What Nobody Tells You About Eurotrips

It’s true, it will be one of the most eye opening, liberating, exciting, amazing times in your life. There is no way around it. But what no one tells you is how exhausting it is. Unless you are fifteen different types of superperson, you cannot possibly travel to twelve countries in 20 days and not be exhausted. Even 12 cities in 20 days is outrageous. Sure, there is enough time to show up, take pictures, and go on to the next place, but you miss what traveling is really all about.

With all due respect, you can only see so many churches before they all start looking the same. If you go from one European city to another without taking time to fully stop and appreciate what is different about each individual one, the same applies to cities. Europe is not going anywhere, but I STRONGLY URGE you to be realistic about your energy reserves. Plan an extra day to go to the beach and nothing else. Know that if you’re traveling for a month, two of those days you should be able to just relax and talk and reflect and read and be immobile.

I say this because I learned the hard way through Barcelona. One of the most amazing cities (from what I have been told) I spent burnt out and completely unable to appreciate because every moment I was experiencing the city, I was thinking about experiencing my bed. Two days is not enough to experience any city larger than 50 sqkm, so do yourself a favor and wittle down that ”to do and see” list to a more traveler-friendly version. I promise you’ll thank yourself later. These places are amazing, so take the time they merit to sift through and figure it out for yourself. Tripadvisor can only do so much.

And P.S. I promise there are better restaurants than those on main streets. Turn left, turn right, get lost, and stumble into a place without a sign, it’ll be the best food you’ve ever tasted. xo

Small-Town Living

Unlike many exchange experiences, the location of my University is in a tiny town. I’m talking 10,000 people split between 5 villages tiny; median age of 60 (and I’m not sure I’m exaggerating). A few of my friends and I were discussing this the other day; that EBS university wasn’t properly explained or even advertised to us before we came, and that even google maps wasn’t much in terms of a warning. This blog post is about the huge disclaimer to that sentence.

It’s true, when you look at the maps, Frankfurt is about a 30 minute drive away, “right around the corner” by any America standard–but it’s not close. With a car, sure, it’s reachable, but this is from an American perspective (and from what I can tell, Australian and Canadian as well). Here, there are cars, but only the Germans and French have them, and even then, someone has to drive home, right? The actuality of the situation is that you take a train, which takes you an hour and seven minutes, to the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof (main train station), and from there you walk or take a bus to your destination. You’re probably thinking, “alright, not ideal but not a deal-breaker.” It’s true! Getting to Frankfurt or Wiesbaden or Mainz is never the issue, it’s about getting home. The last train arrives in oewi (Oestrich-Winkel) at 12:05 from all locations, the last bus leaves Wiesbaden at 2:40, and the last car is few and far between. Sure you can go out, but can you get home? For those who can’t wrap their head around the first train at 6 in the morning (yes clubs are open until then), the last bus is typically the answer, or staying in our lovely town. 

When you think about your dream exchange, you think about travel, you think about adventure, you think about new experiences; you DON’T think about a sleepy village, nuzzled in wine country next to the river Rhine. I’m here to tell you that you should. Big cities are big cities, and yes, they offer more night options, bright lights and bustling streets–but they don’t offer you the opportunity to understand the culture. Here in Oestrich-Winkel, where the curfew is 10pm and the groceries are a 5 minute walk (there are a lot of them), students are a captive audience. There are only a few places to gather, so gather we do. Human interaction becomes your greatest form of entertainment, and personally, I love it. For such a small town, there are NEVER a shortage of things to do, and most of the time, you have TOO MANY options.

So yes, when you get here, you won’t be overwhelmed with city lights, but when you leave, you’ll be overcome with memories, and stories, and friendships. This place becomes your home in a way that a big city never can. You’ll learn to love the lazy Sundays where shops are closer, but you’ll also learn that if you take the train to Wiesbaden, you have a 9 minute turn-around before the train comes back to buy whatever your arms can carry from McDonals and Rossmans. You’ll get the disapproving grandma scolds and stares when you’re crossing a street when the sign is red or being too rowdy past bedtime, but you’ll also learn that your actions impact others, and that social responsibility is something that goes both ways; you’ll learn to covet this and, surprisingly, begin to wonder why your neighbors think that playing music past 22:00 is at all acceptable. There are things about living in a small town that city dwellers never get to experience.

