Tschüs, Germany!

The neighborhood
The neighborhood

With two short weeks left in my program, I can’t help but feel great sadness to be leaving a place I’ve really started to call home – knowing that this experience will never be able to recreate itself. Although I traveled extensively during my study abroad experience, some of my favorite moments have been those that might be overlooked. For example, last week Tiffany and I

two of my lovely flat mates
two of my lovely flat mates

went to eat at Market Haus, which is an area that has a bunch of food stands from all over the world. It had been a particularly long morning because our program was getting ready for Model EU which was happening in less than a week. Tiffany and I got one of my favorite meals (which is like an Arabic burrito) and we were chatting away in English when this kind older German gentleman sat

Freiburg
Freiburg
The neighborhood
The neighborhood

next to us. He took one bite of his food and started chatting away to us in fluent German… As often is the case, I was stuck in between wanting so badly to speak and learn from this local and not having the language capacity to do so. However, after almost four months of an intensive German class that meets 4x a week, I decided to apply everything I knew into this conversation (and maybe making up a few words along the way). I was so surprised to notice how much I understood, and was able to tell about myself to this older German man. After bout a 20 min conversation, the man had finished his meal, gave us a hearty laugh, a pat on the back, a wink and left. This moment inspired a lot of personal reflection of my time here, and the interesting people I’ve met along the way. Whether it was a couple of famous rowers from Australia while lost in the streets in Berlin, to an artist in Athens that invited me to the most intricate café just because he wanted to learn about Mexico and the US, to my eccentric flat mates that have taught me a new way to project your love for life by caring about the environment around you, to a man from Chicago who retired to Germany so his German wife could be with her family “because in marriage its all about give and take.”

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary
Hagia Sofia, Istanbul
Hagia Sofia, Istanbul
Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Blue Mosque, Istanbul
inside the Blue Mosque, Istanbul
inside the Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Budapest Thermal Baths
Budapest Thermal Baths
Athens, Greece
Athens, Greece
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Budapest

I’m going to miss my professors, who parallel to my experience at Hope, really care about their students and have actively developed a relationship with them. Before each exam, my favorite professor takes us out for eine Tasse Kaffee because “American students love coffee and German professors love coffee, so why not.” This professor’s course covers the EU perspective on one of my favorite topics – migration. For a region that was once known for its emigration, it has been fascinating to gain a deeper understanding on how events like the fall of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine crisis, Mare Nostrum, etc. influence the EU today. Here are a couple of pictures of what the IES EU center, where we take all of our classes, looks like. It’s a beautiful classical building that has been renovated and given a pretty modern interior. Unlike many other programs, this one has its own building which is really nice!

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Similar to Hope which has Model UN, our program has Model EU at the end of the semester in order for the professors to grade us on how we are able to actively incorporate all that we’ve learned into three days worth of intensive sessions. Each of us represented a member state as either a foreign minister or president. I was assigned the role of the president of Spain, and we had to debate and reach common proposals for four main topics: migration, youth unemployment, the energy crisis, and terrorism. Each of us had to completely embody our country’s views and this resulted in heated discussions over each topic. Our closing ceremony for this portion of the program was hosted in a fancy German restaurant where we had a 5-course meal and were joined by our professors. It was such a nice way to wrap up the semester!

model EU
Model EU

While Hope is in its last week of exams, I will be taking mine next week followed by two days of down time in Zurich. I am forever grateful for this opportunity that has exceeded everything I could’ve asked for. For now, I’m off to explore Freiburg’s Christmas market. See you all on campus!

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Freiburg’s Christmas Market
My backyard
My backyard

Travels around the EU!

