On our return from Munich we decided to visit Dachau, the first concentration camp used under Nazi Germany. It was also a surprise to learn that less than half of the prisoners were Jewish, the rest were political prisons and mostly Christian. It was depressing and emotionally draining to walk the 2 hr audio tour. It was surreal to walk into the camp and feel like we could have been on the set of Schindlerâ€™s List or Life is Beautiful and to have dramatic scenes from those movies reeling in my head as the speaker described life at the camp. The crematorium with a gas chamber was even opened to the public. Personally I like doing service work and helping those less fortunate, but Iâ€™ve never had my heart break in such a way from human suffering. The most amazing thing to me though, was a photo of the prisoners on the campâ€™s liberation day. Everyone was ecstatic, smiling ear to ear, waving merrily from tortured, starved bodies having only known darkness and despair. An unexpected perspective was gained that visit for sure.
On Thurs. of this week I found out I was going to Munich for Oktoberfest! 5 of us, 1 French, 2 Spanish 1 Bolivian and me, made the 4 hour drive in a VW Polo, which is even smaller that a Golf. Getting tables in the tents is either really expensive or on a first come first serve basis. So, since Oktoberfest opens at 8 a.m., we left little Oestrich around 3 a.m Friday morning with another car full of tauschies. By 9 we had lost the other car but were parked in Munich in the pouring rain. But we made it and thankfully some other friends were already at a table, so within 15 mins we had 13 people crammed around a table drinking liters of beer from the biggest glasses Iâ€™ve ever seen. By noon, nearly everyone in the tent is standing on their tables singing traditional German songs toasting at every other drink and dancing to the German folk band playing. Oh, and about half of the people there had on traditional Bavarian attire, suede shorts, suspenders, pointed hats. It was amazing.
Once it started getting dark, the rain had let up and several of us rode festival rides, like the Frisbee, and ate wurst afterwards. All of the tents were becoming absolutely packed and weâ€™d lost our table when we came outside, so the 5 of us went back to the car to sleep. It was absolutely miserable. There is however, a certain type of bond that forms when you spend over 24 hours sharing your personal space with 4 others. And we still had the drive back! That was one of the best weekend trips Iâ€™ve ever made!
I was as Dutch this past Wednesday as I have been since arriving here. Since we’re learning how to pronounce Dutch words (dipthongs, the combining of two or more vowels to form a different sound, have given the Americans trouble), I read some simple Dutch phrases for a hour and a half or so. At one point during class, the professor was talking about how easy ordering drinks at a bar was and he proceeded to go over some of the bar vocabulary. We learned how to ask for, among other things, Coke, coffee, tea, beer, and gin. The professor began to describe some of the alcoholic beverages and when he got to gin, he pulled out a bottle of Dutch gin and a shot glass.
“No freaking way,” I thought.
Sure enough, he poured shots for everyone in class who wanted one. Who am I to refuse a free drink from a professor during class? Although he only served half-shots for us to get a taste of the gin, I can still say that I’ve been served alcohol in class by a professor. Good story. Cool guy. Naturally, he rides a motorcylce to school.
Yikes, I digress. Later that night, I further solidified myself as a psuedo-Dutch individual while riding my bike in the rain to the Centrum to meet a few friends for dinner. Having a foot at most between cars passing me on my left and the parked cars on the right is still somewhat intimidating for me, though. However, my bike skills are somehow such that I was able avoid face planting when writing a text message while riding my bike. Let me not overstate anything though, my bicycle skills still leave quite a bit to be desired.
Anyway, all’s well in Den Haag. Tot ziens!
