My time in Germany…..

My 7-8 weeks spent in Radolfzell, Germany can be described as a great triumph. Speaking German, in almost any situation, became easier and easier. Several times people asked me where in Germany I grew up, only to reveal for me to reveal that I am not originally from Germany at all. One time an acquaintance even commented that she could tell I spent time in Stuttgart by the way I spoke or some dialect phrases I occasionally used. The ability to assimilate both linguistically and culturally—the ability to blend in like an ordinary person—is ironically a grand accomplishment in the process and years-long commitment of learning a language and a culture. I have been learning German for more than half of my life: a delightful adventure that will only continue. 

“Music alone is the language of the world that does not need to be translated” – Berthold Auerbach

During my time in Radolfzell, however, a great reward for my efforts became apparent—in the most simple, everyday ways. With each day in Radolfzell, I felt more “at home.” This revelation was deeply personal, as growing up both in Germany and the United States permanently changed my identity, future plans, language, and habits. However, besides my language studies, I remain in the United States somewhat disconnected from Germany, a place I would consider my second home. But being in Germany and partaking in everyday “normal” life felt not only familiar but right for me. I felt more and more comfortable and felt that I was supposed to be there—no longer did I have to “earn” my way, but rather I was able to be there and participate in the community just normally and comfortably. No longer did I feel like an obvious outsider, but rather just normal in the surrounding society. 

A significant advantage of studying and staying in Radolfzell was the constant immersion. Even when revealing that I came from the United States or having unexpected difficulty with conversation, my colleagues and counterparts would always speak German to me. No one switched to English for the sake of ease, but rather, many locals were adamant to speak with me and other language learners in German, which allowed us the opportunity to struggle a little and consequently learn. Those hard-won new phrases and words imprint themselves better in our memory.

For instance, during my second week in Radolfzell, I ventured into a local clothes shop and eventually asked one of the owners for a changing room. However, right when I asked that, I simultaneously realized I had no idea what the word “changing room” was in German. I could use medical- or literature-specific words in German, but I found several ordinary words, imperative to daily situations, missing in my vocabulary. I stumbled over my sentence, ultimately asking in German: “Do you have….anywhere where I can try on this dress?” She laughed, gauging that I was a foreigner, and before pointing me in the right direction, kindly told me the word for dressing room: “Die Kabine.” Over the next few weeks, I visited various stores, often shopping with friends, and each time, I re-used this word so often that it became effortless to retrieve from my vocabulary.

Swedish Cross on Insel Mainau (Mainau Island), an island in Konstanz

Each word learned in a foreign language has a story or a memory, especially when learned in an immersion setting. And the associated experiences allow these words to be more accessible when speaking, writing, and understanding—to the point of being effortless. When reading, writing, speaking, and hearing German, I no longer have to translate anything into English, for I automatically process it in German, even if I don’t completely understand it. It is almost ironic how one meticulously studies grammar and dissects sentences to then understand the inner workings of a language and then often “feel” how it should sound or read. Right now, my brain feels like an absolute mishmash of German and English, which is delightful. Even as I write this entry, I think of German words that would fit sometimes before coming to the corresponding English word. But that is with such a triumphant feeling because the language contains its own expression and feeling that one somehow, after much hard work and exposure, understands and can use comfortably. 

Now I will do my best to recount my adventures, describe Radolfzell, and summarize my time there. 

My host family was a lovely older couple, and I lived on the top floor of their four-story house, with my own little one-room apartment. Although I expected my host family to be much more involved, I actually favored the relatively “hands-off” attitude of my host family. My own space allowed me to build my own schedule and exercise my own independence, reaching a great balance between personal freedom and reliance upon my host family. For instance, weekend adventures during my time in Radolfzell became nearly habitual, and I was able to notify my host family in advance that I would be heading off to Freiberg, Konstanz, Stuttgart, or even Zürich, Switzerland, and Straßbourg, France with peers from the language institute. 

