When I was planning for my trip, I saw that every packing list, blog, and guidebook said to bring hiking boots when traveling to Ireland. I, like many of the others on my program, wondered whether these would really be necessary if we were not planning to be hyper-athletic. As a fairly cautious person, I decided to go ahead and get some good ones. So here I am now to give you a definitive answer on whether or not you need hiking boots and for what reasons.
Do I need hiking shoes?
YES. You probably expected this. But I want you to understand that I am generally a fairly frugal person, and there are things that those books will tell you to bring that are thoroughly unnecessary. These are not some of those things. My roommate brought fairly good shoes, and the sheer amount of walking and the terrain we covered resulted in the image you see below. She exercises regularly and did absolutely nothing wrong. Ireland is simply that brutal.
I admit, I am not an athlete. At home, I drive/ am driven most places and consider a two mile walk to be a bit much. I knew coming in that I would probably need to get more accustomed to walking while abroad, but I don’t think I truly understood just what all that entailed. My experiences are not universal, but I’ve seen some amazing places, and they would have been impossible without good shoes.
Okay, but where will I really need them?
Everywhere. Okay, not everywhere. But most cool places. I would suggest that you wear them on any treks in Dublin that will be longer than three miles, on any mountain hikes (the most obvious uses), at any castles you will be exploring, at all cliffs, in the woods, and in the hills. So, basically anywhere that isn’t on a campus or in the city.
In my first week in Ireland, I averaged five and a half to six miles each day on cobbled streets, at best. Following that, weekends were long, walking around four and a half miles each Friday and Monday up steep mountains. Yesterday, we had a special weekend trip that took us both up and down mountains and around part of the coast of Inishboffin, a beautiful island on the western coast of Ireland. It was one of the best days I’ve had so far in my trip, but I spent a lot of the time thinking about my feet, shoes, and where to step to not kill myself for the six miles that we walked. Consistently, the travel in Ireland is beautiful, but rough. There are rarely real paths, and even if you are lucky enough to find a day that it isn’t raining, you will probably still walk through several rivers. All of this adds up to my supreme love for my good hiking shoes.
Climbing uphill in Connemara
The stairs in Yeats Tower
The poop-covered path at Inishboffin
Hip-high grasses in the Burren
Large rabbit holes on Inishboffin
Forests at the Burren
Rocks move. Mud will make you slip. Rabbit holes will show up where you do not expect them to. The ground will be covered in sheep poop. You do not want to have to stare at the ground with every step you take while you are in the midst of what I consider to be the most beautiful landscapes in existence. Ireland is a rugged beauty, but that ruggedness will take you out if you are not careful, so I beg you to do yourselves a favor.
Bring good shoes so that you can see all of the beauty that is Ireland.
I would like to start this post out with an apology: my computer stopped working about a week into my trip and I have not been able to connect to the internet on it since then. I am now just getting settled back into Huntsville, so my posts will be more of a recap on my trip. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy reading about my time in Costa Rica.
As a whole, my stay in Costa Rica was absolutely amazing! Despite my nervousness going into the trip, I enjoyed nearly every second of the time I was there! So many things were new and exciting (and sometimes a bit surprising), but so many were also familiar and welcoming too. Upon my arrival, I was very hesitant and was unsure of myself in everything I did. Fortunately, I quickly grew accustomed to the Tico ways, traveled through some of the country, tried as much food as I could, took buses on my own, and communicated with people in every situation I was presented. I’d say I came a long way since day one.
We spent the first few days in the country in a series of orientation meetings. These were designed for us to address any fear we had coming into the country and how to quickly get rid of it. We discussed aspects of “culture shock,” natural disasters, health and safety, and money.