Paige and I arrived in Den Haag early on the 27th August and made our way to the Haagse Hogeschool (The Hague University) to collect our luggage from Lieke, a very friendly and helpful employee in the International Center who allowed us to store our luggage in her office while we backpacked. She was even kind enough to let the airport deliver my luggage (since it was lost somewhere between Charlotte and Philadelphia) to her house and she subsequently brought it to the school. We made our way to DUWO, the rental agency, and received the keys to our apartments. Our apartments are reminiscent of Betty Johnson at U of L in that each student has his/her own living space with a bed and a desk, but the inhabitants share a bathroom and a kitchen. The quality and proximity to the school of one’s apartment is pretty much luck. After seeing some other student’s apartments, Paige and I have realized that we were fairly lucky in the apartments to which we were assigned despite the 25 or so minute walk to school and the fact that neither one of us has a washing machine (this has left me doing laundry in the sink with a sponge and hanging it outside my window on clothleslines because I refuse to pay the EU5 – EU7 that it costs to do laundry at a laundr-o-mat). I am living with two other students – a 20 year-old Belgian student from the Walloon region (so French is his native tongue, though he does know some Dutch) who is on a one-semester exchange and an 18 year-old Bulgarian student who will be studying at The Hague for the next four years.
Our IBMS orientation of The Hague University was a three day experience in which the school organized a tour of the building, a tour of the city, bought us a Strippenkaart (which is used to take the tram around the city), a trip to the beach (Scheveningen), and dinner at an Italian restaurant the first day. On the second day, the school bought us return tickets to Amsterdam and took us to the Museum of Amsterdam to familiarize us with the most important city in the Netherlands. We were also treated to the Heineken experience, a sort of Heineken museum and explanation of the brewing process. Part of the tour is that three free beers are included, as well as a souvenier bottle opener. We were treated to lunch at a restaurant called the Pancake Factory, taken on a canal tour of Amsterdam, and then allowed to remain in the city to our vices as long as we promised to be back the next morning to determine our courses. I was amazed and appreciative of the fact that all expenses for these two days were covered by the University. The third day, Friday, was a bit hectic. Apparently, the American students’ mentor would be unable to perform this role due to prior obligations as the MBA co-ordinator and ambassador of the IBMS program. We weren’t alone, though; pretty much everyone was in mass confusion over their schedule. Knowing that we had the full support of the Business School put my mind at ease a little bit and I chose classes as best I could, confirming with the Business School as I went. After about a week or week and a half, things ended up working themselves out, despite some early frustration on my part. As warned by Max though, the building is an interesting, massive, and impressive construction that houses the majority of the courses offered by The Hague University, so familiarizing oneself with it is vital – especially since classes tend to switch rooms from time to time for some reason still unknown to me.
I’ve found it very easy to meet people here, especially the exchange students, and I feel like I’m cultivating relationships that will last a lifetime. I’ve been told by various people that studying abroad truly is a life changing experience. I’m happy to report that through three weeks of my actual study abroad, I think this certainly is the case. Sharing this experience with Paige, though her and I have done a remarkable job of separating ourselves and making this a unique experience for each of us, is a blessing that I can’t put into words.
I’ve had quite a bit of time to reflect on myself – who I was, who I am, and who I want to be, both personally and professionally – and have been taking some steps to making these changes come to fruition. In a rare philosophical state of epiphany, I realized something that I will always be grateful for – that one of the most important things my parents ever taught me was how to laugh. After a few minutes of reveling in this realization, I smiled to myself, relived the entire backpacking trip in my mind, flashed through the past three weeks, and realized that I am in the Netherlands and I literally am having the time of my life. This is the pinnacle, the “good ‘ole days”, and I don’t want to forget a second of this experience. Living in constant awareness of this makes it that much sweeter because, to use a cliche that I’ve been trying to put into practice as long I can remember, life is about the journey.
I’ve pretty much been a slacker on the blog due to schoolwork, trying to complete the adjustment to living in Den Haag, and to trying to develop social relationships, so I’m going to wrap up this backpacking trip.
Paige and I spent the 24th through the 26th exploring Prague. What a beautiful city! Prague was not nearly as badly damaged in World War II as some of the other surrounding cities so most of the historical features of the city were preserved. Depending on where one is in the city, the architecture can be distinctly different from Renaissance, to Gothic, to modern – Prague really has quite a variety. Paige and I took the opportunity to rent a Segway (the motorized, stand-up scooters) and take a tour of the town. Once switched from “tourist” mode to “expert” (or whatever the next level was called), these things really moved! I believe our guide told us they got up to almost 20 MPH and their agility was actually quite impressive, as well. Our guide explained to us that students played quite a big role in the fall of communism in the former Czechoslovakia. He didn’t go into too much detail so this is per Wikipedia: ” On November 17, 1989, a peaceful student demonstration in Prague was severely beaten back by the riot police. That event sparked a set of popular demonstrations from November 19 to late December, and a general two-hour strike of the population on November 27. By November 20 the number of peaceful protesters assembled in Prague had swelled from 200,000 the day before to an estimated half-million…the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia announced on November 28 they would give up their monopoly on political power.” Cool story.