My independence and self-reliance bloomed during my SLA study. I was able to undertake adventures safely, experience once-in-a-lifetime sights and travels, and still prioritize my studying and learning. My time abroad accelerated my blooming independence and self-reliance that naturally has grown throughout college, which only prepares me better for my following years at Notre Dame. I am confident in my ability to tackle both expected and unexpected challenges while also taking care of myself and nourishing my faith, future opportunities, friendships, and enjoyment in life.

Insel Mainau German Gardens

Monday through Friday I would attend the Carl Duisberg Centrum (CDC), just six houses down the street (the location of my host stay was truly perfect for walking to school, to the Altstadt / Old Town, and to the Bodensee. My classes started at 8:30 and ended at 13:00 on Mondays through Thursdays or 12:00 on Fridays. Each day we would have a half-hour break, which I would usually spend chatting with other students or grabbing a coffee nearby. After class I would return to my homestay and prepare lunch for myself to later study, meet with friends, take bike rides, and so on. 

At CDC, I encountered some unexpected frustrations with my language study. Upon arriving, I was informed that they were not offering my course level anymore, as two other participants could not obtain visas in time to travel to Germany. Therefore, I was put into a course below my level, which tested my motivation and concentration. I did not feel challenged, and many of my classmates surprisingly did not actively participate or even attend classes regularly. However, I still recognized the value in the class for me—I could shore up gaps in my language learning, grammar, and vocabulary and smooth over anything I had accidentally misunderstood. After four weeks, our course officially progressed to the C1 level, which comfortably challenged me. Two new classmates who attended German Gymnasium (high school) arrived for a week or two, adding new energy to the class, and I learned a lot from their excellent speaking and vocabulary. For the remaining few weeks, our teacher unexpectedly changed, but our new teacher was very passionate about engaging us in conversation and teaching us to mastery, which I really enjoyed. This was my favorite stage of classes at CDC, for I felt that I was able to not only learn new information but also process it well and master it. While at CDC I elected to take the telc C1 examination—the level required to study at German universities and apply for interaction-intensive job/internship opportunities. I simply wanted to test my ability, and though I was nervous as the exam approached, I actually enjoyed taking it and felt confident. 

My favorite part about CDC was the fellow students—from nearly every corner of the world, with different backgrounds and stories. We all were experiencing the commonality of being foreigners in Germany, navigating the language and culture. Therefore we experienced a strong sense of camaraderie and formed solid friendships quickly.  

Schlosskirche St. Marien (Palace Church St. Marien)

My moderately long summer study allowed me to develop a routine in Radolfzell, further establishing a sense of belonging and comfortability in Germany and German society. For instance, I rented a bike from CDC and would go on biking adventures, as well as just biking for errands. I joined a gym and would go on weekdays before my classes. I would regularly frequent certain cafes after classes (often with Sarah Van Hollebeke, another SLA participant!), becoming familiar with the staff and owners and often having pleasant conversations. A small town like Radolfzell accelerated a fairly easy adjustment, as it was easy to navigate and easy to explore. More opportunities for eating, shopping, and entertainment were nearby in Konstanz and even Zürich, Switzerland (about 1-1.5 hrs by train). For instance, I saw Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro in Zürich: an absolutely amazing experience, especially for me as a musician.

During holidays or weekends, I would go on day or weekend trips with friends from the language institute to: Freiburg (three times!); Hohenzollern Castle; Oberammergau; Linderhof Palace; Stuttgart; nearby Konstanz and Insel Mainau; nearby Singen; Meersburg; Triberg in the Schwarzwald (Black Forest); Ulm; Strasbourg, France; Zürich, Switzerland; Mount Rigi, Switzerland; Schaffhausen and Rheinfalls in Switzerland; and Mount Säntis, Switzerland.