Once we got settled in, my typical day (Monday through Thursday) consisted of taking the bus to the city of Heredia where I took classes at Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica (UNA). This class was a bit different, but still a good experience. There were only three of us in the class (me and two other study abroad students from the same group), with one teacher and one assistant teacher. Neither one of the instructors really spoke any English, so if there was ever something that we did not understand (or they did not understand what we were saying) communicating and resolving the issue was a bit tough (often resulting in me giving up and trying to figure it out later on my own). In addition to the communication issues, there was also the fact that all three students were at different levels in their Spanish careers. They say if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. While “smartest” may not be the best word in this situation, I had studied Spanish for the longest and was definitely in the wrong room… I do not want to say that I did not get anything from the class, but I definitely could have been challenged more. While I did practice my speaking, listening, writing, and reading skills in the class, I feel that it was probably the least helpful activity while I was there. (Pictured are photos of the campus and our first and last days of classes)
Last day of class
Loved the open-air buildings!
First day of class
We only had classes from 9:00-11:30 in the morning, so our afternoons and weekends were pretty free. Most days, after class, I would return home to eat lunch with my host family and then hang out with them or do homework or various things. On occasion, we would go to the mall after class, or grab lunch in a cool restaurant. A few too many times we went to a small cafe near campus. We stopped in many mornings for coffee, utilized the WiFi and studied there sometimes, tried smoothies and pastries and anything we could, and definitely spent way too much money! It was a family-run, Venezuelan place (Tepuy Bistro if you ever make your way to Costa Rica!), where the staff was so friendly and helpful! It quickly became our go-to any time we were free! Below you can see pictures from some of our trips there (included are some of my Snapchat captions to capture the mood of each day).
Most evenings the two other students (pictured above), my Tico brother and sister, and I would all go to the gym together (yes, I did pay for a gym membership while I was there). This was actually really enjoyable because it was another opportunity to interact with people, hang out with my super cool Tico family, and get a little exercise!
In addition to the everyday stuff, we also went on some cool weekend trips, had weekly cultural activities, explored a little off the books, and found our favorite club! Another day-to-day thing that I need to discuss is the food (arguably the best part), but that, and the other activities mentioned, should get their own posts. So I will update you all again soon! Hope you enjoyed your first look into Costa Rican life!
I have written and rewritten and deleted and drafted until I couldn’t stall any longer on this post. I have only been in Ireland for a little while now, yet it seems like I’ve had a year’s worth of experiences, at least. I’ve been trying to think of what kind of cohesive blog post I can possibly post to capture everything that has gone on in my life, but I can’t see a single narrative forming. Now that classes have formally begun, perhaps I can get more organized. But I feel that the chaotic post that follows is the only way I can get anywhere close to sharing my first week in Ireland at this time. I’ve included the most memorable moments, certainly, but nowhere near all of them; there were millions of little memories that will prove to be important in who this trip is making me become. Below is the only way I can think of to share that.
Tuesday, June 20
Flight day. My flight was delayed by over an hour, because apparently the same level of rain that I’ve learned is normal here in Ireland is enough to stop a plane from landing in Atlanta. It had already been pushed back by a few hours around a month ago, meaning that my four-ish hour layover changed into thirty minutes to run across O’Hare International Airport and board my plane before it took off. Stress controlled me on the two hour flight to Chicago, wondering if I would make it or if I will be sleeping in the Chicago airport that night. Luckily, I made it at the last minute. On the plane, I ended up switching seats with an Irish man who was separated from his wife; they got to sit together, and I got eight hours on an airplane with my first friend (and now-roommate) on the USAC program, Niella. We were set to land at 8:05 am in Ireland; I had been terrified for months that I would not sleep. I brought a blanket, a pillow, and melatonin to make sure that I would. And I did, technically. I got about an hour of sleep, waking up on and off, and then my first day of Ireland starts with me sleep-deprived and jet-lagged.