Paige and I were able to see the four formerly indepedent citires that currently make up Prague’s historical center, including: the Old Town and Old Town Square (the original place of settlement in Prague in the 9th century), the New Town (founded in the 14th century), the Lesser Town (which was home to a number of noble palaces due to its proximity to Prague Castle), and the Jewish Quarter.
We saw the Astronomical Clock, which hundreds of people gather around each hour to listen to the clock chime and to observe the four animated figures that emerge from the clock every hour, on the hour. Each figure represents something that is (or was) despised – Death (represented by a skeleton), Vanity (represented by a figure holding a mirror), Judaism (a figure holding a bag), and the Turkish (a figure with a turban). Again, this is per Wiki since the square was bustling when we observed this and our guide did not fully explain it.
We also saw the Lennon Wall, the National Museum, the PetÅ™ÃnskÃ¡ rozhledna (a 1:5 copy of the Eiffel Tower), the Å½iÅ¾kov Television Tower (though we didn’t go in it), the Dancing House (an interesting construction that is supposed to represent a man and woman dancing), and of course, the Prague Castle and Charles Bridge.
One morning, we took a guided day trip to a town around 50-70 km outside of Prague called Kutna Hora. Kutna Hora was once the second most important city (behind Prague) in Bohemia due to the discovery of vast silver mines there in the 10th century. However, the city didn’t start rapidly growing until the publication of a legal document by the king outlined specifications of the operation of the mines. Once the silver mines were exhausted around the end of the 18th century, Kutna Hora ceased competing with Prague economically, politically, and culturally. It is a quaint, beautiful little city though and is home to the Saint James Church, the Saint Barbara Church, one of the more famous Gothic churches in Central Europe, and the real reason we elected to go to Kutna Hora, the Ossuary. During the Black Plague in the 14th century, many thousands of people were buried in the Cemetary of All Saints, causing it to be greatly enlarged. When a Gothic church was built on the site around 1400, the lower chapel of the church was used as an ossuary for the mass graves that were dug up during the construction. The bones were subsequently stacked in the chapel in the 1500s. In the late 19th century, the Schwarzenberg family commissioned a wood carver to artistically arrange the approximately 40,000 skeletons as decorations for the chapel. This was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life. Among the many bone decorations constructed by this wood carver, was the Schwarzenberg coat of arms and an enormous chandelier made of bones and skulls that greeted us upon descending the stairs into the lower chapel. Various other bone decorations hung from the ceiling and adorned the walls. The lower chapel was not very large, but it was extremely impressive and well worth the trip.
By the end of the 26th, we were excited about flying back to Den Haag and finally having a place to call home for a few months rather than sleeping on people’s couches or in hostels. I can’t overstate though, how incredible of an experience backpacking all around Europe was. It enabled me to experience different people, different cultures, different foods (some good – the Italian food, some not so good – the “traditional Czech meal” I tried in Kutna Hora that was basically uncooked meat and cucumbers drowned in vinegar), see and do things I never would’ve dreamed I’d have the opportunity to do, and forge close friendships with our hosts and with my traveling companion. When we returned to the hostel on the night of the 26th, I was a little depressed that the backpacking was over until I realized that I’d only been in Europe for three and a half weeks and that the adventure was really just beginning.
This past weekend I traveled to Luxembourg for a conference where around 100 Uni (no one calls it college) students gathered to discuss the future of the EU. There were students from Denmark, Ireland, Romania, Germany, etc. discussing challenges and decisions the EU will face in the next 20 years. As much as I love political discussions of this nature, I wasn’t terribly familiar with some of the topics, but found it immensely interesting to hear lecturers and participants debate the acceptance of Turkey into the EU and whether or the EU should have a standing army. We also toured Luxembourg City and dined on the same boat the Schengen Agreement, which opened the borders of EU countries, was signed. The trip was enlightening and provided a good opportunity to meet European students as well as other EBS students.
