes together, our paths rarely crossed and we could have easily missed each other on a daily basis. Yet, we became very close. I credit our initial interaction to the fact that we both have a dark sense of humor that is lost on most people. My favorite moments of the first session of my program were spent with her. Previously, I had never met anyone who was so self-aware. We would sit for hours to talk about everything and nothing. The fact that she was so open and willing to struggle through theories and ideas with me (and anyone) was the reason we bonded so quickly and so closely.

 

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Taken on the first day of our program’s week in Berlin. This day also marked the start of a beautiful friendship with the two women pictured, Abra and Sam.

 

The two women pictured above are Abra and Sam. We sadly did not get to know each other very well until their last days in Germany. But those 3 days were enough to create memories that will stay with me for a very long time. Our most memorable time together was when we ventured to visit what’s left of the Berlin Wall. Berlin is not an easy place to navigate through without a guide so we had to rely on each other’s wits to get us through the city.  After walking through and experiencing something of that magnitude, we sat down for what is to date the most delicious meal I have ever had, and talked about everything and nothing over dinner.

The final profile I’ll share is of the smiling young woman in the picture below.

 

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I made her stand and smile because I mischievously wanted a picture of the two performers behind her without having to pay. It turned out to be a pretty great picture that shows how much fun we had that day.

 

In 6 weeks, I had only talked to Tana about 2 or 3 times. Our paths never really crossed, at least not until I answered her general request for someone to accompany her to the Lüneburg City festival. We then spent the rest of the day and part of the next morning together just having fun and getting to know each other. Our day together was the first time that I really thought of the notion of a short-term friendship. Because we both knew that day was our one and only chance to bond.

Saying goodbye to these people and the prospect of saying goodbye to more in the coming weeks is sad. But these individuals (and many others not mentioned) have expanded my life perspective in ways I will carry with me forever.

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Filed under Bioreoluwasheto in Germany, Western Europe

Beauty in Vandalism?

Before I left for my study abroad program, I made one promise to several people. I promised that I would take as many pictures as possible and post them all over social media.

To be honest, I lied. I knew when I was making the promise to my friends and family that I was definitely not going to keep it. This is because I’ve never really been the type to showcase myself or my everyday life. At least not unless I do so as a personal challenge or project to memorialize an experience.

For example, I took a picture every day of my senior year in high school and I posted these pictures on social media. The pictures were of candid moments with my friends. Moments that were more valuable than an occasional selfie of me looking off in the distance, with a scenic background behind me and an inspiration caption that I had Googled only moments before.

Those pictures ended up being amazing commemorations of the end to an eventful chapter in my life. So coming here, I knew that I wanted to have the same mentality while recording my experience. I wanted to record the small, not staged moments. I wanted to record the things and scenes that would not often be thought of as “picture-perfect.”

This was, at first, a real challenge for me because almost everything here in Lüneburg, and in the other cities I have visited, is beautiful and picturesque. It takes a lot to not take a picture that one can easily find in a Google image search and call it a day. But during a bus ride through Lüneburg, I took notice of something that I am usually oblivious to: graffiti.

 

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Seid lieb” means “be nice.” This stencil can be found all over Lüneburg in many different colors.

 

In between picturesque buildings and monuments, there’s graffiti. Sometimes the graffiti is small stencils of a simple message or elaborate murals that seem to have been painted by multiple artists over a long period of time. These pieces are not really hidden, in fact it seems as if they are showcased because no one attempts to paint over them or reprimand the artists.

 

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My favorite section of the huge graffiti mural that is on the side of a local stadium.

 

One morning, my bus to school actually passed by a spray paint artist working on a small stump. She was doing this in broad daylight and was not stopped by anyone. The next day, her piece was done and it looked amazing.

 

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The end result of the broad daylight graffiti artist’s work.

 

Lüneburg is beautiful because it’s historic and “frozen in time.” But the modern graffiti seems to add to the overall aesthetic of the city. So I decided to make capturing graffiti (and candid moments) my way of recording my study abroad experience. I know that by recording my experience this way, I will always be able to look at any picture and put myself back in that exact moment, experiencing the same emotions.

 

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Filed under Bioreoluwasheto in Germany, Western Europe

Apathy is Not an Option

Hello there, my name is Bioreoluwasheto Sarah Odimayo and I am an International Studies major from Texas who is currently studying the German language and political science in the beautiful city of Lüneburg, Germany. I have been in Lüneburg for a little over a week, so my initial thoughts and feelings about my program are still very fresh in my mind.

I was not very anxious about leaving the United States. This is simply because I had spent an enormous amount of time the past school year organizing and preparing myself for my summer semester in Germany. I was actually extremely excited because I saw my trip as the culmination of a year’s work; the culmination of juggling a job and school work to pay initial deposits, of obsessing over scholarship/grant applications and of conditioning myself to get into the mindset of being open to a new educational experience.

So, when it was time for me to leave and when I arrived, I felt ready to take on Germany and to have the best study experience possible. And then I stepped out of the airport terminal and realized that everything (as it should be) was almost entirely in German.

The one thing I had failed to register in my mind was the fact that I, as an intermediate German speaker, would find it extremely difficult to speak to anyone who is above the age of 8 years old. Fortunately, this initial fear slowly but surely subsided as I found my group in the airport and realized that I am in the best place and best situation possible for learning the language. Then I studied my surroundings and came to the conclusion that, besides the obvious language and maybe some ideological differences, everyday life in Germany will not be immensely different from life in the United States because the U.S and Germany are both western and modern nations. Luckily, this initial perception was mostly right.