Wednesday, June 21
Day one in Ireland is day one of classes. We get lunch on our own, our first interactions with locals outside of our taxi driver, who told us horror stories of why Uber is the worst thing that has ever happened. Coffee shops are remarkably similar from country to country, though Irish coffee shops definitely have better pastries. I had an amazing lemon tart and smoothie. After that, we begin our tour of Dublin, starting at City Hall. I don’t much know what we were supposed to be doing there, because we did introductions and then were kicked out after a showdown between our tour guide/teacher, Angus, and a security guard. Then we walk to Dublin Castle where we sit outside and get a lecture about the Easter Rising. Half of the class is drifting off, because nobody actually slept, and it is incredibly hot out. Fun fact: June 21, 2017 is the hottest Ireland has ever gotten in June. We return to the hotel, where our rooms are finally ready and we get our bags out of the in-hotel pub (I know, SO Irish). We change and then have dinner/orientation. I sit at a table full of people that I do not know, and try Beef & Guinness Stew, which is not bad, but is definitely a strong taste. After dinner, a small group of people goes out for a little while, and then we head back to catch up on sleep. One problem with that, however: my room is directly above the pub, which is currently hosting a sing-along. So I go down and join them, dancing a bit. Finally, they finish up around midnight. I get to sleep somewhere around one, a fitful, stopping-starting kind of night.
Thursday, June 22
The tour of the city is kicked into high-gear with six miles of walking. We hit the GPO museum (which I massively recommend to anyone coming to Ireland), 16 Moore Street, the Garden of Remembrance, Collins Barracks, and Arbour Hill Cemetery. Angus allows us to ride the tram back, which means that we would have walked far more otherwise. I love how many different angles of the history we get into, but it is getting to be too much for me, still jet-lagged. I now know the story of the 1916 Easter Rising, though we continue to go deeper into it Saturday.
After our tour, we go to Christ Church Cathedral, where we explore the tomb, the exhibits on the practice of the church, and listen to a choir practice that is being done in Latin. The Latin kind of surprises me, because the Cathedral has not been Catholic for centuries. In fact, by an odd quirk of history, the cathedrals of Dublin are primarily Protestant due to the domination of Ireland by Britain, particularly in the east. After this, we go to Riverdance, which is just stunning. It was the opening night of the season and was the first performance of the new female lead. It also included a dancer who has cystic fibrosis, the charity that they were collecting for before and after the performance. Several judges and dancers from Dancing with the Stars came for the opening. The story is clear, and the music and dancing are filled to the brim with meaning. We get gelato (lemon meringue pie gelato. Yum!) and walk back to the hotel’s pub, as I won’t be able to sleep while it’s open anyway. I teach a few of the girls the basics of the waltz, which is really hard to do in the corner of a somewhat-busy pub. But it’s fun anyway. They agree to learn more dances later.
Friday, June 23
Exhaustion hits. I almost don’t get out of bed in the morning, but we have places to go, things to see. We have a group trip to Newgrange and the Hills of Tara. Newgrange is the location of a famous burial mound predating the Egyptian pyramids. On the winter solstice, the sun enters the chamber in such a perfect way that for just a few moments it will light the space, and then fade again, supposedly for ritual or religious purposes. Honestly, it doesn’t seem like anyone is too sure of what went on there, but that tends to be the case with such ancient monuments.
The Hills of Tara are famous in the Celtic Irish mythological tradition, both as a mystical place and as a site for crowning kings. There is a stone that supposedly will begin speaking to you if you possess ancient Irish royal blood. Everyone is encouraged to try it out, though I have to wonder what everyone would do if the stone actually did start talking. It didn’t talk to me, but that’s no surprise. I’m probably the only person on this trip who has no Irish blood, to my knowledge. After that, we explore a famous used book store at Tara, where I get an old choir book full of songs in Irish. It is my intention to see if I can learn them once I am better at speaking the language. We head back to the hotel and I get together with a small group to do homework. Because in addition to walking several miles a day, cramming my head with every single element of Ireland’s past that could have an impact on the Easter Rising, and not sleeping, I still have homework to do. But it’s fun and we eat cake while we work. I go to bed early for once, because my whole body is on the verge of not working, and I’ll have more to do tomorrow.