This week happens to be the biggest week of the year at EBS. An event called Symposium takes place Wed-Sat and consists of workshops, lectures, firm presentations (EBS students are heavily recruited in Germany) hosted by CEO’s, CFO’s and other hotshots from the biggest German and International companies based in Germany. The ex-chancellor of Germany is even coming. The most bizarre part to me is the Fire and Ice party Fri. night for all students, alumni, lecturers, firm representatives where everyone is dressed according to the theme(Fire and Ice), drinks cocktails all night, but the wildest part is that this is the part of the Symposium when most students receive job offers, internships, etc!
Maybe the Ulmer Center can find inspiration here 😉
Life is good. I found it by bike the other day, a place called Zuiderpark. Itâ€™s beautiful, complete with bike paths, running paths, soccer fields, a botanical garden, and a petting zoo. Although Holland is notorious for rain, yesterday was a perfect day. On my way back from the park I got to use the little Dutch that I can speak to ask directions. Thankfully I was enjoying my bike ride, anticipating the challenge of finding my way around this new city. Den Haag is like a mini-Amsterdam, but with an even chiller atmosphere (if you can believe it), friendly neighbors in replace of stumbling tourists, and a great place to call home for the next three and a half months.
I have discovered downtown Den Haag, what is known as the Centrum. I still have much to see in this city. The beach is beautiful as well, and everyone here is exceptionally nice. My apartment is located about 25-30 minutes walking from the school. I suppose you could say we live in a residential area of sorts. Most students are living in a place called Astraat or in the Centrum. At first, I was not sure about being so far away, but after a week or so, I realized this is the perfect place to be. In the bottom of my building, my friend Claus from Egypt runs a local store and always gives me great deals on pineappleâ€¦yummy. Three doors down is a bicycle shop, a man from Holland named Peter sold me my bike as well as some fresh fish from the sea this past weekend. I got the most beautiful fresh salmon for about a fourth of the price just by having a desire to get to know the people around meâ€¦to say the least, I felt pretty proud about it! I go running most days, enjoying the fact that down the block to either direction are parks, soccer fields, and wildlife.
School is an entirely new experience. I have never seen anything quite like The Hague University. The first week was very uncommon. They sell beer here on tap right outside the front door. On Wednesday of my first week, I watched a break-dance show on a stage set up in the main hall of the school. Each day I ride to school I am even more curious about what I will see next. Classes are very interesting as well. In my EBC course we (4 of us) are creating our own business, complete with a business plan, registration with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, marketing plans, projected financial statements, and a real sense of what entrepreneurs must go through. In my Global Development Policy class I am learning more about African countries living in immense poverty, the role (or lack there of) of organizations such as the WTO, WHO, the World Bank, and learning the complex and political nature of the European Union. It is pretty interesting, as the only American in the classroom, to see how people my age feel about the U.S., as well as China and the EU.
I most definitely miss my family. I miss UofL, my friends, USF and my friends in Tampa, the city of Louisville, and my mentors on campus. I know I am missed back home as well, but I will return soon enough as a more polished, educated, and mature me. I canâ€™t put into words how intense it is to be so far away from everything I know, yet so close to everything I need. Iâ€™m learning even more about who I am, learning how easy it is to take things one day at a time, and showing myself that negative circumstances are only that way out of reaction, using the positive in life to look past cracks in the road.
I donâ€™t have any pictures yet of my new city (trying not to feel like a tourist here), but I will sooner or later. What I do know is that Europe is unlike anything I could have imagined. I think it is important to come here not with expectations, but with possibilities. Of course things have rough at times, but this is hands down the greatest journey I have ever taken.
As a side note, I am listening right now to the melodious tones of Alexi Murdoch. Those who know me well will understand this to be an important yet equally random fact. Music connects our lives.
