With only 5 more weeks in the program, it’s high time to reflect on the experience thus far. Although there are not many posts here, I am writing consistently in a travel journal, and will post entries from there after the program is over. There is a balance between writing about things so you can remember them, and experiencing new things so you can write about them later. Writing in a paper journal gives me the time to make more memories, as writing about experiences twice takes twice as long.
Here are some of my favorite things about Germany and Marburg thus far:
- Everything is green! Coming from a place with minimal rain, it always surprises me when I am reminded that the rest of the world is not so. When the locals are complaining about a day “spoiled” by rain, I am rejoicing.
- Food is affordable and of good quality: €200 will last me two or more weeks for groceries- and this feeds both me and my friend. We are living on a diet consisting of sautéed vegetables, vegetable soup, milk, fried rice with eggs and peas, the occasional pizza and pizza bread, musli (it’s like cereal, only out of granola), and bars for snacks.
- The villages. Everyone knows everyone and their brother, people are extremely polite, the atmosphere is incredibly peaceful.
- Being able to visit my relatives. It has given me a more authentic perspective on how people live their everyday lives, is a wonderful opportunity to brush up on my German (I wouldn’t have improved near as much if I hadn’t been visiting them every weekend), and it’s great to be able to meet people I’ve heard about since I was small.
- The public transit. It is a godsend for traveling.
- Everything is in the vicinity of everything else- I can walk to class from my dorm building a few miles from where we have class, or take the bus.
- Marburg has great hiking trails; there on the edges of the city, so within 5 minutes you can transition from streets and houses to forest.
- The University clinic. My immune system is very weak, so I’ve already been sick thrice since arriving in August. The clinic however is free, and has hours that fit my schedule so I can go, get a prescription, and get that filled out at an apothecary. If I get sick, by the end of the day I can have a doctor’s note for class and the medicine I need for a complete and speedy recovery.
- There are bakeries on every street corner. My friend’s teacher said, “If a place in Germany doesn’t have a bakery, it’s not a city.” Too bad my relatives’ supermarket closed because there weren’t enough costumers. Now they drive two villages over for groceries.
There are more things that I like of course, but those are the main ones. As to my experiences associated with school, the first thing that stood out to me is that the university is scattered all around the town. One building where I have classes is a 10-minute walk from the other, and between them are other university buildings, homes, businesses, and a theater. Likewise, the libraries are also scattered all around. Each department has their own separate library within it, but the public library is behind the Mensa- their student cafeteria. I’ve had mixed luck with the cafeteria- not all of their vegetarian labeled food seems to be vegetarian. This is especially true of the soups, which smell like chicken, and I suspect have a chicken broth. The classes are informative and interesting. One of my classes is “Sea routes and Ships from the Archaic through Hellenistic Period” and the other is “Kino und Politik, Zensur, Skandale, und kulturelle Provocationen in Deutschland seit 1919”. Ships in the Mediterranean and censorship in Germany’s movie industry. The classes begin 15 minutes after they say they will start, and tend to end when the teacher runs out of material to review, not holding students late just because class isn’t supposed to get out yet. These are the first classes I’ve ever had where there is no homework- your final grade is entirely dependent on attendance, and your final project. For my ship class I’ll be giving a 30-45-minute presentation on depictions of ships and shipwrecks in the classical era, and for Kino und Politik I’ll be either given an oral exam about one of the movies that we’ve watched and its historical background, or write a paper based on one of several German books about German movie censorship. I original also intended to join Marburg’s fencing club, but was ultimately unable to because it’s on the other side of town and begins after the buses stop running.
Having been away from home for extended periods of time before, I believe I have been coping with the cultural differences well. My lifestyle has not changed considerably, except that now I have a much bigger dorm room than I would have thought possible in back home. I’ve been trying to immerse myself in this experience and get the most out of it; however, I have continued to listen to songs in English because they remind me of home. If I could, I’d listen to German radio more, but on FFH, the radio station most of my cousins listen to, half of the songs are in English. They’re also pop songs, which are not the genre I would normally turn to for comfort. I’ve also started to get a little annoyed that in English we have multiple words for one object, to point out small differences between them, but German doesn’t seem to have such words to the same extent. For example, English has the words bottle, flask, and jar to refer to a small container, each getting respectively smaller. German however, only seems to have die Flasche and das Glas, Flasche being used to refer to both bottles and flasks. This is just a linguistic pet peeve of mine and English probably has more variation because it draws vocabulary from many languages, so I try not to let it bother me. It helps me when I remember that German makes it much easier to create compound words than in English; that each language has its strengths. I’ve also been trying to celebrate major holidays that I usually celebrate back home such as Halloween and Thanksgiving, which energizes me and gives me the ability to focus better on school later.
The only thing I would like to have done differently, is research more about other countries in Europe so I’d know which cities I’d like to visit once I’d arrived. Last week I found out about a website that has super cheap flights all around Europe. It’s called “goeuro.com”; a round-way ticket from Marburg to Granada Spain costs only around €230.
Overall, I am grateful for having had the opportunity to have this experience, and believe that now I have the means to become a better global citizen. People tend to fear things that are foreign, and as People to People, the travel program that let me go to Japan phrased it, traveling ‘promotes peace through understanding’. I do understand better, and my German has drastically improved, which will help me continue to interact with the German speaking world after I return to my country