Saturday, June 24
The last day of our tour. We hit Trinity College (OH MY GOD; IM IN LOVE WITH THE LIBRARY) and get a look at the Book of Kells, a famous illuminated manuscript of Biblical scenes. Then we get back to 1916, visiting the National Library of Ireland’s Exhibition on WW1, the Roger Casement section of the National Museum of Ireland, and St. Stephen’s Green, where famous statues are scattered all around the park. By the end of it, most of us are distracted. Though it’s the last day of our tour, there is something else going on at the Green that captures our attention: The start of Dublin’s Pride.
He releases us, and a group of us end up joining in the festivities, with it being my first Pride. Over the course of the week, the Irish flags that border the River Liffey have been traded for rainbow flags, and on the day of the parade, no Irish flags are to be seen as the country announces its support for the LGBTQ+ community. Pride is massive in Ireland, where the Taoiseach, who is basically Ireland’s Prime Minister, is an openly gay man. Speaking of, we kind of ran into him and made our Irish news debut. At about 1:10 of his comment, a group of teenagers can be seen taking a selfie in the background… Whoops?
But, yeah. So that happened. We also walked in the parade and went out to some of the parties that night. At one, a circle of dancers formed for individual/partner dancing. A guy pulled me in and swing danced, which was fun… until he basically dropped me. Luckily, a few other guys caught me before I hit the ground and helped me back to my feet. Such a long day, but it was our last night in Dublin, and we were going to make the most of it.
Sunday, June 25
We left Dublin for Galway, stopping at a really cheesy castle, Bunratty Castle, which I would not recommend. There was no life to the tour we were given, which honestly disappointed me. Castles have been the biggest let-downs of Ireland thus far, because I like to think about them as full of life, which they obviously aren’t anymore. I really do believe that they could if they were handled correctly, though. A pile of stones is nothing until interpreted, and unfortunately that seems to be something that those at Bunratty Castle don’t understand. The best part of going there was finding a cheap, but beautiful Claddagh ring and eating some wonderful lemon drizzle cake.
The Claddagh ring is one of the most famous traditions of Ireland, though it’s historically a fairly modern practice. But even so, it was one of my major goals to get one when I got to Ireland. The Claddagh Ring is a fairly familiar image with a heart in hands, wearing a crown. The heart symbolizes love, the hands friendship, and the crown loyalty. How it is worn tells the relationship status of the wearer, with (from what I saw; there is some debate) crown-up on the right hand meaning they are single, crown-down meaning in a relationship, crown-up on the left meaning they are engaged, and crown-down meaning they are married. While cliché, it was something I was determined to do.
After this, we went to the Cliffs of Moher, which is a really difficult walk, but a beautiful site. It was the epitome of the idyllic, peaceful Ireland that everyone dreams about.
I honestly wish there was a way that I could stay there, because it was one of the best things I have seen in my life. Even with tourists all up and down the cliffs, when you sit and look out at the ocean below and the castle across the way, it all seems still, like a picture. Things seemed almost frozen when we were there, and troubles and worries drifted away. Because of something this perfect truly existed, there had to be a reason for it. For everything. And in the light of that, everything else seems small.
We got to Galway; we got rooms; I switched rooms. We all went to bed early, because the previous few days had drained us all. But here we were, in Galway. Home for the next month.
He flies past me, clad head to toe in black, no hands on the handlebars. He stops, dismounts, locks the bike up, lights a cigarette, and strolls away.