Since my last post we’ve have traveled to Luxembourg, Paris, and Brussels, gone to the Swiss Alps, Lucerne, little towns in northern France, castle ruins in southern Germany, Munich, Strasbourg, studied the inner workings of the EU by visiting the institutions, conversed over problems in the Middle East and the way immigrants are integrated (or failed to be integrated) into each member state, all the while having a full course load, midterms, papers, trying to be part of the community in our living space, and enjoying all that Freiburg has to offer. It has been quite an experience to say the least- one that at the moment, has left me struggling to make sense of all that I have absorbed and left feeling a bit overwhelmed by the grand immensity of our world’s problems.

Lucerne, Switzerland
Lucerne, Switzerland
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Lucerne, Switzerland
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Lucerne, Switzerland
Heidelberg
Heidelberg
Heidelberg
Heidelberg
Castle
Castle
Castle
Castle
Castle
Castle
Swiss Alps
Swiss Alps
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Swiss Alps

 

I have finally settled into a routine, just in time before the program does our last big trip together to different member states to study political stability. In the last week of November, I will be going to Budapest, Athens and Bucharest to get a better perspective on the stability of these newer EU member states along with a third of IES EU. In early October, the whole program went to Luxembourg, Brussels and Paris by bus to visit the institutions, think tanks, a Foreign Ministry etc. Each of the courses available to students in the program had individual meetings as well, each focused on a certain theme. We visited the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg and on that same day we drove to Brussels. My favorite meeting in this city was with the European Network against Racism where they gave us their perspective on immigration policies. Their passion was contagious! Other meetings in our visit included a Turkish Embassy, a progressive left-wing think tank, and the Foundation for European Progressive Studies. As a group we traveled to the European Commission, the European Court of Justice, and the French Foreign Ministry. Most of the week that we spent traveling was taken up by our meetings, which only made our free time that much more valued in terms of sight seeing. IES set up a river tour and a trip to Versailles during our stay in Paris so we could do something relaxing as a group! While our time was a bit rushed as we all tried to eat as many national delicacies like macaroons, chips and mussels, and chocolate as possible, all while sight seeing such beautiful cities, it was a perfect trip!

 

Luxembourg
Luxembourg
ECJ
ECJ
Luxembourg
Luxembourg

 

Luxembourg
Luxembourg
Brussels
Brussels
Brussels
Brussels
Brussels
Brussels
Brussels
Brussels

 

Brussels
Brussels
Brussels
Brussels
Brussels
Brussels

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Paris
Paris
Versailles
Versailles
Paris
Paris
Paris
Paris
Paris
Paris
Paris
Paris
Saint-Avoid, the largest US Military Cementery in Europe
Saint-Avoid, the largest US Military Cemetery in Europe
Paris
Paris
Paris
Paris
Paris
Paris
Paris
Paris

On a Wednesday we took a day trip to Strasbourg and had a first hand perspective on how decisions are administered in the European Parliament and even sat in to a session! There, each meeting is translated live in all of the member’s languages, which was incredibly fascinating to see in person! After studying how member countries are becoming more hesitant on the supranational power growing, we could see the effects of such notions by Great Britain having miniature state flags on their desks representing that they will be putting their state’s interests first, for example.

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One of my favorite weekend trips so far has been to Munich where I met up with a Hope Alumni, dear friend and Fulbright Scholar. Susan graduated last year and is currently teaching English in Perpignan, France. It worked out that she was in her fall break and was able to meet up for the weekend. After she came back to Freiburg for three days! Although I had wanted to visit this city when the famous Oktoberfest was occurring, I was thankful to be able to see Munich without the chaos. We had a lovely time visiting the English Gardens, Lenbach House, Marienplatz, its New Town Hall, St. Peter’s Church, and Nymphenburg Palace. This city is large yet manageable and has such a strong Bavarian splendor. While I haven’t really experienced homesickness while I’ve been here, it was so nice to be able to talk with someone that has shared the same environment and show her my new community.