Perceptions of the USA and Americans

Many Germans engage in political discussion without hesitancy, yet without rudeness. It seems less taboo to talk about politics, and disagreements are anticipated—but so is understanding, the synthesis of ideas, and reconciliation. Of course, arguments about politics undoubtedly still occur, but in general, I have experienced Germans asking me clear questions about American politics, or simply American life in general. Somewhat unexpectedly, however, I interact in Germany primarily with fellow foreigners than with Germans. Since other foreigners attend the language school, I know other students from the US, students from South America, from Africa, from other parts of Europe, and from Asia, all with whom I primarily speak German. Similarly, however, they have asked me clear questions about America and American life, especially after events that make headlines, such as the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas or the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade. Many people ask for details, experiences, or a more comprehensive picture, whereas some have first offered praise or critique, wanting to open a discussion or discern the “why” or “how” behind headlines and news stories. When answering, I try not to generalize, try to provide different perspectives, and try to clearly communicate what stereotypes or misconceptions may blur perceptions of America or Americans. I offer my own opinion if appropriate, but it is not the subject of the discussion—if so, I would not only feel uncomfortable but also misrepresentative of a comprehensive issue or matter. 

It is refreshing, as political discourse in everyday life within the United States has become increasingly tense and increasingly hostile. People have mentioned and inquired about American lifestyles, the American government, American politics and Americans’ political views, environmentalism and climate change in America, crime, social justice, drugs, medical care and insurance, activity and diet, and so forth. 

Simultaneously I have encountered stereotypes about Americans, particularly regarding monolingualism and education. Several students joked on several occasions that Americans only speak English and lack thorough knowledge of geography and the greater world. Though intended as jokes, these statements nevertheless perpetuate negative American stereotypes that often create barriers of misconceptions, especially toward Americans abroad. I lightly intervened, as the Americans (including me) at the language school countered these overgeneralizations simply by being there and learning a new language—part of our goals and our identities. I would also describe the diversity of languages and backgrounds within the United States, which may be overlooked in broad generalizations. 

Overall, the attitude toward the United States that I perceived was primarily curiosity, which I welcomed. When people would ask me direct questions—not skewed or loaded—I was more than happy to answer to the best of my ability, with my opinions only in the background and more of a discussion in the foreground. 

Migration in Germany: Cultural Diversity

Many regions of Germany have been influenced by immigrants and refugees, especially by Turkish, North African, and Middle Eastern settlers. New cultures have impacted popular foods, available restaurants, religious worship, the composition of neighborhoods, spoken everyday languages, and so on. Instead of only typical German culture that is foremost perceived by foreigners and tourists (i.e. Oktoberfest, drinking beer, German cars, Dirndl and Lederhosen, etc.), German culture continuously evolves with the diverse backgrounds of many Germans themselves or refugees/immigrants to Germany. Now, with many refugees from Ukraine, Ukrainian can be heard spoken in supermarkets, on public transport, or simply along the street. One of my good friends here speaks Russian and can instantly recognize Russian or Ukrainian being spoken often around us in everyday life. 

In years prior, many Syrians fled to Germany as refugees, and their presence within Germany is noticeable in current German culture or in daily life. For instance, at the gym, I started up a conversation with a woman on the treadmill next to me—a Muslim woman, older than me. We had a lovely conversation, two foreigners both conversing in German, our second language. Further in our conversation, she told me about fleeing to Germany, her difficulties in learning German, and her goals here in Germany. She was 30 years old, here in Germany with her husband and two children. We realized that we are both studying for the same official German exam (C1), and she is studying for that same level (C1) in English, so that she can attend the University of Konstanz nearby. Besides the trauma of her and her family fleeing Syria, she expressed her difficulties integrating into German society, especially because of the pandemic. As she was nearing the C1 level of German (advanced), the pandemic halted much person-to-person contact outside of her family, making contact with locals difficult, if not almost impossible. She lamented how her German had regressed after the lack of interaction, and she equally lamented how the pandemic had isolated her. Though well connected with her immediate family and some Syrian friends, she still said she did not feel integrated into German society even several years later after settling in Germany, given that she had been unable to interact outside of her own cultural, linguistic, and religious circle due to the pandemic. With much of her time spent caring for her 3- and 11-year-old, she then simultaneously teaches herself German and English, unable to afford the language courses offered locally. Therefore, her free time to engage within the surrounding community is minimal. She noted that she found many Germans very welcoming, but questioned why, during the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, she continued to experience difficulties making German friends and speaking German often. 

We later exchanged phone numbers so that we could practice our German together and that she could practice her English with me. Despite our common situation of learning German, we otherwise face dramatically different circumstances and struggles. However, our common pursuit of another language and our desire to integrate into another culture helped form a friendship, as we embark upon our goals together, able to help one another and make “outsider” situations not so alienating. 

