Finishing The Semester

So much has happened in the six and a half months I have spent abroad. By the start of second semester in April, I will have visited eleven countries! I will detail the countries in later posts, but right now I’d like to talk about my experiences at Uni Konstanz.

The class system is much different than the schedule at UMass. Here, my politics courses only meet once a week. I am not used to this, since most of my classes at UMass met twice, if not three times a week. This affects the workload of the classes; each week I have on average eighty pages of reading per politics class! Because there is only one meeting a week, it is more difficult to discuss all aspects of the readings before moving on to the topic for the next week. I think that because of this I value class time more and come to class more prepared with concepts and questions in mind. There’s a greater need for individual studying and understanding, which I find to be very beneficial.

My german language classes function much in the same way as the german classes in the United States. Adjusting has not been very difficult in this regard. I think that my favorite course this past semester has been a German Grammar course, something I did not expect. Most people learning German dread grammar, and rightfully so. However, something about the complexities really interests me! I find it fun trying to figure out the rules and apply them. Next semester, I plan on taking another grammar class that is a continuation of this one, so check back in in July to see if I still like German grammar.

Because I tend to focus on social and political theory, I do not generally take many courses pertaining to international politics. This semester, I took a class on the history of the European Union to set myself up to take courses about Europe next semester. While the history of the organization was interesting, I was fascinated by the concept of a European identity, which we talked about quite often. I personally do not feel connected to the concept of a North American identity, especially not over my American identity. So, the idea of allegiance or identification to a group of countries, rather than just one, was unfamiliar to me. In a class filled with Europeans, we discussed what it means to be European and whether people identify with more than just their country. It was interesting to analyze and contextualize how people perceived themselves as a non-European. I think I will apply what I learned about how people perceive Europe and being European to my other courses I hope to take that address problems and issues pertinent to European politics.

My first six months in Germany have been more that I could have ever foreseen. Culturally, I think I prepared myself for living in Konstanz a good amount. It was very helpful to have previously experienced German culture in high school. If I had not already lived in Germany, I think my culture shock would have been less tolerable and harder to overcome. I enjoy the Konstanz community and feel comfortable existing amongst Germans and other Europeans. I am excited to see what the second semester brings and how my sense of Konstanz will change!

Konstanz from the footbridge

Not Perfect

The journey to Germany from Los Angeles was, to understate, not perfect. My itinerary was as follows: a nine hour flight from LAX to Dublin, seventeen hour layover in Dublin, two hour flight from Dublin to Zurich, and an hour train ride from Zurich to Konstanz. Prior to departure, I was quite anxious; flying, especially across oceans, has always made me nervous. Despite my fears, the flight to Dublin was relatively easy. No one was in the seat next to me and I managed to sleep for about an hour. Once I got to the Dublin airport, my next task was finding the shuttle that would take me to my hotel for the night. With little knowledge about where the shuttle was, I walked in circles around the airport for about thirty minutes, always returning to the Arrivals section of the airport to capitalize on the free airport wifi in the hopes of gaining even a little clarity on where I should have been going. After finally working up the confidence to ask someone where the shuttle was, I trekked to the shuttle parking lot on one hour of halfhearted sleep.

The hotel was nice enough, and despite my plans to head into Dublin and see what I could in the short time I was there, I slept through the afternoon and into the night. The next morning, I woke up to catch the shuttle back to the airport to make my flight at 7 am. Getting to the airport was much easier than leaving it. My nerves finally began to settle as I sat at my gate, knowing that the next leg of the trip was going to be even more stressful and I would need all the energy I could to endure it. The journey from Dublin to Konstanz involved a language other than English and a very tight schedule and both of these aspects stressed me out. After boarding the plane and becoming settled, the pilots announced that a computer of the plane needed to be replaced, which would set us back about thirty minutes. My flight to Zurich was supposed to arrive at 10:30 am and my train to Konstanz left at 11:40, so I knew that this would undermine but hopefully not ruin my schedule. Once the computer was fixed, the pilot announced that we would be another thirty minutes late because of airfield regulations. Doing the math in my head, I realized that catching my 11:40 train was becoming less feasible. I desperately tried to reconnect to the Dublin Airport Wifi long enough to tell my buddy, who was picking me up at the Konstanz train station, that I would be taking another, later train and consequently would be late to pick up my apartment key, but could not get my messages to send. Despite all of the setbacks, I knew there was nothing I could do for my two hours in the air and tried to calm down. We arrived in Zurich at 11:30 and I hurried through the airport only to meet a very, very long line at customs. Although I am usually a patient person, the fifty minutes spent in line at customs was enough to drive me crazy. Moreover, I tried for the full fifty minutes to connect to the airport wifi to get in contact with my buddy to no avail. After finally getting through customs, I had fifteen minutes to collect my baggage, buy a train ticket, and then catch the train. Luckily, these processes ran much more smoothly than the other parts of my adventure. Safely on the train, I worried that my buddy was concerned about my arrival and that I wouldn’t make my appointment to pick up my keys. With no data or service, I could only stare out the window at the Swiss countryside and hope that telepathically my friend knew I was on my way. As the exhaustion and stress washed over me, I thought back to my last meal in the United States: overpriced airport Chinese food. the fortune that I got in my cookie was this:

“You don’t have to be perfect to live your dreams”

While I initially overlooked the small piece of paper, I came to realize during my very long travel weekend that that statement could not be more true. Most of the aspects of my trip to Germany were complicated, stressful, or askew, but they were leading me to my dream. My long layover, delayed flight, and bad wifi were not perfect, but they were necessary to get me where I wanted to go. I was not perfect, but I was living my dream!

Since then, I have arrived in Konstanz, moved into my apartment, and started my orientation at the university. Although nerve-racking, I know that the things I have done and the things I will do here in Konstanz will be some of the best parts of my young life. I cannot wait to start classes and delve into my imperfect life in Konstanz!

Almost There!

T-minus 12 days until I leave for Zurich and start on my way to Konstanz! I will be living and learning at the university from September to August and cannot wait to see what’s in store for me. While incredibly nervous, I know that the experiences I have abroad will be so beneficial and impactful to my worldview!

I chose to study in Konstanz because of the amazing learning opportunities presented there. While there, I will be working on requirements for my Political Science and German degrees. My decision was also heavily influenced by the beautiful scenery surrounding the town, as described to me by several of my German friends and teachers.  The decision to study in Konstanz was not easy and I consulted pretty much all of my close friends and family about it. I read all of the blogs from previous students abroad and researched Konstanz for hours on end! In the end, I think my choice was a great one.

Leaving my friends and family for eleven months will not be a simple task. One of the hardest realizations of studying in Germany for a year was I would be missing a year at UMass with all of my best friends there. Eleven months of no Antonio’s pizza will be a difficult and trying period of time for me, but I will try to persevere. Living in Germany will also be the longest I have been away from my parents in California. Even though I already attend college so far away from them in Massachusetts, going to another country is an entirely new and unique experience. Frequent Skype calls and social media posts will definitely calm some of the nervousness I experience. Besides my human family and friends, I will miss my beloved dog, Rudie, for the time I am gone. If there are any dogs smart enough to understand studying abroad, I am sure Rudie knows where I will be.

My pride and joy, Princess Rudie (Follow @princessrudie on Instagram)

Despite all of the people and things I am leaving behind, I am still so incredibly excited for the experiences I will have in Germany. A full year abroad is a privilege I will not soon forget. Check back here periodically for updates on the things I am doing, the places I am seeing, and the subjects I am studying!