Name: Kevin Maciuba
Location of Study: Germany
Program of Study:
Sponsors: Robert Berner
Name: Kevin Maciuba
Name: Kevin Maciuba
Location of Study: Germany
Program of Study:
Sponsors: Robert Berner
I left from O’hare airport at around 7:00 PM. I was anxious, because I was afraid of how I would fare in a country, whose language I was not completely proficient in. I also began to miss my family and friends. This time in Germany will be the longest I’ve ever been out of the country, and I was worried about missing the amenities of home. Furthermore, I’m not the biggest fan of flying, so needless to say I left America nervous and a bit sad. However, all my problems went away once I boarded the plane. I flew in a comfortable, spacious Swiss Air airplane, and the meals they provided me were topnotch. My time was mostly spent listening to my iPod or watching one of the many movies that the airline provided. Then, after countless hours on one of the longest flights of my life, I arrived in Zürich, Switzerland. It was good to finally walk on land and breathe fresh air, but my real journey was about to begin. I now had to plan out my trip by train from Zürich to Freiburg. It wasn’t that hard of a train ride to plan, with only one or two transfers, but I was ill prepared. Also, it was difficult to understand the strange Swiss dialect of German spoken by the natives. Factor in that not every Swiss person speaks German (French, Italian, and Romansh, a language I had never heard of, are also popular) and my confusion becomes understandable. Many Swiss Franks later, I eventually found my way to Freiburg, despite having taken a wrong train to a beautiful, albeit out of the way, Swiss mountain town. With a map of the area, it was very easy to find my way from the train station to the Goethe-Institut guest house. During walk to the guest house, I saw what seemed to be a microcosm of Germany– a very modern and up to date train station, multiple bins for garbage and recycling storage, a giant cathedral built with classic German architecture, hippies loitering outside (drinking beers, of course), and Turkish döner stands. When I arrived at the guest house, I was exhausted, so I carried my luggage up four flights of stairs (there was no elevator) and passed out immediately. I noticed that my roommate had already arrive, but he was out. I would have to wait until later to meet him.
I met my roommate the next day. His name was Mika, and he turned out to be a really nice roommate. Anyways, we had our orientation, in which we learned more about the courses we would soon be taking. I was hoping to get placed into morning classes, so that I would have the entire day to spend experiencing Germany. Later, I found out that that wouldn’t be the case, because I was placed into afternoon classes, but I promised myself that I would wake up early enough, so that I wouldn’t waste the entire day. After orientation, I met up with some fellow Goethe students whom I met at orientation. We spent the day walking around town, finding our bearings and looking for potential places to return to once we had more time. We saw some of the main attractions of Freiburg, including the large cathedral in the center of town and the river, which ran through the city. The day after, classes started. I was a bit nervous and did not know what to expect. My class was full of people from all different countries: students from America, France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Russia China, Japan, and the Middle East were all my peers. It was kind of weird, hearing German spoken in accents other than standard German or American. Especially hard to understand, I thought, was German spoken with a thick French accent, which just sounded like mushy French gibberish a lot of the time. My favorite accent, however, was definitely either Italian or Spanish, both of which added a nice lyrical aspect to the language. Regardless, we were all able to communicate with each other in German. My teacher, who would be our instructor for the first two weeks, was extremely nice, but she was kind of soft spoken. I thought the class went way too slow for me, so I found this first section of the class to be somewhat boring. Soon enough, the weekend came. I, along with some friends I made, took a Goethe sponsored trip to Strasbourg, in France. Strasbourg was nice, and the town’s cathedral was even larger than the one in Freiburg. It was truly breathtaking to see something so large made out of stone by people hundreds of years ago. However, the weather in Strasbourg was too hot for me. In fact, according to my teacher, the time when I was in Europe was the hottest it has been all year, so the region was much hotter than I expected. Furthermore, none of my friends spoke any French, so it made ordering food somewhat difficult. We arrived back at the guest house later that day. The following afternoon I took a trip to Seepark, the local park/ lake. It was pretty nice there. Lots of open space to lay on and a nice, large lake to swim/ boat in. In some ways Seepark was… interesting, to say the least. There were proud displays of public affection between couples, topless women, young adults playing and running around in their underwear, and people donning hilariously European clothing, such as men wearing denim capris. One thing I didn’t like, however, was the amount of graffiti. For a city that prides itself on its cleanliness and consciousness towards the environment, there should was a lot of spray painted names and obscene phrases. It was like they didn’t even care about cleaning it up, and frankly it ruined a lot of sights, which otherwise would have been very nice.