Until next time,
Paige woke me up at about 4 AM, cold and freaked out to be sleeping on the street. Disoriented, I got up and we decided sleeping in the metro station would be a better, safer idea. Unfortunately, when the metro stopped running (at around midnight) the entrance/exit was blocked by a metal gate. Things were looking bleak, to say the least. Eventually, we flagged down a cab and paid him some inordinant amount to take us back to the train station. It was well worth it, however, because Paige and I were a very long walk away from the train station.
I’ll go ahead and skip over the rest of our stay in Vienna. Suffice it to say that we had a rough go of it pretty much the entire day. We decided to skip the Torture Museum, which was one thing we’d identified as something we really would’ve liked to have done, bought our tickets for Prague, and slept most of the four hours or so that it took to get there.
When we arrived in Prague, we had little difficulty finding our hostel, as they had given us excellent directions. Upon first glance, the hostel was really not in a good area of town at all. It was a little ways outside the center of Prague (a good 10 or 15 minute train ride) and the surrounding buildings appeared to be pretty run down. I reminded myself that this hostel was cheap, offered free internet, free breakfast, had a cheap laundry service, and didn’t have a curfew so it was going to be well worth it. After checking in and meeting one of the six people that we’d be sharing the room with that night, we went out and enjoyed pasta and salad at a local restaurant.
We returned to the hostel for an easy night of surfing on the internet, getting some laundry done, and getting to know a few of the people who were staying in the room. One of the guys, Dustin (an E-5 in the Navy who was stationed in Italy but was taking his leave in Prague), gave us a great tip about a town called Kutna Hora. More on it to follow but suffice it to say, it was a great tip. Paige and I packed it in early for the night since we wanted to get up, take advantage of the free breakfast, and start exploring Prague.
The day took a while to get going. We woke up at 9:00 and ventured down with Brad and Jason to enjoy the complimentary breakfast. What a smorgasbord! Since I do it the “broke college kid way” and stay at Motel 6s, I’m used to getting a small bowl of knock-off Cherios and a cup of four hour old coffee as my complimentary breakfast. The Regina (the hotel) had other plans – there was plentiful and various amounts of sausage, bacon, six or seven different types of cereals, an enormous bowl of all kinds of fruit, several different kinds of yogurt, a dozen different kinds of bread, apple juice, orange juice, coffee, tea…you get the idea. We waited for Brad and Jason to get ready when we’d returned to the room and, after visiting an internet cafe with them so we could take care of booking hostels in our respective next destinations (Munich for them, Prague for us), we said our goodbyes.
The map of the city had around 30 or 40 touristy sites. Paige and I had identified several that we wanted to go to so we started to try and knock them off the list one by one. Choosing what we thought would be the cheapest one first (a hedge maze), we set out on a long walk that eventually led us to some sort of large royal garden. I’m not sure if the maze was supposed to be in there or not but if it was, it was umm…much less cool than it looked on the picture. Fortunately, the garden was quite beautiful so we walked around and took a few pictures.
Trying to find this garden took a significant portion of the day since we had to walk all the way across town so we decided we would save the rest of what we had planned to do for tomorrow. On the way to the train station to buy our tickets, we came across a very cheap internet cafe and decided we’d spend a few hours taking care of some things. After finishing up at the internet cafe and buying our tickets to Prague for the next day, we struggled with what to do next since everything we wanted to do was closed. Paige pulled a flier out of her pocket for a band named KAMIKAZE SPERM that was performing at a bar named the Viper Room – Vienna…the name was interesting and since there was nothing else to do, we figured we’d check it out.
Ah, irresponsibility. That’s all I’ll say about our night with KAMIKAZE SPERM (in which we did end up meeting and hanging out with the band). Long story short, we ended up sleeping in the streets of Vienna – I can elaborate more on this story on a case-by-case basis. What an unexpectedly rough night.
This time last year, I was driving Jenni and Rafael, the 2 German exchange students from EBS to my parents home in Whitesville, Ky to see the country, meet my folks, and eat BBQ. In the past 3 weeks, Jenni took Kartik and me to a culture festival in Frankfurt, I’ve zoomed past 1000 year old castles along the autobahn with Rafael, bumped into Ralph, an exchange student from this past spring, at the grocery and currently have a class with Moritz, the other exchange student from the spring. It’s a little wild to see familiar faces in Germany, but very nice as well!