Post Return: Reflecting on my Unforgettable Time in Germany

I returned back home last Tuesday after just over six weeks in Germany. I learned so much and really enjoyed the experience. After being immersed in German language and culture for an extended period of time, it was interesting to look at my language acquisition as compared to taking my German classes in the United States. One observation is that even while in Germany, my language acquisition was gradual. It still took focused time and a dedicated effort to remember all of the vocabulary I learned in class that day. With such a large amount of input every day, I had to accept that I would not master all of the material after just one class day. Rather, I needed to review verb conjugations, grammar patterns, and vocabulary each night to truly “digest” everything I had learned that day. 

This language acquisition was certainly accelerated by my engagement with the community around me. Learning cultural differences came from experiencing cultural differences. For example, German culture takes Sunday as truly a day of rest, where most supermarkets and stores are not open. Although I had heard this from various German professors as well as from my own research, it really took me experiencing this difference to understand how it impacts the society and the people living in it. Everybody seemed to be relaxed and happy on Sunday’s, as this was sort of a guaranteed day of rest. I also found it important to ask questions. When I noticed that I had to bring my own reusable bags at the supermarket, I talked to my host about this cultural difference. She said that the plastic bags that I am familiar with at supermarkets are really not used in Germany and it is expected that shoppers bring their own reusable bags. This was a very interesting insight, and I am very grateful I was able to stay with a host who was very happy to answer my questions about German culture and language. In this, I think the expectations that I wrote about in my pre-departure post were very accurate. I wanted to learn not only about the language, but also about cultural differences. 

This experience certainly impacted my world view. It was one of the first times that I was immersed in a culture where English is not the primary language. Other times when I have traveled internationally, I had my family with me and we would speak English together. However, during this program I was challenged to speak German nearly exclusively. I saw that there are so many different cultures and ways to live. Most of all, this experience challenged and inspired me. It was not always easy and I certainly felt homesick and uncomfortable at moments. However, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. As advice to others, I would say that if you want to experience a new culture, language, and part of the world, the SLA grant is a phenomenal way to do so. Even if you feel anxious or nervous to pursue the opportunity, go for it. You never know what you may discover, encounter, and learn. Thank you again for this experience, it is one I will never forget!

A photo of Basel, Switzerland, where I took a short vacation with my Dad before flying home. Basel sits at the corner of France, Germany, and Switzerland and is a beautiful and historic town that sits on the Rhein. Although Switzerland has multiple official languages, German was the primary language spoken in Basel, so I was able to continue to practice my language skills!

Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, oh my! 

The Bodensee, a large lake, connects southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Therefore, several different dialects of German exist within a relatively short distance. Schwäbisch in parts of Baden-Württemberg, „Schwyzerdütsch“ in Switzerland, and Österreichisch from Austria all intersect around the Bodensee, especially with many traveling during the summer months. 

The first obvious difference in communication (specifically between American and German styles of communication) that I noticed was German directness. I experienced this while living in Germany as a child, and I remember that it took a period of time to adjust to direct questions, direct answers, and direct exclamations, opinions, or complaints. However, this time, I quickly adjusted to this element of cultural communication in a matter of days. With each day easier to communicate fluently in German, I experienced more and more ease being politely direct in German and communicating effectively in different situations. 

Market at Rodolfzell

Directness could be potentially confused with impatience or coldness, but within German culture, it is more normalized in regard to practicality and efficiency. People are less likely to be superfluously chatty in everyday situations—say, at the grocery store, in shops, or in train stations. However, much warmth is shared between friends that develops after persistent communication and friendship. Also, in the south of Germany, there is a lot more “warmth“ in regards to how strangers communicate, although a little less than what would be usual and expected in the south of the United States, where my family lives. 