Everything about this short scene—lasting no longer than a minute—irritates me. First, he did not ring the bike bell to let me know he was passing. I startle easily, and there is nothing quite as startling as an unexpected biker. Although, I have recently developed a fear of bike bells. I hear one, my heart races as I look around for the incoming machine. After a few close encounters, it doesn’t take long to learn that pedestrians do not belong in the bike path. Very quickly, a nearly instinctual response develops in response to the chime of a bell. The first stage of reaction is a quick startle created by the noise itself. Followed by an assessment of surroundings to determine the directionality of the approaching noise. The final step is two-fold: simultaneously moving out of the way paired with minor annoyance. All from a simple “brringg- brringg.” Pavlovian conditioning at its finest.
Another irritation is the biker’s outfit. He wears a black shirt and black jeans, maybe even a light jacket. It is not particularly hot here, but neither is it cold. I cannot imagine how hot he must be in his ensemble. I am wearing a sundress and am sweating as I attempt to power my own machine up a hill. I love dresses. It’s frequently breezy here. I am reasonably certain I have flashed half of Germany while biking to class. My strategy is to either wear shorts under my skirt or at least make sure I am wearing cute underwear. (I’m kidding about the underwear Mom—sort of.) Perhaps not the greatest solutions, but they have been working.
The roads, particularly those paved with cobblestones, can be quite bumpy. He rides without hands, while I am doing my best to maintain my balance with two hands on the handlebars. The final straw? He is breathing steadily while I am now dripping in sweat. I am panting with each pedal up the hill that stands between me and class. Normally, being out of shape would frustrate me. He is breathing steadily. As I am trying to catch my breath, he pulls out a cigarette. A cigarette adds insult to injury.
Biking is an exceedingly popular mode of transport here. Bike trails and lanes are easy to find. Cars whizz past bikes, as drivers are familiar with seeing
them on the roads. Popular destinations, such as schools, shopping centers, and churches have bike racks filled with the machines. Despite my previous grumblings,I think the prevalence of bikes is amazing. Perhaps I am just irritated that biking is not as common in America, although it has been growing in popularity. Perhaps I wish I had packed another pair of pants. Perhaps I wish I felt as graceful and effortless as our friend looked. Perhaps I just want to make halfway up a hill without needing to catch my breath. And perhaps one day I will.
I traveled to Mumbai, India for a research abroad internship earlier this summer. It is a two month internship at a renowned chemical engineering university (The Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay) in the field of research on nickel-platinum alloys for the purpose of cost-efficient catalysts. I left the United States knowing the adjustment I would have to make for this experience would be hard and although I was a little nervous at first, I can confidently say that this chance is worth all the worries I felt.
I am absolutely enjoying my time in India! I have traveled to India before to meet family here, but I never really got the chance to explore and understand the rich culture that resides in this country. Mumbai is a metropolitan city situated on the beach which just makes it better! Two days after I arrived in India, I decided to walk to a beach close by and what I saw on the way was beyond amazing. On a Sunday morning I came across a laughter club being held to motivate the participants for a fun-filled week to come and enlighten their day-off.
Further on, once on the beach I saw stalls of food, called Indian chaats, vendors selling toys for kids and people of all kinds. Some walking, some playing cricket or soccer (both extremely loved sports in India) while others just staring in awe at the beautiful rising sun. And there in the middle of all chatter from vendors and food stalls, I found the beauty of this big city. On one side of me was the endless sea roaring with every wave while on the other was the famous Mumbai skyline and amid it I stood in a city that seemed so warm and welcoming, all my nervousness seemed to disappear.
After being in India for a few weeks I have gotten used to a few things and have rather begun enjoying them. It is about 90 degrees here during the day so I am getting acclimatized to being in the heat more often but I quite like it cause it gives me an excuse to eat ice creams and drink smoothies a lot more! The traffic in Mumbai is ridiculous to a point that it takes about an hour to travel 5 miles (that too aside of peak office hours) but thanks to this traffic, I have completed watching several seasons of an amazing TV series!
Not only am I living the ‘big city’ life, but I am enjoying every bit of it! I am getting to know new people, learning a lot in my field of educational interest and eating a lot of delicious Indian food. Furthermore, I am travelling and exploring more than I have before in a city that is beautifully unfolding itself to me. I am glad I have a few more weeks in this astounding and marvelous city and I am very excited to see what these weeks have in store for me!
