Proud to be an American

Well folks I’m back, and I learned quite a lot. Not only did I learn a bunch of German, but I learned something about the process of learning language as well. When I first started to learn German last summer, I had to rely on flashcards and hard work, researching various aspects of the German grammar and so on in order to make progress in the language. This summer, however, with a bit of German already under my belt, I was able to learn new words by consulting a German-German dictionary; I was able to observe the grammatical quirks of the language through participating in conversation with my teachers and other native speakers. In other words, I was able to learn the language by using the language, and my progress accelerated much more quickly compared to last summer’s flashcards and research.

Not only did I gain this insight into the process of learning a language, but I also learned a few things about life in another culture. Germany, although it is full of pieces of American culture (our movies, television shows, memes, and so on), has still an underlying culture of its own, based on centuries of history and change. Living in a country like Germany, with its slightly different culture and its respected status in the world, truly made me realize how much I appreciate my own country. So, while I’ve gained a legitimate appreciation for the German culture and way of life, I’ve also gained a newfound appreciation for American culture.

Looking forward, my experience abroad will continue to be useful. Not only will I be able to demonstrate my global experience on resumes and applications, but the lessons I learned will actually be helpful as well. I’ve grown to appreciate another country and culture; I’ve experienced what it’s like to learn another language, and I know the process that is required now. This experience has really been transformative, and the language that I acquired during my time abroad will be extraordinarily helpful in the future, as I plan to work in Germany someday. I’m truly grateful that I underwent this experience, and I look forward to more German in the years and months to come.

Best wishes from the USA!


Germany: Politics and Culture

My time in Munich is coming to a close, but I want to talk a bit more about the culture in Germany and some observations I made about the political scene there. It’s really striking how very different the German culture is, even while it’s becoming more and more similar to the American culture. For example, I saw

A lovely little garden in a quiet spot in Munich

American flags on t-shirts and handbags everywhere. Nearly everyone I met, when they heard I came from America, peppered me eagerly with questions about the American lifestyle. They were keen to discuss American films and sitcoms with me, and everyone was curious what I thought of President Trump and American politics.

Before my journey abroad began, I knew that American culture was popular worldwide, but experiencing this firsthand was truly eye-opening. I was very impressed by the awareness of everyone I met in regards to international news

A royal palace just outside the heart of the city

and culture; I was struck in almost every way by the remarkable difference between the German mindset and the American concerning the international scene, so to speak. Germans are very attuned to the political workings of other countries. It was always fun to ride the tram and watch the brief news clips cycle through on the televisions in the tram. And every day, then news dealt with different areas of the world. Of course Germany featured heavily, but there was always at least one segment about a country outside the EU. In their politics, too, the Germans I met tended to be reluctantly patriotic. Perhaps they wish to avoid seeming nationalistic, or maybe their reluctance is based on some other reason; I really don’t know. But unlike America, you won’t see many national flags flying in the streets or in front of people’s homes.


Germany, like America, is facing a political divide regarding the treatment of migrants and refugees. This has been a huge topic during my time in Munich,

A charming little house in a suburb of Munich

with the result that the German chancellor had to compromise on a new immigration law in order to preserve her chancellorship. It’s very intriguing to me to see the similarities and yet the differences in the way Germany functions compared to my home country. The culture is heavily American, yet also firmly grounded in the German way of life; the global perspective that is common to the German citizen is something I find truly impressive and admirable; and the politics of Germany, though not so sharp and divisive as those in America, deal with some of the same issues.




A Helpful German (me)

Tonight I had an interesting encounter, which I shall here recount, as I find it to be interesting in itself and furthermore indicative of the progress I’ve made in the German language over my few weeks here in Munich.

I was returning from an evening of footballing with some friends (football here means soccer–I call it football only in an effort to fully immerse myself in the German culture) and, as I normally do, I walked to the tram station to await the

A stellar view of Olympia Park, where the Munich Olympics were held back in the day.

next tram back to my house. As I approached, I noticed, as is not uncommon at public transportation stops, a few people sitting on the benches and waiting for the next bus. Three of these people clearly made up one group, and they chatted busily amongst themselves. Struck with a brilliant idea, I seated myself next to this group, intending to eavesdrop and hone my listening skills, which are a weak spot for me. From what I could gather, they had gone to a casino, and were recounting how much money each had won or lost. (From this retelling I concluded that there were formerly additional members of the party, but these others however had already gone home for the night.) Additionally, they seemed to be arguing about the appropriate amount to tip someone for something (I was a little fuzzy on this part of the conversation).


Suddenly the woman in the group turned to me–I was mid-sip with my bottle of water, and trying to look like I wasn’t eavesdropping–and said something about getting something to drink. I smiled and said something about yes, I was drinking water. She continued talking to me. For some reason, I struggle when locals talk to me. I can understand them reasonably well when they talk with each other, but as soon as they turn to me, I freeze and find myself unable to process the

Me trying on hats at a festival at Olympia Park

words that are being spoken. I did however catch a few words that led me to believe she was asking for directions. I stood up and walked her over to the transit map at the tram stop.Then, using fancy German words like “umsteigen”, “Bus”, and “Tram”, I talked her through a fairly complicated route to her desired location. The best part of this encounter was not that she understood the instructions I gave, nor that I’m now familiar enough with the city to give directions involving changing buses and subways and trams. The best part of this encounter was that, after about a full minute of conversation, she stopped me and said, “You’re not German, are you?” I informed her that I was not. “Yeah,” she said, “I could tell by your accent.”