In regards to linguistic differences, various greetings will often distinguish from which country (Germany, Switzerland, and Austria) and from which respective region someone comes. When exploring Zürich or hiking in Switzerland on weekends, I would greet and be greeted with „Grüezi!“ instead of „Guten Tag.“ On such excursions, I noticed etiquette and communication differences between Germany and Switzerland—while in Germany it is more unusual to greet a passerby on the street, sidewalks, or trails, it is more commonplace in Switzerland to welcome one another or even start small conversations. Funnily enough, during one hike in Switzerland (on Mount Rigi), I accidentally (and unfortunately) stepped on a pile of cow dung. Simultaneously, an older Swiss couple hiked past, and we had a spontaneous conversation, making jokes about how I was „really experiencing nature.“ In public in Germany, people tend to keep more to themselves or to their group of friends. Each way of interaction is neither better nor worse, but rather just different. In each place, I tried to blend in as best as possible, so I would follow these unwritten communication patterns and standards. In doing so, I reflected on how I usually interacted with others, and I actually noticed my outgoing nature bloom, as I am comfortable not only conversing in different languages but also with different attitudes and styles of communication—all from which I have experienced lovely interactions and exchanges.

Perspectives on Americans and Tschüss, Köln!

Last Friday (July 8) I completed my last day of class in Germany. These past six weeks have gone by extremely fast and I am so grateful for this once in a lifetime experience. At the end of my trip, my dad came and met up with me and we took a weekend trip to Switzerland. It was an awesome way to end off this trip. 

However, for my last blog post I want to discuss some of the perceptions of Americans that I encountered while in Germany. It has been very cool to be in an environment where I was often the only American. This put me in an interesting position of hearing different opinions and views on the US. 

Throughout my time in Germany, I had many meaningful and insightful conversations with my host. Towards the end of my stay, I explained to her that my dad would be coming to visit me in Germany and we were going to visit Switzerland for the weekend before flying home. She then explained to me about a certain perspective that many Germans have towards Americans. She said that there is a stereotype that Americans try to experience “Europa in einer Woche” (Europe in a week). It is apparently very common for Americans to come to Europe for only a short amount of time, but to try and see as many countries, cities, and sights as possible. I thought this was very funny and also quite true. However, I think the reason is that it is generally quite expensive to travel to many countries in Europe and it is considered a “bucket list” activity for many. So, many Americans want to see as many places as possible in the time they have here! 

Another experience where I discussed the United States was with my classmates and teachers. Often, the topic that came up was American politics. There were differing views on American politics, some positive and some negative. However, what surprised me most was that many were not so keen to express their own political opinions; rather, they were interested in my own opinions on American politics. My classmates said they often saw news stories on their own local news about American politics, but they were curious about what I thought about these stories and topics.

A more humorous example came from discussing the temperature with other students in my class. All of the other students in my class came from countries where celsius was used to measure the temperature. So, we had a lot of fun debates about the usefulness of celsius versus fahrenheit. Many of my classmates thought that it was ridiculous that Americans do not use celsius, or any of the other metric measurements, in day to day life. I have to say, it would have been very convenient if I was already familiar with celsius before arriving in Germany! 

The last example comes from one of the after class activities hosted by Carl Duisberg. We went to the park across the street from the school to play soccer (aka football) together. We had to split into two groups: those who had a lot of experience playing soccer and those who were less experienced. As we were forming the groups, one teacher from Carl Duisberg asked me which team I wanted to join, to which I responded that I definitely belonged in the less experienced group. She said something along the lines of, “Oh right, I forgot that you’re American, you definitely need to go into the less experienced group!” I thought this was very funny. It is certainly the collective opinion in Germany that Americans are less skilled in playing soccer. 

Lastly, I will include a few pictures of the Brühl Castle, which I visited with my school during my last week of classes. This castle is located in Brühl, Germany, which is only about a 30 minute train ride from Köln.

The outside of the Brühl Castle. Unfortunately, they were doing some work on the outside of the castle so the left side is covered in scaffolding. However, it still looked absolutely breathtaking in person.
The Treppenhaus, or stairwell, was certainly the most impressive room in the entire castle. It is so detailed and ornate. Everywhere I looked, including the floor and ceiling, was covered in some sort of painting or beautiful marble.
I took this picture on my last night in K¨oln. I walked over the Rhein to get a view of the cathedral, Hohenzollern Bridge, and the Groß St. Martin church. The city skyline looked beautiful, despite the less than ideal weather.