Susan and I
Susan and I

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Berlin & Prague

IES EU sets apart 21 days during our time abroad to travel as a program to different cities around the EU with the purpose of comprehending the current status and the inner workings of this intricate nation-state partnership. They break the time down into 3 separate segments and in September I had the chance to visit Berlin and Prague for our first field study! This field study had the headline “Europe: From Division towards Integration” and each day we not only toured around but had scheduled meetings with governmental representatives, cultural scientists, and a journalist.

Our group met in front of the Freiburg train station at 6:00 am on a Monday to depart for Berlin. Traveling around Europe by train is so clean, efficient, and incredibly timely so I was looking forward to the quiet solitude. Four hours later, we were on our way to a city walk of Berlin and by 6:00 PM we had the rest of the evening to ourselves. This city is by far my favorite place in Europe, although I can never pin point exactly why. With its extensive history, there is always something new to explore. Berlin is a city that has withstood the toughest of wars. Visitors can explore everything from the Holocaust Memorial to the Berlin Wall to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp where over 100,000 beings were killed. There is also a unique vibe to the city and can be characterized as a city that literally never sleeps! My favorite meeting in Berlin was at the Hohenschonhausen Memorial, a former prison of the GDR Ministry of State Security (Stasi), where we had a tour led by a former Stasi prisoner. What remains of the prison is a well-preserved depiction of the psychological warfare that existed as a result of the Soviets struggling to maintain control over their people.

Holocaust Memorial
Holocaust Memorial
Reichstag dome
Reichstag dome
East Side Gallery, Berlin Wall
East Side Gallery, Berlin Wall
East Side Gallery
East Side Gallery

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Cathedral
Cathedral
Brandenburg Gate, half of IES EU
Brandenburg Gate, half of IES EU

On Thursday, we made our way over to Prague by train and arrived in perfect time for a city walk through its enchanting streets. My friend, Tiffany, and I spent the rest of the evening watching the sun set over the Charles Bridge, eating Nutella and strawberry crepes in the Old Town Hall, and going to a traditional Czech restaurant recommended by our program. There we feasted on roast pork and knedliky, which are boiled sliced dumplings, the most popular Czech dish. To be honest, it felt like a less tasty Thanksgiving dinner but I appreciated the meat included in the meal. Friday was my favorite day away from Freiburg. I started off my day waking up to see the sunrise over Charles Bridge. For those that haven’t visited Prague, this bridge is the most touristy place and is always crammed with people. There was such a peaceful ambiance encompassing the place at 6:00 am that made the early wake up call so worth it!

Charles Bridge

roast pork and knedliky
roasted ham and knedliky

view from Charles BridgeOld Town Square

Charles Bridge
Charles Bridge
Old Town Square
Old Town Square
our most favorite food group...crepes
our most favorite food group…crepes

Then we met with Ms. Marketa Hulpachova, the editor of Media in Cooperation & Transition, a media development organization that implements projects in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. She gave us a Czech citizens’ perspective on the transition from communism to post-communism, on EU integration, and on Czech’s EU Membership. I found this young professional incredibly fascinating due to her extensive expertise in such a male dominated arena. For the past 5 years she was living in Iran doing work for MICT. Ms. Hulpachova talked about how ideological differences in Iran have created strong distrust within the community and how Europe is continuously investing in the Iranian economy by working with larger companies that have strong ties to the oppressive government. Being able to converse with such an important individual felt very surreal for me, and Ms. Hulpachova was very open to our questions. This meeting was my favorite in Prague! Around 4:00 PM, we were all done with conferences and Tiffany and I spent the rest of the evening getting lost in Prague’s cobbled streets, taking pictures of the castle, eating baked goods, and then dancing until sunrise in Prague’s infamous 5 story club. It was so fun and definitely a great way to end our trip!

Cheers to new adventures!

There is something so comforting about living in a foreign country where you don’t speak the same language. Don’t get me wrong, it can get extremely frustrating wanting so desperately to engage in conversations with those that you meet that both ends end up talking so much louder than normal in hopes of the other gaining some understanding….but even that becomes entertaining. It has officially been a month since I arrived to Freiburg, Germany and my experience so far has exceeded my expectations.