So yes, when you get here, you’ll wonder how you ever made the choice to come, but when you leave, you’ll wonder how you will ever bring yourself to go.

Germany, home of the most complicated and thorough pdf documents and recycling system

So here’s the thing, Germany so far has been fabulous, I’ve met so many people and already have too many social things to do than I have time to do them. I’m surrounded by so many incredibly people that I haven’t actually had a spare moment to miss home, which is great! If you’re happy just hanging out with international students, then you will have no problem here, but if you want to integrate into German society, you need to know German. Yes, everyone here speaks English, yes, everyone here understands you, yes, it is possible to get around with exactly ZERO German, but if you want to make German friends, and if you want to have an authentic German experience, there’s no better ice breaker than one in their native language. It’s different here, I’ve found that personally I’m the least cultured person here, and while back in the states that’s the complete opposite, Americans have the privilege of driving sixteen hours and being in the same country where everyone speaks and understands the same language. This is great in some aspects, but it means that we aren’t forced to learn about cultures and languages other than our own, and this has been the greatest culture shock of them all.

Which brings me to my first point, thoroughness. You are provided with every single tiny ittiest bittiest piece of information that you could possibly, in any situation or circumstance, need to succeed, but this means that you have to read EVERY SINGLE EMAIL, EVERY SINGLE PDF, EVERY SINGLE NOTICE, EVERY SINGLE POST, EVERY SINGLE SLIDE. It’s not pompous, it’s an effort to make sure that there are as few mistakes as possible, but it’s matter of fact, it’s exactly what it’s meant to be: a detailed and descriptive how to guide to life. Don’t be turned off by this, it’s EXTREMELY helpful, and people are actually also extremely helpful, but every time I have asked a question thus far, I would have known the answer had I read before asking. It’s efficient.

Also, be on time. Much like America, time is money in Germany, and it’s disrespectful to be late, 5 minutes early is on time, and if you have to be either 45 minutes early or 2 minutes late, be 45 minutes early.

So about this recycling thing. Germany has cut it’s emissions by around 23% in the last year, and they take the environment seriously. You have an organic bin (compost for anyone who knows what I’m talking about), a plastic bin (which actually includes a lot of aluminum), a paper bin (I think this is pretty self explanatory), and a trash bin (anything that doesn’t go in another bin)…. It’s a 600 Euro fine if you’re caught not sorting your trash properly, and they check. This is one of the wonderful things about Germany, they care. They care about the future; they care about sustainability; they care about the betterment of the human condition. It’s important.

So still here is my favorite thing about Germany, because I think so far it’s just been informational and that’s SO far from the full picture, the world doesn’t stop. People are active despite arctic temperatures. You still walk to the grocery, you still walk to the stores, you still walk to the bus, you still walk to the train, you still walk to class, and the weather is not an excuse. P.S. the groceries are closed on Sundays and there’s nothing that is 24 hours, but this is yet another thing that is so wonderful about Germany, and it’s a far cry from the US. They value human rights over human convenience, so while they might not say hello to everyone they pass on the street, and smile at every stranger like we do at home (although plenty of them do) they will defend your human rights until the end of time, and for me this is far more meaningful.

The courses here are wonderful, the professors, the students, and the scenery, breathtaking. I’m in a small town (Oestrich-Winkel) and while there is nothing to do here past 6 pm, there is never a shortage of things to get yourself into. Everything is a quick train ride away (you still have to walk to the train), and the student pass you have for the transportation system: GOLD! The international student association (or something along those lines) organizes something crazy like 3 events a week, and German buddy programs, and parties, and pub crawls and everything else you can imagine. So as long as you have an open mind, and a warm coat, Germany is a great place to call home.