There are twelve inches in a foot, three feet in a yard, and one-thousand seven hundred and sixty yards in a mile. A mile contains one point six kilometers. The Dachau concentration camp was over one square kilometer when it was liberated in 1945. An estimated 41,500 people were murdered within this space. These are numbers and facts. They are unavoidable. The sheer numbers stand alone, horrifying in the vastness of their scope. They are persecution and terror in stark black ink on a white page. We associate numbers with clarity. Despite a few conversions between systems of measurements, numbers often transcend language barriers—a recognizable figure on a receipt or otherwise unreadable plaque.
Dachau demonstrates that numbers can fail us, can deceive by packaging experiences into a figure. A visit to Dachau forces an examination of the meanings behind the numbers, that they represent the systematic and industrialized torture and murder of innocent people. The realization is unquantifiable, an attempt to understand infinity. I could easily say that I don’t have words to describe the terrible vastness of the camp. It would not be an inaccurate statement: Dachau is appallingly enormous. The yard that once held the barracks brimming with prisoners stretches on and on. As you walk down the central road, away from the infamous “Arbeit macht frei” gates towards the back of the compound, near the cruelly efficient crematorium, every step is a wish that the road would end. It doesn’t, not until your feet and your soul ache. Every step by every marked plot for a barrack building is a haunting reminder of the thousands that suffered in that very spot. It puts numbers into perspective.
I could say that there are no words to describe the moment that numbers become inadequate. It would be easier than scouring the dictionary and thesaurus for a suitable word. I would not have to recall the eerie feeling of standing in front of the execution wall, where countless people spent their last moments facing a firing squad. I could try to let the shock of seeing storage rooms dedicated to corpses awaiting the flames of the crematorium fade away. I could let the horror of bold black letters advertising a gas chamber as a shower dull with time. Personal experiences generate visceral reactions that we must process. Numbers fail us, words fail us, pictures fail us. But we must continue to attempt to record our reactions, our experiences, to capture them at their most poignant. I can not, I will not, and I absolutely refuse to allow myself to dull this experience into “I can’t describe it.” For me, attempting to interpret a day visiting Dachau is a reminder, if only to myself, that it is impossible to quantify the amount of suffering in an inch.
Hello! My name is Stacy Solomon and I love trying to call everything an adventure, but some experiences fit the definition a bit better than others. While I have traveled internationally before, it’s always been with close family or friends and never venturing further than the Americas. Getting to travel to Germany for the first time with a group that I’d never met outside of the trip was an astounding adventure and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
To begin with our trip was part of a Global Health course, a valuable field of study for almost any student. As a result, our group was a unique mixture including six females and one male, seven nursing majors and one biology, and ranging from sophomore to graduate student. Each person brought a different perspective and personality to the group and these people combined with a great professor are really what made this trip a great experience 🙂
It also helped that Munich is an incredible and beautiful city. Munich was a city of everything, a large and modern city with medieval structures and rich history, surrounded by beautiful countryside.
A few of the places we visited…
If you ever choose to visit Munich, you will see a lot of castles…so many castles… and cathedrals. Munich is a wonderful place for anyone who loves history. There’s lots of opportunities to learn history from visiting various sites, but even if history isn’t your thing, it was incredible for me to experience the setting of a world that was so different from my own and imagine what it was like to live there. There are many castles within a small radius of Munich and each castles has a very different character and illustrates the different priorities and qualities of the ruler who built it. All of the medieval architecture combined with street musicians and the culture make Munich into a stunning city.
