Missing Home But Never Want to Go back

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                I am beginning month number three in Budapest, Hungary and it is safe to say the adjustment stage has officially gone away. While preparing to go abroad you think you’re ready and it is going to be a walk in the park – “oh my gosh, a semester abroad- HOW COOL, I’ll be SO cultured!” This is true, but the phrase that hit my hard 1 week into the trip was “I have FOUR months to be here.” During the first week you want to do everything. You explore the entire city, eat tons of exotic food, do everything you can think to do- and then when you are done you realize you have a very long time to be there. Luckily for me, two weeks into my trip I got a visitor, which saved me from too much culture shock.

                After exploring this beautiful, historic, wonderful city my boyfriend, Logan, came to visit and the next day we left for a trip of our own. Since neither of us had ever been out of the country we decided to use this time to explore a set of cities that both of us wanted to see. We bought a Eurail Pass and began our 14 day journey through Europe. On the first night of our trip we ran into our first problem- the fact that we don’t know how to travel. We missed a train (probably too busy eating cinnamon rolls the size of our face) and were stuck in Vienna for a night, which ended up being not so bad. The next day we got on a new train and finally arrived in Rome. We spent the next few days seeing the entire city, eating whole pizzas to ourselves, and ending every night with a scoop of gelato. Rome was nice, but not for our waistline. After Rome we traveled to Prague which is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, it looks like it is out of a picture book. There we explored the city, took a hop-on hop-off tour and even found a Czech Crossfit Gym! After three days in Prague we moved on to Amsterdam which is the most interesting city I have ever been. There you see the most brilliant buildings with hundreds of canals. Not only was it breathtaking, the atmosphere is so carefree which is exactly why I loved it. Everyone minds their own business and does not care what others are doing around them. The BIKES were my favorite part. It is normal to ride a bike around town but the Dutch use them as their everyday “cars” carrying their children to school or riding to work in a suit or dress, it is amazing! After a few days there we traveled to our final city- Munich. I can just say one thing about this city- Oktoberfest. At the end of our two weeks we arrived back to Budapest and Logan’s flight left later that afternoon.

                Now that I have returned from dabbling through Europe I am finally back to classes and have a sort of structure to my schedule, which is nice. Luckily classes only meet once a week, the downside is they are three hours long but this helps the school week go by and the weekend arrive fast. I am readjusting back to being in Hungary rather than a purely tourist city and it feels almost normal, I even referred to Budapest as “home” while traveling. I currently have trips to Berlin, Brussels, Dublin, and the UK planned for the last half of my trip. I even have a trip planned to meet some other students from UofL in Barcelona for Halloween! Even though culture shock is real and it takes some adjusting, I still think this experience is the best thing I have ever done. I have exactly 2 months left and I already do not want to leave.

 

Hallo from The Hague

It has been just a little over a month and a half and it has been a blast living and studying here. As we are preparing to go on fall break, I felt it would be a good time to post about my experiences so far.

I’ll begin with the city; it is absolutely amazing and beautiful. Every morning, I get to wake up to a beautiful sight looking out towards the city. The city center, which is a few minutes away on foot from the train station (Den Haag Holland Spoor), is tremendous. There are plenty of stores many of which are very high-end. One thing is for sure though; you cannot go hungry in this city. There are plenty of places to eat from small cafes to bars that serve anything from a nice juicy ribeye to Turkish pizza. One specialty over here is called patas which are pretty much French fries and are served a lot with main dishes. The one thing that makes it notability different is that they are served with mayonnaise…now I know what you are thinking, how do fries and mayonnaise go together? Well let me tell you that it is awesome. I would never dare do that back home but over here it works. Besides the city center, the beach is not too far away which is nice on a warm day. Next, I will talk about my living accommodation.

What I wake up to every morning.

What I wake up to every morning.

Picture of the beach to make your day a little better

Picture of the beach to make your day a little better

I live in an apartment very close to school. I have two roommates; one is from Egypt and the other is from France. Space here tends to be a little bit smaller than what seems normal back home but it is very manageable. We do a lot of cooking. Unfortunately for me, my cooking is very limited except for Ramen noodles which I have mastered. My French roommate is the main chef of the apartment so I am taking notes from him to bring back home because he can fix just about anything. One great thing about living in this apartment, besides being very close to school, is the amount of other exchange students that also live here. Students come from all over the world. I have made many new friends and there are always activities going on. Just the other day, a group of us found a local park that had several soccer fields to play on so we will be making return trips there very soon. The next thing I want to talk about is school and what I do on a normal basis.

