It is day 250 of 263 days I will have spent abroad.
That is 250 days of living in a foreign country where the main language is not English, living with completely new faces, none of whom I had known prior to the semesters, and 250 days of growing.
Throughout the year, I have learned much in the classroom, such as learning about international relations from a former German Foreign Service Officer and learning about the Soviet Union from a Russian historian. That being said – at the risk of sounding too cliché – I did most of my learning outside of the classroom, and to make things easier for you, I will list some examples below.
1. How to learn German
Yes, the 12 hours a week of German class did have an impact on my learning, but I believe the most of what I learned came from the conversations I had with my host-mom, Sonja. Every morning Sonja and I would have a conversation in German over breakfast and every evening we would talk once more. Practicing what I learned was very helpful.
2. How to cook
Half of this goes out to my German host mom once again. She would often let me help cook and learn how to make some German dishes if I wasn’t busy doing various other things. I was able to learn how to cook potatoes the German way.
The second part of this goes out to living in a dorm in with nobody else to cook for you, like I experienced in St. Petersburg. You can either get groceries or make dinner yourself or you can go down the street to McDonalds. It is difficult to cook dinner for nearly 4 months on nothing but 2 hot plates, but you learn to manage! And after 3 months, it doesn’t taste as bad as it did during the first week.
3. How to make new friends
This is a double-edged sword. First, when you study abroad, you are forced to make new friends. It is highly unlikely that you will find someone you already know in the same city as you, let alone the same program. This forces you into making new friends, and if you are like me and studied abroad back-to-back semesters, you have to go through this process twice.
The second part of this is that it does not matter how much you like your new friends, you will get excited when you hear American accents abroad.
4. How to use public transportation
Unless you are from a big city, it’s possible you’ve never used public transport in America. I had never even ridden on a bus prior to my year abroad. I am a little ashamed to say it, but it did take me a few days to understand the bus routes, U and S-bahns and the trams. By the end of the first semester, I could navigate the city without even looking at a map.
5. How to travel with ease
It may seem stressful when you are flying to Europe, but once you are here and travel often, you tend to get used to it. Between AIFS sponsored trips and my own travels between semesters, I was able to travel throughout most of Germany, Norway, England, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Finland, Estonia, Belarus and Russia with ease and a low budget.
A helpful tip is buses for your wallet, trains for your comfort and planes for your schedule.
6. How to fit in with the culture
Whether it is rolling up your jeans a few centimeters and growing a bit of facial hair in Berlin or wearing neutral colors and shaving your facial hair in St. Petersburg, you learn the basic cultural demeanor of those who surround you. You will start to dress and talk like those who surround you. Case in point was when I first met my Russian program and they thought I was German.
7. How to take it all in
I regret not doing this all the time, but the times that I did were spectacular. To mention some:
- Watching the sunrise while standing on a castle in Nuremburg
- Driving through fjords in Norway with some great people (even if it was 16 hours in the car)
- Walking in Red Square
- Being able to say that seeing giant palaces is getting a bit repetitive
- Spending the last 24 hours with some of the greatest people I have yet to meet sitting on a rooftop bar overlooking Berlin, and then running into a frozen lake with them the next morning.
This year has been fantastic, and I would like to thank everyone who has been a part of it. In-particular, I would like to thank Nele Thompson, Kathryn Alcock, Jonathon Melvin and Dr. Cara Welch for all the hard work and support they have given me, both prior to my departure and throughout the year. Thank you.