By my accent–not by my limited vocabulary or my subpar grammar, not by my relative lack of experience with the language, but by my accent.

A burger, eaten on the 4th of July to celebrate America’s existence

I’ve really been working hard at improving my vocabulary and grammar, at being able to speak more easily and more confidently, and in this one small interaction, it paid off. It’s very rewarding to study for hours every day in class and then finally start to see some results in real-world encounters. A few weeks ago, it would have been immediately obvious that I had no idea what I was doing with the German language. But now, I’ve put in some work and some time, and I’ve taken significant strides toward fluency.


For me, this interaction was really encouraging. Perhaps she was just being nice, and perhaps my grammar and vocabulary still mark me as a non-native speaker from the instant I open my mouth, but I really think that’s no longer the case. I still have a long way to go, but I’ve come a long way as well, and it’s great to see that time I’ve spent result in a positive experience like this one.

Art and Culture in Munich

This is my second blog post from Munich and today I want to talk about the art and culture in this historic city. Munich has a very nice art museum called the Neue Pinakothek, which I visited this past week, and there are truly some stellar works of art in this place. Lots of paintings by the greats of the past few centuries, like Van Gogh and Monet. And there’s a lot of great paintings of the local landscape done by relatively famous artists from Germany.

Some lovely art at the Neue Pinakothek
A very nice relief of Cupid riding a panther
A view of some water lilies

Besides the great art, I also got to experience some local culture when I visited the English Garden with some friends. The English Garden is the largest city park in the world, and thousands of people spend time there every day to relax and unwind. Generally these people go about scantily clad (with the apparent motive of sunbathing) or wearing nothing at all. I confess that to me this seemed rather uncouth, and so I refrained from photographing the immodest locals, as I didn’t think it appropriate for this blog.

I did however manage to photograph a more snazzily clad parkgoer, whose dress I deemed appropriate for the blog.


Surfers riding the unbelievably strong current at the English Garden







Another encounter with German culture occurred when I visited the Italian restaurant Eataly with some friends. The food was excellent, and the waiters all spoke Italian, much to the delight of my Italian friend, who stopped every waiter walking by to ask them in Italian for one thing or another.


A massive kebap from the shop in Dachau recommended below (photo includes Henry for size)
Me with my pizza at Eataly









I really do consider restaurants like Eataly or the kebap shop in nearby Dachau (which I heartily recommend if you ever find yourself in Munich) to be authentic pieces of German culture, just like I consider Chinese fast food places in America to be authentic pieces of American culture. These are places that locals really do frequent, and I consider them more authentic than places like the open air market, where they sell pretzels and beer, and which is packed full of tourists.

That’s all for today, but I hope you enjoyed this glimpse at the life of an SLA grant recipient in Munich.

Greetings from Munich!

Hallo! Herzlich Willkommen!

It’s been nearly two weeks now since I’ve arrived in Munich, and I think I’ve finally settled in. At first, the city seemed large and confusing, but by this point it nearly feels like home.  Munich is home to 1.5 million people, which is certainly more than South Bend, but is still relatively small compared to other major cities in the US and around the world. And yet Munich is indeed a major city in Germany; it’s the capital of Bavaria and, one might argue, the heart of traditional German culture.

German culture as Americans often think of it, with its beer and pretzels and lederhosen, is actually primarily focused in Bavaria, which today is a state in the federal republic of Germany. Munich, as the capital of Bavaria, is home to some pretty authentic German experiences: bars and breweries abound, as do lederhosen-adorned accordion players and massive medieval churches.

Part of the reason Munich feels like such a small city is due to its most famous church. Frauenkirche (“The Cathedral of our Dear Lady”) has twin domes, which stand 99 meters tall. After Frauenkirche was built, an ordinance was passed prohibiting future buildings of a height greater than 99 meters. As a result, Munich has no skyscrapers and no typical big-city skyline. It’s more like a sprawling village, with countless small buildings and public spaces. This construction makes Munich feel far more cozy than intimidating, despite its relatively large population; and after less than two weeks here, I already feel at home.

The school where I’m studying German is just a 10-minute tram ride away from my apartment, where I live with my host “family” (which consists only of one middle-aged woman). After school, I typically head out with my friends to explore the city. We walk 2 or 3 minutes to another tram station and set off for the English Garden or Hauptbahnhof or the Deutsches Museum. Everything is very cozy, very simple and comfortable (very, as the Germans might say, “gemütlich”). The city is truly organized to make you feel right at home.

With some photos of a few favorite spots in Munich so far, I now conclude my first blog post. I’ve found Munich to be incredibly intriguing and welcoming, and I look forward to sharing some stories and experiences that really highlight the great aspects of Munich and of Germany in my future posts.

The entrance to the Deutsches Museum, a famous science museum in Munich.
An authentic German phenomenon–the ethnic Turkish restaurant! Home to delicious kebaps (and more!)
The district court in Munich, across from a lovely park I visited.