Dachau Concentration Camp
One thing that surprised me in visiting Dachau is that it was full of local kids and teenagers on field trips to see the concentration camp. Every country has dark history. I was amazed by how adamant the German people seemed to be about learning from their mistakes and being honest about their past. In America, often history books often seem to gloss over the darkest parts of our history such as the way Native Americans were treated, at least for the sake of young children. In Germany, it did not seem like young children were shielded from the past but instead shown it in person to make sure the same mistakes weren’t made again. In Germany, political buildings are made of glass to illustrate their attempts at being a transparent government for the people. When asked to describe German ideals, many Germans will include tolerance as one of the most important. Overall, the Germans seem to be very intentional in acknowledging their mistakes as a country and learning form them. Dachau is also a good example of how experiencing a place is so different from just hearing about it. It’s one thing to hear the numbers of Holocaust victims and something entirely different to see the barracks and prison cells and gas chambers and individual stories.
I wish I could write about everywhere we visited but this is a sample of a bit of what we were able to see in Munich. In my next post, I’ll write more about Germany in regard to global health. To be continued…
My name is Natalie Davis and I will be spending a month studying abroad in Costa Rica. Although this is not my first time traveling outside of the country, traveling by myself, or even visiting a country in which my native language is not spoken, something about this trip feels very different. I think it is the combination of all of those things that make it both so terrifying and exciting. Although I don’t mind traveling alone, the idea of going to a place where I know no one is a pretty scary thought. In addition to that, I am relying on my language studies to even survive! Although I’ve studied Spanish for a long time, I’m now doubting all of my abilities because I’ve never been fully immersed and using it all the time.
I’m flying out this morning and will arrive for lunch to meet the host family that I will be staying with over the next month. Over the next few days I will be in orientations before starting classes Monday. I will keep updating as fun and exciting things begin to happen, but I just wanted to do one practice post from the states before my journey begins.
My name is Kristen Bertrand. I’m a senior nursing student, a member of the Honors College, a lover of vegetarian food, an (extremely) average photographer, and most recently, a world-traveler.
That’s me. I’m saying “Auf Wiedersehen” to America and embarking on my very first ever trip abroad! My destination: Munich! Or, München, as the locals call it. This moment was what I had been anticipating since I had made the decision to study abroad almost a year before. This moment was a culmination of a year of saving all of my extra money, trying (and failing) to become fluent in German on DuoLingo, applying for the Honors College SAGA program, packing and repacking my suitcase a million times, and a week of sleepless, excited nights. Even after all of that, I had no idea in this moment that I would be embarking on the most rewarding 11 days of my life.
Since I have returned, so many people have asked me questions like “How was Germany?” or “Did you have fun in Europe?” The questions are simple, but the answers are not. I find myself wondering how I am supposed to answer. How do I sum up 11 days worth of an overwhelmingly wonderful and enriching cultural, educational, and personally life-changing experience in a concise way? How do I describe what it’s like to stand in the middle of Marienplatz with the famous Rathaus-Glockenspiel towering overhead packed tightly against shops like H&M and Urban Outfitters? How do I explain the feeling of standing in the foothills of the Alps, staring up at their breathtaking peaks? How do I make people understand the nerves of being dropped off on a bus in the Czech Republic, where every sign is in a language you don’t even know how to say “hello” in and the currency system uses a type of bank note that you can’t even pronounce? On that same note, how do you make them feel the confidence and pride you felt at the end of your 31-hour trip, when you find yourself feeling blissfully at home in that very same country?
In my next blog post, I will talk all about the experiences that I had while abroad, but for now I want to close with a simple, loaded request. All of those who are reading this that are trying to decide whether or not you want to study abroad, I’m asking you to take the leap. Get out of your comfort zone. There is nothing more humbling or confidence-building than immersing yourself in another culture. During this experience, I made friends from around the world, learned about some of the darkest parts of our world’s past, celebrated the beauty and history of cultures much different than my own, laughed, cried, sang the entire Sound of Music soundtrack in Austria about a hundred times, and most importantly, I have left my footprints in three different countries that will now forever be a part of my personality. Life gets a little bit bigger when the world is your classroom.