My roommates and I enjoying dinner in the city center

My roommates and I enjoying dinner in the city center

The Hague University, or De Haagse Hogeschool in Dutch, is a neat school. There are about 30,000 students that study here. The HU is divided up into different sections or buildings which are connected which makes it easy to navigate to your other classes once you get the hand of things. Classes often change rooms depending on the day so it is always good to check beforehand where you need to go so you don’t end up late. Here is an awesome tip; there is an app you can download called HHS TimeTable which you can pull up class schedules very quickly. As far as classes go, I am taking classes in finance, management, and Dutch for exchange students. Other than that, I usually enjoy riding my bike around the city (which there is a cool non-profit organization called B-Cycle-It that offers bikes to rent to students at a very reasonable cost a month). I have also been refereeing soccer games at a local club that I just happened to find one day walking through Rijswijk on certain weekends. Finally, I’ll talk about my travels.

Main atrium of The Hague University

Main atrium of The Hague University

My traveling so far has taken me to Germany and Austria. In Germany, I went to Munich, Frankfurt, Regensburg, Hannover, and Berlin. In Austria, I went to Salzburg which is on the border of Germany. With fall break here, I plan on going to Italy and then working up towards France. One note I would like to make if you decide to come over here to study: ask other exchange students about places you are interested in. Like I said earlier, students come from all over the world. They are a great source of information and can give you great tips that the internet can’t offer.

At Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

At Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

Well that has been my experiences here so far. While I enjoy my time over here, I know the days are getting quicker and soon it will be the end of the semester. If you are interested in The Hague and would like to know more, feel free to contact me at my email, amhend06@louisville.edu.

Forcing yourself into uncomfortability

Contrary to a majority of my fellow study abroad comrades, I chose a different route for my experience. I am studying abroad in France. You can save your biases about French culture or jokes of a winning-less military for someone else because I have idolized France since my first French class my freshmen year of high school. Since that point I have been intrigued of anything French. I loved speaking it and the way it sounded. I loved French history and traditions. Especially, I loved the romanticism associated with Paris being the “city of lights”.
This admiration only increased coming to Cergy, France for my fall semester to study abroad. The city of Cergy is a thirty minute train ride from Paris and needless to say a majority of my weekends during my first month here were spent navigating through the picturesque facades of the Parisian streets.
Although the city is beautiful and not a day goes by that I am not taken aback by the sheer fact of where I am standing, I would be lying if I said my entire trip has been perfect. I made this experience challenging for myself. I could have gone to a school with a group of my close friends for the summer. I could have attended a school with which our university had a specific exchange program. I could have chosen a country where the majority of its population speak English. To me though, study abroad meant something different. If I was going to study abroad I was going to make myself as uncomfortable as possible because that’s how I feel people truly grow as human beings. Out of the almost 200 exchange students there are ten from the United States and I am the only student from my university. If I had a question about a class or even something so basic as finding the grocery store there was no familiar face with which I could find a solution to the problem.
After a month here I can safely say that I am extremely glad I put myself in such a seemingly uncomfortable situation. It means that I am not reliant on people to make my own decisions. It means I am forced to branch out and acquaint myself with the people and places around me. I have learned a lot about my capabilities in this first month and I could not be more excited for the next three. A bit of advice to any study abroad student: to maximize the personal benefit of the experience make yourself as uncomfortable as possible.

Coming up on the end of Month 1

Hey everyone! There’s only a few days left until my first month is the Netherlands comes to a close, and I have to say, the time has flown by. To be honest, I don’t know where to start. Schipol airport is absolutely amazing. Once you leave the boarding area you enter into this huge foyer that is lined with stores and restaurants, and is filled by crowds of people from all over the world. Luckily I met a very nice woman from Cyprus who helped me get a train ticket and find the correct platform. Even then, I still would have gotten on the wrong train if it hadn’t been for the help of some friendly locals (what Albin said in an earlier post is true, the Dutch have been extremely helpful). Unfortunately I got in on Sunday due to a flight delay and the housing office was closed. The upside is that I got to stay in a hostel that was situated on one the cities canals.