Split Train and Delicious Food

Last week I finished my fifth week of classes in Germany, and today I began my final week of classes. The time has been moving very quickly and I will be really sad to leave next week. In only a few weeks I have made numerous new friends and progressed greatly in my language skills. 

The weekend before last I decided to visit some relatives in the Netherlands. Although their first language is Dutch, they both speak fluent German, so I was able to practice my German with them during my visit. However, one of the more stressful moments of my time in Germany was taking the train to get to the Netherlands. I had to make a connection, but due to my first train being delayed, I only had 2 minutes to make the connection. Luckily, my first train arrived slightly early so I was able to make it to the second train. Once I made it to the platform, I noticed that two trains were listed on the screen for that track. Each had the same train number and departure time, but different destinations. I thought this was strange, but still boarded the train when it arrived. It listed my destination, Arnhem Centraal, on the outside, so I figured I was on the correct train. 

However, once we started moving, I noticed that on the screen inside of my specific car, it listed the other destination. I started to get nervous that I had accidentally gotten on the wrong train. I checked my app and the train number matched up, so at this point I was very confused. As we kept going, I heard a worker coming through the train asking people, in German, what their destination was. I quickly sat up and told her I was going to Arnhem. She said that the train was going to split, and the back half (where I was sitting) was going to the other location, and the front half was going to Arnhem. At the next stop, I hopped off the train and made my way to a cart further up. 

I was very surprised that the train split, but luckily I made it to my destination on time. I have found using the trains to be stressful at times, but overall it has been a fantastic language learning experience. Having to think on my toes and communicate in German during these stressful situations is one of the best tests of my German language capabilities! 

Ordering food in German has also been an adventure. I have had so much delicious and authentic German foods, including currywurst, bratwurst, schnitzel, potato salad, and fries. This past week, I had the chance to try some authentic German food. I ordered potato pancakes, which are well known and very popular in Köln. They came with cooked apples, butter, and a slice of black bread. The potato pancakes were absolutely delicious, especially when eaten with the apples. I enjoyed the black bread much less. It was very dense and tasted bitter. However, I am very glad I got to try these dishes!

A beautiful church that I stumbled upon while walking around after class one day. This church is not too far from where I live in Köln: Nippes.
One of my favorite German foods: Currywurst! The fries (pommes) are also very delicious here. They are often served with mayo.
This is the inside of the church. The ceilings were very high (not as high as the Kölner Dom, though!). There was also some beautiful stained glass and many crucifixes throughout the church.

Museums and the 9 Euro Ticket

My time here has really flown by. It is hard to believe that I am more than halfway through my time here. I have had so many unforgettable experiences since coming here, which is why it is very difficult to believe that I have been here for just over three weeks. One of my favorite experiences thus far has been going to all of the different museums in Cologne. 

The first museum that I visited here was Museum Ludwig, a modern art museum. This museum was quite large and had lots of very cool art pieces. Like many other modern art museums, there were some pieces that made me ask myself “why is this in an art museum?”. For example, two very large solid gray paintings. There were no letters, no detailing, and no additional colors. There were also other interesting sculpture pieces, such as one showing traditional American images. This museum also hosts a very large collection of Picasso paintings. Overall, I really enjoyed my visit to this museum and found the art and sculptures to be quite unique. 

The second museum that I visited was the Römisch-Germanisches Museum. Unfortunately, the normal location for this museum located directly next to the Dom was closed for renovations. So, I took a quick 15 minute walk to the current museum location. It was actually quite small inside. This museum included different artifacts from the Roman settlement of Cologne. There were amazing sculptures, glass pieces, tiled floors, and many heads sculpted out of stone. Cologne was a trading metropolis, and goods from the entire Roman Empire were offered in Cologne’s markets. The most important factor in this was, of course, the Rhine. The Rhine allowed trade to occur between cities and was ultimately the economic center of trade. 