In the 11 days my group and I spent in München, Germany, we gained a new perspective about the lifestyle of a very beautiful country. Walking around the city, talking to the local people about German ways of life and their healthcare system, and eating delicious food all helped me become more oriented to the similarities and differences between the American and German lifestyles. Here are a few small things I learned to appreciate and will miss slightly too much.
Escalator – stand on the right. Pass on the left.
Bicycles – very common method of transport. You’ll see a well-dressed man in a 3-piece suit riding around on a bicycle, and it’s perfectly normal. I have a slight crush on these beautifully handy machines, especially the folding ones (they’re just so convenient; you can ride around town, and then fold it up when hopping onto a bus or tram).
Also, with these views, I’d take a bicycle over a car any day. Or a moped.
Weather – … is eventful. During the month of May, it ranges from the high 40’s to low 70’s and sometimes is accompanied by rain. However, it changes within moments. When it comes to weather, layers were my best friend. Overall, it’s a good thing to be prepared for literally anything: cold, hot, rain, hail, cute dogs. Example: in the middle of a very hot, sunny day (with a 40% forecast of rain) in the marketplace, the German skies started hailing and thunder-storming. Be prepared, kids.
Transportation and accessibility – the public transport is incredibly efficient and clean. Major modes of transport are by foot, buses, trams, U-Bahn and S-Bahn (underground trains), babies riding in attractive strollers, cars, taxis, and bicycles. The public transport system bypasses traffic, is cost efficient, and you don’t have to search and fight for parking (Yass to all of that!). Feel like people-watching? Take the U.
The majority of the time, we walked everywhere… we averaged at around 10-12 miles each day. It is easy to get from one part of the city to another by using a combination of these methods. This in addition to the compact structure of the city makes everything more accessible as well. One major advantage of public transport is that people who are unable to or do not drive benefit from the accessibility and independence it provides.
The city – is condensed. In other words, a very large city is fit in a slightly smaller area. For a large city, the compact structure means that with a public transport system, you can get to places fairly quickly, given that you do not take the wrong train in the wrong direction. It took me a couple of days to finally start understanding how the U-Bahn (underground train system) operated. The maps look intimidating at first (and second) glance, but after getting lost several times, you learn to enjoy the adventures and get more efficient at map reading each time. #progress.
Dogs – a major attraction in the city streets. We see a lot more pets traveling with their owners daily here. Big dogs, small dogs, fluffy dogs, all cute dogs. Ian, our tour guide on a day trip to Salzburg (Austria) bought his dog with us for an entire day, and nobody complained. Several pets don’t even have a leash on, which starkly contrasts with pet norms and policies in the states. My extensive analysis on this important subject matter is that since pets spend more time with their families in the busy streets of larger cities like Munich, they are more used to outdoor interaction and are very well-behaved.
Food – is really good! Being a vegetarian, I was initially concerned about the options I would have available to me, mainly because Google implied that I may struggle. After all, German restaurants are known to offer some pretty great meat options. All in all, I found vegetarian food very easily and at almost every restaurant we went to. In fact, there were several purely vegan and vegetarian restaurants throughout town. In addition, there are many small places to eat in almost every part of the city that offer a considerable variety.
Architectureand views – any word I use will be a major understatement. Basically, imagine a postcard. Imagine being inside of it. Castles, super green grass, canola fields, busy train stations… it’s all stare-worthy. One problem I did run into while abroad: I had to give myself a time limit for staring.. and then remind myself that time was up. Talk about a real challenge.
Views from the Neuschwanstein Castle. Tip: remember to breathe.
Out of an outrageously long list of things I’ve seen and learned, there’s my very small but useful but small list from my time in Munich; maybe it has convinced you to consider Munich as a place you should (definitely!) visit; if not, don’t worry I’ve still got more to say. 🙂
I plan to write more about the global and healthcare based observations I made in my next post! Hope you guys are having a wonderful summer as well! J