The next day I got situated in my apartment and met my roommate. Her name is Jin, she’s from South Korea and is completely awesome. She’s been showing me around the city and and tonight, she, Maddy, and I are going to a well-known local bar called The Fiddler.

It feels like we only just started going to class but in reality we just finished our third week. There are a lot of in-class assignments and group projects that we have to do, as well as the final exam that takes up the majority of our grade. I really like most of the classes that I’m taking and my teachers make their subjects very interesting. And speaking of school, the building that is De Haag Hogeschool is so cool! The building is made up of four different parts: the Ovaal, Slinger, Strip, and Rugzak. All of our classes are held in these four parts and there are a lot of places you can sit down and chat with your friends or study.

So far Maddy and I have traveled to Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Antwerp, Belguim. This upcoming weekend we are planning on going to Disneyland, Paris. Maddy and I are both very excited and are looking forward to going on the rides and taking pictures with the Disney princesses. And a few weeks from now we (the UofL group) and a bunch of other exchange students are going to Oktoberfest for a few days.

Since everyone has been providing small details that they’ve noticed, I’ll add my own in here. You have got to watch the bikers. The cars in this country will politely stop for you and wave you across the road while the bikers will yell at you if you are in their way and almost run you over. I haven’t seen a single car accident while I’ve been here but I have seen several bike collisions. It’s very different from the states. Another thing is that Belgium has delicious food. I think the main thing Maddy and I did while we were in Antwerp was eat. I mean, yeah we walked around and saw all of the cool sights, but we mostly ate. Belgian waffles, Belgian fries, gelato, donuts, and the most delicious chicken I’ve ever eaten for dinner. If you go to Belgium, make sure you have a good food budget.

I think I’ll end this post here. I’ll be back soon though to tell you more about our trip!

INDESCRIBABLE FEELINGS

My roommates Marco and OCreyAt the end of the spring semester I attended the study abroad orientation hosted by the University of Louisville’s Study Abroad office and part of what they tried to tell us was that we would experience a roller coaster of emotions during our trip. I didn’t really believe it and thought that I was mature and smart enough to be able to avoid it. Come to think about it the last couple of days have been indescribable.

In my personal life everything has changed and emotionally it’s chaotic and complex. There are moments when I’m able to hide it and then there are times like yesterday when I just couldn’t. I’ve been listening to playlists like The Cure for Loneliness, Unrequited Love, One of Those Days, etc. I’ve listened to those for hours and tried to find words to express the emotions but I just can’t. The mixture of emotions only gets compounded when I realize that I am lost. Lost in the sense that nothing is the same and I am outside of my comfort zone. I miss eating my favorite food, watching my favorite shows, spending time with friends and family, and just being lazy.

But I signed up for this and it is my sincerest hope that being able to survive this experience will help me become a better person in all aspects of life. I often rely upon quotes to assure me that I am not the only one who is experiencing these feelings but so far haven’t been able to much so if you have any quotes or advice, please let me know!

After the first week of school, I ended up changing my schedule to have Friday and Monday off. This should allow me to have plenty of time to travel and explore other cities and countries. One key thing that I have noticed is that in 4 out of my 6 classes the professor had no control of the class, multiple side conversations, people watching videos on Facebook, and it was almost impossible to hear the professors. In my experience when this happened in the states the professor would usually ask the student to leave the class!

For that one negative observation there are a thousand positive ones. I got a chance to literally rope down (pictured below) from the top of the main building. There were multiple student organizations with various booths, free coke, free student boxes, and so much more. The school building also includes a bar. Yes you read that right, a bar in the same building as the school. The people here have been very understanding of my situation and always managed to put a smile on my face.

Roping down from the Oval

This past Friday we attended the Oh Oh Intro festival and the best way I can describe it is Welcome Week at the University of Louisville but way more fun. Beer was sold to anyone over 18 (I’m 21), a stage with multiple DJs, various booths from student organizations and more. I ended up crowd surfing during the festival and it was one hell of an experience.