The third museum I visited was the Chocolate Museum/Factory. The museum itself was interesting, as it provided lots of information on the origins of chocolate. However, the highlight of the experience was seeing the chocolate factory. Each step of the chocolate making process was showcased and at the end I saw the chocolate fountain. The workers dipped wafers into the chocolate fountain and it was delicious! 

Last weekend I visited my favorite museum so far, the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. This is an ancient art museum and features works from as far back as the 1200s. I particularly liked the landscape art from Jacob van Ruisdael. The use of color in his paintings looked so real. The museum was organized nicely between three floors, each having its own respective theme. I personally enjoyed the basement a lot, which had more modern paintings. For example, there were some Monet paintings on display which were really stunning in person. I always enjoy getting to see such beautiful art up close. 

Last Sunday I took a trip to Aachen with one of my friends from my language course. We got to Aachen a bit later in the afternoon, so all of the museums were about to close. Despite this, we still made a stop in an ancient art museum, the Aachen Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum. We had to walk through it pretty quickly but we both agreed we wished we had more time. Not only was art featured, but there were also a lot of cool (and creepy) artifacts, such as a stuffed alligator and shark. We also visited a museum that was specifically about Aachen history. There were models of the historical church in the city as well as a newspaper from the year 1945, photos of Aachen before and after World War 2, and a timeline that spanned all of Aachen’s history as a town. 

To end this post off, I will talk about a current event going on in Cologne. Currently, Germany is offering the 9 Euro ticket. This is a ticket that allows someone to use any regional trains or city transportation for only 9 Euro per month. This is a fantastic deal and it seems as if everyone has purchased this ticket. The idea behind the ticket is that since gas prices are so high worldwide right now, the German government wants to encourage people to use public transportation. However, the feelings on this ticket are mixed. After talking to many of my classmates, teachers, and my host, I have determined that everything great must come with its downfalls. Because of the amount of people who have purchased the ticket, there has been a large increase in the number of people using public transportation. In this, the trains seem to always be running behind and there is always a Verspätung (delay). In addition, the trains are normally packed very tightly. Often, I am unable to get a seat when taking the S-Bahn to downtown Cologne. Although paying only 9 Euro for my transportation is fantastic for my budget, it is not so great for the usual German train punctuality.

This is the beautiful, green center of Aachen, Germany. There were so many beautiful trees and cobblestone roads throughout this historic city.
Another view of Aachen down a narrow street. This street was lined with lots of shops, restaurants, and cafes. We decided to stop for a cinnamon roll as a snack in the middle of the day, and we both agreed it was the best cinnamon roll we have ever had.

Hello from Köln!

*written on June 9, 2022*

My flight landed in Frankfurt, Germany 11 days ago, on May 29. I was super tired after the overnight flight, but had to find my train to Cologne. Surprisingly, this went very smoothly and I made it to my host’s house without too much trouble. I am living in a residential area of Cologne called Nippes, which is absolutely beautiful. There are many cool old buildings, churches, parks, and roads. I am already really loving it here! My course began the day after I arrived, bright and early at 8:30 in the morning. The Carl Duisberg Institute is about a 25 minute walk from my house. Although I could take the bus or train, I have opted to walk to class everyday to get my steps in and enjoy the beautiful town and scenery. We started with a placement test and from there I was placed into the course I am taking.

My language learning has certainly been picking up since getting here. One of my first exposures to German when I arrived was with my host. She speaks to me only in German, which was very challenging at the beginning. She spoke fast and used vocabulary that I did not understand or recognize. However, I have already noticed that I am beginning to pick up more words and phrases. In addition, I have to speak to my host in German which has proven to be quite difficult at times. If I want to tell her a story about my day, I often find myself struggling to find the correct vocabulary word. This leads to describing things in a roundabout way. Another shock once I got here was the speed at which many of the people here talk. Going to restaurants and supermarkets has been an interesting experience, as the employees tend to talk very fast. I often have to ask them to repeat what they said, however I can already tell I am able to understand speech at a faster rate. 