Although it looks nothing like the big cities in Texas that I alternate between, I felt extremely “at home” as we all arrived in Lüneburg from Hamburg. This town is extremely beautiful, quirky and quaint. I had not prepared myself for the fact that I would be in awe of the medieval structures and story-book cottages that regular, non-fantasy people actually live in. I had always been sort of skeptical when people talk about “love at first sight” but now I know that it’s possible.

 

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As the epitome of an amateur photographer, I am genuinely surprised that my first picture of Luneburg turned out to be one that captures its essence.

 

A week has passed and I am still very much in love with Lüneburg and with my life here. From about the second day, my fellow classmates and I have expressed the fact that we feel like we have been in Lüneburg for a very long time. This city embraced us and has made it easy for us to fully immerse ourselves into learning more about the language and German way of life. And because I feel at home here, I know that I can focus on the goals that I set for myself when I was preparing for this experience.

The obvious reason for me being here is to improve on my German language skills and earn some political science credits on the side. But I am also here to test myself. I truly believe that complacency and monotony in one’s life is extremely detrimental because it leads to apathy. And as someone who is pursuing a career in international relations and conflict resolution, apathy is not an option. My goal is to use my study abroad experience to train myself to be open-minded about differing ideological perspectives, ways of life and points-of-view. I am going to do this by simply being open to talking to anyone on any subject.

I have a feeling that even the shortest conversation with someone I would have otherwise overlooked or not been exposed to has the potential to lead to a deeper understanding of the human experience. This is what excites me the most about my study abroad program here in Germany.

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Filed under Bioreoluwasheto in Germany, Western Europe

An Unexpected Friendship

When talking about what we wanted to do while in Spain, my friends and I decided that we didn’t just want to stay in Zaragoza; we wanted to see other parts of Spain as well. When my friends Angela and Kate, along with myself, arrived in Spain my friend Michael had already been studying here since August, so he was able to show us around and introduce us to a few friends that he had made, two of which were also American. We ended up becoming very good friends with the two Americans, named Preston and Jason, going to bars, playing cards, watching movies, and practicing Spanish together. However, in March, Preston and Jason had to leave Zaragoza; Preston had an internship in Pamplona, and Jason had an internship in Ibiza. When they found out, they talked to us, and we all decided that we wanted to take one last trip together. We took a weekend, and booked a train to Valencia.

It was the perfect weekend to go. The weather was great, the sun was shining, and we all enjoyed going to the local beach, and seeing some of the monuments, such as castles and cathedrals, in Valencia. However, it wasn’t just our little group hanging out together. When we got to Valencia, we checked in at a hostel, and had to share a room with a girl from Germany, who we later found out to be named Anja. She was fluent in German, English, and Spanish, and we chatted with her a bit on Friday night. On Saturday, she told us that she’d come here alone, and she politely asked us if she could tag along with us. We accepted and were really excited to have a new addition to our “study abroad family.”

My study abroad family!

My study abroad family!

We saw several tourist sights together, and got to know Anja really well. On Saturday night, we weren’t sure where to go eat for dinner, so Anja recommended a place for us that she’d been to before. It was a great restaurant, and we all got to try Paella Valenciana, which was fantastic (and a cultural must, since Valencia is where paella originated). Then, on Sunday we all went to a science museum and just hung out for a while. After that, it was time to say our good-byes, as my friends and I were going back to Zaragoza that day, and Anja would be going back to Germany on Monday. We all added Anja on Facebook, and she insisted that if we’re ever in Germany, to send her a message so she could see us again, and we told her the same thing, should she ever visit the United States, Meeting Anja made our trip to Valencia even more memorable, and I do hope to see her again someday.

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Filed under Tyler in Spain, Western Europe

It’s All About Perspective

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends.  You are constantly off balance.  Nothing is yours except the essential things air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” –Cesare Pavese

This quote is a very interesting one, indeed.  Although some of it I can understand completely perfectly, other parts are not quite so correct in my eyes.  Traveling abroad definitely forces one to rely on strangers, but this is not always, or even usually, a bad thing.  Relying on the help or the directions of another person is a very humbling experience and it reminds us all that we are not alone, but part of a larger world-community.  I always find that it feels really good to receive directions or help from a stranger, but it really feels fantastic passing that helpful hand on to someone else.  That need for help is something that unites us all as humans; none of us could make it day in and day out without others, but sometimes we lose track of that need because we do not realize we are relying on others.  It is often easy to forget that you are relying on your parents, your friends or your family because it is so normal.

As for the second part, it can be true that nothing is yours if you let it be.  On some of my more hopelessly homesick days, it definitely felt as if nothing was mine, nothing was normal or familiar.  It was all too easy to become preoccupied with everything strange and unfamiliar.  I have learned best on those days, that it is so important to keep a sense of what IS yours and what you CAN control.  Yes, the air, sleep, dreams, etc. that Pavese mentions are yours, but also your memories of friends and family are.  Your experiences and opportunities while traveling are most surely yours and if you are so worried about what does not fall under your control you may miss the chance to really experience the smallest moments of your days or miss the opportunities you are offered.

Really what this quote comes down to is one’s perspective.  If you spend each day seizing the opportunities and living the moments given to you, you will find new things that will become yours.  The commute to class, friends, new food or whatever else you encounter will soon make the shift from being strange to being yours.  They will not replace the things that were yours before, but they are still a valuable part of being abroad.  You may have to put your faith in people you have never met, but as long as you do it the smart way you will definitely see that these experiences can often be very positive.  These experiences have brought me to a place where I can say that Germany feels much more like home than I ever imagined it would.

               

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Filed under Carly in Germany, Western Europe, Writing Prompts