Oh Oh Intro Festival DJs

 

Apart from all these experiences it is fascinating to be able to observe a culture where people live a happy life. Going out to the bars (almost daily) is always guaranteed to be fun because hundreds of people sit out together and spend time with friends. It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is because having fun and spending time with loved ones isn’t a chore but a part of life. It is also incredible how many Turkish restaurants exist here and across Europe. I keep meeting more and more people from Germany and I am convinced that their university experience is much more captivating. Apparently you don’t have to go to class in Germany at all as long as you pass the class. I met Julia, who visited New York during school, and just studied for the finals after and passed. To top that off, they don’t have homework once you’re in the university and no essays to write!

I went to a church (after a long time and on my own accord) in The Hague around 5:30 PM (Netherlands Time).

Church Panorama

Church

Me on my way to church

Corey, Chase, and I just booked our hostel for the trip to Paris this coming weekend. My friend from back home Mitchel Payne, who is studying abroad in France, is going to be joining us for the Beyoncé and Jay-Z concert!

Biefstuk Pizza with a tiny bottle of Tabasco

 

PS: More posts and pictures are available at my personal blog: http://albingeorge.com/blog

Two weeks in….

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I have officially been in Den Haag for two weeks now. I am still in shock that I am even here. Classes started last week and all the professors are very nice and helpful. There are bikes everywhere!!! So far I have been to Amsterdam and Haarlem.

In Amsterdam we saw the I AMsterdam sign, visited the Vincent Van Gogh museum, went to an ice bar, went to a flower market place, visited a park and went on a canal tour.

In Haarlem we went to St. Bavo church, saw windmills, went to a dutch market place, and saw the Corrie Ten Boom house (If you don’t know who she is I recommend looking her up! very cool story). The hiding place is about her!

Something kind of random I have noticed since I have been here are the dogs. Dutch people love their dogs and take them everywhere they can. And these dogs are way more behaved than your average american dog. When the owner stops walking the dog sits with out being told to. If the owner has to walk into a shop where dogs are not allowed the dog will sit very patiently at the door starring and waiting for their owner to return (and they are not tied to a tree! the owner just drops the leash if they have one and goes inside). Most dogs are not on a leash and if they are the dog doesn’t really need it because even with no leash the dog doesn’t run away, it stays right next to their owner.

Over all Den Haag is very nice and friendly and I am very excited for the rest of this trip :)

Den Haag – Day 1

Den Haag Hollan Spoor Train Station

I’ve been in Den Haag for a little over 26 hours and it’s been a very interesting journey so far. I’ve come to love this place even though I don’t understand Dutch at all.

My flight path was from Cincinnati to Philadelphia to London to Amsterdam. Upon arriving Amsterdam I was to purchase a ticket from the train station located directly under the Airport. There are multiple yellow machines that dispense tickets. However, they only accepted Chip + Pin card or Euro coins. As fate would have it, I only had cash so a wonderful person guided me to a booth where I could use cash. I bought my tickets for €9 and headed towards the platform.

At the platform I initially took the wrong train because I was supposed to go to the station called “Den Haag Holland Spoor” (HS) instead of “Den Haag Central”. Luckily I stepped out at the right time and was able to get on the correct train. After about 40 minutes I reached Den Haag Holland Spoor and my directions were to call the pick-up service and then head to the pick up spot near the train station. After dragging my main bag (51 lbs.) and carry on (25 lbs.) for about 1/2 a mile and struggling to use a pay phone for 30 minutes I realized it wasn’t my fault at all. Apparently the new number was sent out to all the students and I somehow either didn’t receive it or missed it. Despite having to walk around with my luggage for an hour, I finally found the building where the wonderful people from InterAccess made things so much easier. Dennis drove me to my apartment along with Romina.

A few things that I’ve noticed so far:

  • People in The Hague love beer, are kind, and very helpful.
  • They also drive on the right side of the road, which isn’t something I was expecting.
  • Almost everyone rides a bike regardless of whether you’re a 5 year old kid or a business woman in her 40s wearing a suit.

At this point I’m all settled in and am slowly starting to find my way around the city. I got a new Dutch sim card and the OV-Chipkaart which is used to pay for trams, trains, and buses in the Netherlands.

I’ve also decided to rent a bike so I can explore the city a bit faster!

Check out the few pictures I’ve uploaded so far here

 

11 Weeks in Italy Coming to a Close

My journey to Italy has drawn to a close and I am now less than 12 hours from being at home with my family.  The experience I have had in the past 11 weeks is one that words can only begin to describe.  I never imagined how great the impact this experience would have on my personal growth and my outlook on the world around me.