I’ve kept good to my promise of waking up early. Even after hard nights out on in the local bars or clubs, I still managed to wake up at around 8:30. My morning routine consists of showering, doing any remaining homework (if any), eating, and then going for a walk around town, doing any errands that need to be done. For breakfast, I usually eat a slice of bread with some jelly, or something similar to that. Lunch I usually pick up during my walk around town. Typically it consists of either a sandwich bought at a local bakery or sausage that I bought at the market by the cathedral. This market was probably one of my favorite things in Freiburg. It circled around the cathedral, which reminded me of medieval times, when people would do exactly the same thing. There’s fresh fish, vegetables, fruits, toys, meat, and multiple sausage stands. What puzzled me, however, was that there were multiple sausage stands (maybe 6), but they all sold the same sausages for the same prices. Maybe they don’t understand competition, but if I were to open a sausage stand, I would definitely lower some of my prices by, I don’t know, 20 cents. But that’s just my opinion. Anyhow, this week went by like the last. Class wan’t particularly difficult, and we reviewed grammar and learned about some current events in Germany, such as the terrible flooding in Passau, which particularly interested me because that following weekend I had planned to travel to Passau to visit a friend of mine. I asked her if there was still flooding and if it was safe for me to come, and, according to her, everything was fine. That turned out to be true for the most part, but her apartment still didn’t have hot water, a lot of the grass around town was dead, and many smaller stores were still closed. However, everyone still went about there business as if nothing had ever happened. I enjoyed my time in Passau and it was good to see my friend, whom I haven’t met with in almost 3 years.
At the beginning of my third week in Germany, we switched instructors. Although outwardly not as nice as the first instructor, this teacher, I felt, did more to keep me engaged. Personally I think this is where the class began to be more enjoyable. Something new we did was go out and interview Germans, asking them questions about topics relevant to our classroom discussions. I for example, partnered up with another student and asked Germans about who their childhood role model was. Besides adjusting to the new teacher, this third week was used to mentally prepare myself for my big exam, which I needed to pass in order to get credit for this Goethe course. I knew the content wouldn’t be so bad, but I often have test anxiety, so I was a bit more worried about it than I should have been. The test turned out to be pretty easy, for the most part, but I was very glad when it was over. As a reward for all my hard work, a friend of mine, who had also just taken the test, went hiking at Schlossberg, the local mountain. It was a pretty good hike, and we did some exploring by going off the path. One thing I found interesting was the presence of shacks throughout the mountain. My friend referred to them as “hobo huts,” claiming that she had heard of them before. “Hobo huts” was an appropriate name, seeing as there were blankets, water bottles, and other necessities for a hobo’s lifestyle, but I am still not convinced that that is the proper nomenclature. The next day, we took a day trip to Zürich. Personally, out of all the places I’ve traveled to in Europe, Zürich was my least favorite. Firstly, it was raining and the weather was generally miserable for the whole trip. Secondly, it was a Sunday, so everything worth seeing was closed (which is one of my biggest gripes with Europe as a whole). Lastly, everything was ungodly expensive. For example, at McDonald’s, their “value menu” consisted of two hamburgers and a drink for 10 Swiss Franks, a meal that would cost around $3 in the US. Everything else was equally expensive, and it was a pain having to switch from Euros to Franks. It wasn’t all bad, though. We brought our own food and had a picnic. We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sausages, various fruits, and drank champagne. I wish we had gone somewhere else in Switzerland. I would have loved to see the Alps, but alas, that is for another trip.
Week 4 and Beyond
My final week in Freiburg was filled with disbelief and sadness. I couldn’t believe it was all over. Before the trip, I was stressing about how long a month was, and now, after four weeks, I found myself wishing for more time. The month had flown by. It was, by far, the fastest four weeks of my life. The last thing we did in class was take a class trip to Staufen, a town not too far from Freiburg famous for its wine. In Staufen we ate schnitzel and drank wine at a wine tasting. I wish my palate was fine enough to have fully appreciated it, but I enjoyed the wine nonetheless. At the end of the trip, our instructor hand us our official grades and certificates, stating our completion of the course. We all started hugging each other and saying our goodbyes. This would be the last time many of us would ever see each other. This was when I knew that my time there was almost over. That night at the guest house, not too many people went out. It wasn’t much of a night for clubbing or drinking. Rather, it was one for remembering the good times we’ve had here in Germany. I envied those who were staying another month, those who would get to experience it all over again. That night was full of sad farewells and drunken promises to keep in touch. I have no idea if any of those promises will ever be fulfilled, but the bonds and memories of Germany, of the guest house, and of my friends will live on in my heart forever.
I flew from Basel, Switzerland to London after my time in Germany was over. My plan was to meet up with my family, who was vacationing in England. There, I would spend two weeks before heading back to the states. England was fun– we did all of the touristy stuff, met relatives whom I had never met before, and sampled many of the local pubs with my family. However, when all was said and done, I was more than ready to go home. I missed my friends back home and was eager to tell them about my European exploits. When I got home, however, it was difficult for me to explain my experience to them. Maybe it was the jet lag, which had hit me harder than ever and took more than a week for me to get over, but it seemed as if everything had merged together. I could tell stories and laugh about the differences between Germany and the US, but whenever someone simply asked “how was it,” I was at a loss for words. There really aren’t enough words in the English language to describe how I felt about my time at the Goethe Institut in Freiburg. What I can say, however, is that it was truly one of the best months of my life. My German has improved and I was able to experience a different culture. I am truly thankful that I was able to experience this once in a lifetime opportunity, and I hope to visit Germany again sometime in the future.