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FREIBURG: I’ll be completely honest, before reading about the IES European Union program at Hope, I’d never heard of this city. All I knew is that I was drawn to Germany and needed to find any reason to live there (while studying abroad my sophomore year I visited Berlin and since have day dreamed of spending more time in this country). Second, this program seemed like a lot of fun while maintaining a strict educational regimen.

Downtown
Downtown

This college town is located in the south west corner of Germany, surrounded by the Schwarzwald, better known to Americans as the Black Forest (have you ever had black forest cake? Come visit this place and you can eat it in its birthplace). During the program’s orientation we actually spent a day hiking in it! Our guides are college students and they took us to some of their favorite locations. I chose the route that involved hiking across waterfalls. There is something so lovely about the untouched feel of this area and it literally is our backyard! After getting home from class, we often grab stuff for a picnic and wander through vineyards, picking apples along the way for a snack, finding a quiet area to spend the sunny afternoons. Here are some pics of our orientation trip to give you a better idea:

THE cake

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Like most cities in Germany, WWII heavily damaged Freiburg. However, upon its rebuilding the city maintained its medieval architecture. I live a 10 minute tram ride from downtown and often go just for the daily farmer’s market that houses food trucks and fresh groceries from the region. It gathers around the Münster, Freiburg’s cathedral, and you can munch on a bratwurst or what I like to call a German hotdog.

a brat

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Much like Hope, the University of Freiburg has diverse living arrangements for its students. I got placed in a 9 person flat in Vauban, which also happens to be the most eco-friendly neighborhood in Freiburg. All of Freiburg is very green in itself. The predominant form of transportation for people of all (and I really mean all!) ages is a bike. You also do not just throw your trash away, you separate it based on its material and this careful consideration is very instilled in the culture. Other examples include renewable energy windmills and solar panels in the majority of houses. Any way, Vauban is known as the most famous eco-neighborhood in all of Europe! Aside from living with a girl from my program, our flat houses 2 other girls and 5 guys, all of which can best be described as eccentric and incredibly patient. Right away you see the first aspect by how the flat is decorated. The walls are hand painted in wild colors, artwork hanging everywhere you look, and vegetation hanging from the ceilings. It’s something else! They are all so costumed to meeting foreigners and I’ve been intentional in forming connections with them. It’s great to have roommates that are willing to translate the simplest of things for you, like ingredients and give you insight on where to go for a trendy coffee shop.

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PROGRAM:

What set this program apart from others for me was that it’s just for political science, international studies, and business majors (now if my posts for some reason convince you that Freiburg is the place you need to be, IES does provide programs for other majors so no worries!). All of my classes are in English and are taught by German professors in our program’s building, which I will refer to as “the center.” Depending on your level of German, you get placed in a certain level of a German class. Since I knew “nein” German before coming here, I’m in what’s ironically called German 101. With only two weeks of classes, I’m already learning so much about the EU framework and it has been pretty amazing to be surrounded by so many diverse students that share this educational passion.

It is human nature to build a community in your residence that at times you don’t often encounter new people with such different backgrounds. Being in this program hasn’t just meant meeting German residents but growing from encounters with the people in my program as well. That to me ignites a sort of wanderlust to explore the States even further. As a senior at Hope, I have a special love for my school to the point where there is mild separation anxiety creeping in. Being away for a semester, it develops into a topic of conversation with my peers. These dialogues end up in me feeling even more grateful for my school, it’s location, and the relationships that I’ve made along the way. I’m a firm believer that you need to leave your comfort zone and venture into the wilderness of your intuition in order to discover yourself further. One thing I’ve been reminded of by this action is that I picked the right college for my undergrad, as cheesy as it sounds – that is so comforting!

Every day there is a new discovery in this city, whether it’s a new favorite word or shop, and I’m excited for what is to come.

Prost to one month in my new home!