I immersed myself into the Italian culture the best I could; I learned some Italian, ate more pizza and pasta than I care to admit, and became a functioning “local” once I finally understood the metro, buses, business hours, and cultural norms.

You always hear that study abroad changes people, and I spent the majority of my time wondering what would change about me when I got home.  But now I’m beginning to realize that studying abroad does not change you, it simply brings your inner quirks to the surface so they can’t be hidden away.  Growing to accept these quirks and let the world shed light on them has been gratifying.  One small change I do hope to see come back with me to the States was my development in social settings; it is amazing how much you actually hear when you are really listening—without the noise of social media and technology buzzing in the background.

On my trip, I visited so many places that I’ve seen in movies and read about in books.  Seeing the canals of Venice, spending time in Portofino’s yacht country, hiking the trails of the Cinque Terre, wishing my dad a Happy Father’s Day from Pisa, listening to Pope Francis speak in St. Peter’s Square, relaxing at Lake Maggiore near the Italian Alps, revisiting the beaches of Cinque Terre to celebrate my birthday with old and new friends, and relaxing before finals on the nice beaches of Nice were all luxuries for which I am grateful.

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I never thought the goodbyes would be so hard.  Two sessions of friends, each leaving after 5 weeks, made for twice the goodbyes and toasts to newfound friendships.  The bond that I developed with my classmates is monumental.  I’m already planning my trips across the United States to revisit new friends.  This summer has been the most surprising, heartwarming, eye-opening experience I could have ever wished for, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

-Nick Ostertag

Reflection of study abroad

My study abroad experience was completely different from what I expected. The classic lessons you expect to learn about how different a culture or how to grow as a person do happen but the most wonderful experience I had while abroad was the people I was able to meet. Whether it was the local kebab shop owner right under my apartment or the amazing people in my program every single one of them affected my experience positively and have gave me a lastly memory that will be with me more than anything out of the whole trip. This has been such an amazing experience I can’t possibly try to explain every thing is have seen, felt, and have been blessed to be a part of this last month. Though my experience abroad has ended the effects it will have on my life never will. I can honestly say my time in Italy has been one of the best experiences of my life.

Max Gerdes

Toledo, Spain

My next great, short adventure following Madrid was Toledo, Spain. Toledo is a very historical city with extensive history from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian cultures. As we arrived into Toledo by bus, all of us were in awe at the incredible wonder that is Toledo. As you arrive to the foot of Toledo, one immediately views many homes, antique buildings, and grand churches in the middle of a desolate (but beautiful) area. It is amazing to see because amongst a much uninhabited area, is a marvelous city as Toledo.

As soon as we got off the bus, we saw a wonderful river, the Tagus River. Tagus River is the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula, at 645 miles long. It was amazing to view something so beautiful because I have not had the chance to view many things as powerful as this in my time in America. From here we began our four hour long walking tour, and I was not the smartest in this sense because I wore sandals as I was unaware of the distance of the walking tour. We walked approximately six miles on this tour, and by the end of it my feet were torn to shreds. This is one of the times I would have changed in order to make my time a little more enjoyable, but all in all the tour was still absolutely amazing.

We began the tour walking over a grand bridge called the Alcantara Bridge (pictured below) over the Tagus River. This was an incredible bridge built originally by the Roman Empire in 106 A.D. Through the tour we were able to see many astounding Gothic style buildings, including the Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary. The Primate Cathedral was my favorite site in all of Toledo (and maybe in all of Spain) because of the amount of its historical value and the astonishing size of the Cathedral. The Roman Empire built the Primate Cathedral in the 13th Century. Over the years the Cathedral had been changed into a mosque, then into a Jewish temple, and then back into a Catholic Cathedral. It is interesting because there are still Jewish and Muslim traces within the city of Toledo, and the Primate Cathedral itself.

Toledo River

One of the most beautiful paintings I have ever viewed was on the ceiling of the Primate Cathedral. Pictured below, is an incredible painting created by Luca Giordano in 1697. The miraculous thing about the painting is that Giordano created this masterpiece in roughly 3 months. I could not believe this as the painting was so large and beautiful. Toledo has been an incredible part of my trip in Spain, with it being a very relaxing city while involving much historical significance and many beautiful sites. Primate Cathedral Painting