My class has been a major help with this. I have class for around 4 hours a day for 5 days a week. In class, we have discussions about topics such as the internet, sleep, science, and gender roles in society. It is really cool to learn new vocabulary every day. We also focus a lot on grammar, which is for me the most challenging part of language learning. After class we often have optional activities that I have enjoyed going to. These activities have so far included walking to the top of the Cologne Cathedral and playing ping pong and soccer in the park. I am able to use the vocabulary I learn in class to talk with my classmates as well as other students in the institute. There are students from all over the world (in fact, I have yet to meet another American), so German is sort of like our lingua franca. It has been very cool to meet new people and converse with them in German! 

I have certainly noticed some differences in the cultural behaviors and word usage in people I meet. In fact, most of these differences I have noticed from my host mother. We have had a few conversations about specific words. For example, my host explained to me the difference between the words “günstig” and “billig”. She said that most people only use the word “billig” these days, which means “cheap”. However, she appreciates the difference between these words. “Günstig” has a more positive connotation, meaning that something is less expensive, yet still good quality. “Billig” means that something is, put plainly, cheaply made. I thought this was a really interesting insight. When I started to learn German nearly six years ago, I never learned the term “günstig” at all. Even if it might be considered outdated, I am very glad that I now know the difference between these terms. 

Another term that I hear a lot is “genau”. The translation of this term is “exactly” or “precisely”. However, I have noticed that it is used a lot like “right” and “yeah” in English. I had certainly heard this word before I came here, but I was surprised by how much it was used in daily speech. Lastly, a word I heard a lot is the verb “gucken”, which means “to watch” or “to look”. This is not a word that I ever used much before coming to Germany, however, I hear it a lot here. The pronunciation is funny to me. Usually in German a word is pronounced exactly how it is written. However, this verb seems to usually be pronounced like “koo-ken”. It is actually quite a useful verb and I am glad that I now know it. I will certainly use these words, as I think using them will make me sound more like a native speaker. It is interesting to see how Germans actually converse with each other in comparison with what we learn in class. I am looking forward to learning even more in the weeks ahead!

The beautiful Kölner Dom! This is probably the most well known landmark in Köln. This cathedral is massive!
This is the view from the top of the cathedral. I went here with other students from the Carl Duisberg Institute. There were a LOT of stairs to get to the top but it was definitely worth it! There was a fantastic view of the Rhein.
Perhaps one of my favorite things so far is this botanical garden, Flora. It is about a 25 minute walk from my house. I have been here a little over 2 weeks and have already visited twice. There are many different varieties of plants to see and a beautiful pond.

Pre-Departure Blog

I predict that this immersive study abroad experience will be much different from  classroom learning in America. In Cologne, I will be surrounded by German language and culture both inside and outside of the classroom. I will be challenged to use German in many new settings, such as ordering food, at a grocery store, or at a train station. I hope to improve not only my German grammatical, vocabulary, and pronunciation skills, but also my knowledge of German culture. I want to have a fully immersive experience, including going to museums, trying local food, and learning about the architecture of the historical buildings. The institute that I am going to offers weekly activities outside of the classroom, so I plan to take advantage of these opportunities as well. I expect to use my German language skills as much as possible during my experience. I know that my comfort using the language will grow as I attend my classes and begin to grow more familiar with the new culture. I expect to learn a lot about the German language and hopefully all aspects of German culture, including theater, art, architecture, and food. 

I hope to grow in many ways during my summer abroad experience. Firstly, I hope to gain more independence. I have never lived alone in a foreign country before, so I plan to take this opportunity as a chance to gain independence and confidence in a new country. I also hope to grow in my understanding of different cultures. Having lived in the United States for my entire life, I know I will experience culture shock at certain aspects of German culture. However, I plan to use these experiences to learn and grow as a person. Lastly, I hope to grow by meeting lots of new people. I am excited to meet new people with interesting stories to tell and lessons to teach. It will be fascinating to experience diversity of thought and background, which will help me to grow as an individual and gain perspective. Overall, I want to grow not only in my language skills, but also as a person through this summer abroad experience.

This is a photo of the Cologne Cathedral from 1910. Construction was completed on the Cathedral in 1880, and the spires are 157 meters tall. The design style is similar to the High Gothic Cathedrals of northern France. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I am very excited to see the Cologne Cathedral in person and learn more about the history of this beautiful Cathedral.