Monday, May 13, 2013

Heidelberg and Some Other Stories

Hello again! It’s been a while since my last post, but there’s not a lot to update on since then.  I’ve been mostly just going to class and running normal every-day errands.  There are a few cool things I can talk about, however.

 A little over a week ago, I took a day trip to Heidelberg and it was a really amazing.  Heidelberg is gorgeous and since spring has finally made it to Europe, everything was really green.  When my friend and I first arrived, it was raining, but as the day went on, it turned sunny and warmer.  Heidelberg’s main attraction is the ruins of a Renaissance castle overlooking the city on a hill.  What my friend and I didn’t realize, however, was that Heidelberg was a great shopping destination too It took us a while to actually make it to the castle because we were so distracted by the stores!  We were most excited to see a TJ Maxx there.  In Europe, however, it’s known as TK Maxx (according to Wikipedia there’s a British store with a TJ in the front so they renamed it TK to avoid confusion).  We eventually did manage to pull ourselves away from the shopping and go see the castle.  Here are some of the pictures of it:

In the past few weeks, I’ve also managed to find a small church congregation here in Marburg.  An American friend that I made here introduced me to them and everyone immediately welcomed me…even with my not so great German speaking skills! The congregation is a combination of Germans and Russians so the service is done in both languages, making it a bit difficult for me to follow but is definitely helping me improve my listening skills.

And lastly, a week or two ago, I finally passed the halfway point in my time abroad!  It’s hard to believe I’ve been gone for three and a half months now.  I miss my family and friends, but I haven’t been extremely homesick.  One thing I’m definitely missing, though, is having my Mom cook for me or a cafeteria to go to.  There is a cafeteria here in Marburg, but it serves mostly the same thing every day and is a twenty minute walk from my dorm.  My cooking skills have gotten so much better in these past few months. I’ve gone from ramen and microwavable meals to my own brownies and pancakes from scratch!  It’s going to be nice when I come back and don’t have to worry about cooking! Anyways, thank you for reading my blog! I hope to have more stories to write about soon =)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

First Week of Class!!

Hello all! This past week was pretty exciting because it was my first week of actual college classes.  Philipps Universität’s entire educational system here is entirely different from those in the U.S. so I learned a ton about the way classes work here. I also had to go to the doctors for the first time while I’ve been abroad, making it a crazy and stressful week for me!  I’m feeling better now so don’t worry, but it definitely was an interesting experience.

There are so many differences between Etown and Philipps University that it’s hard to know where to start!  Well firstly, students here can take as many credits as they are able to handle.  This is good for the motivated, but a procrastination trap for those who aren’t.  Tests, finals, and papers can sometimes be scheduled for whenever a student wants so they can finish them weeks after a class is over.  Most classes usually only meet for two hours once every week. There are also four-hour seminars that occur every other week and even longer classes that happen only a couple times a semester.  Even though classes only meet once a week, most will also start and end 15 minutes late too!  This means that students have a ton more free time during the week, but it can also means more homework too.  Professors here are also much vaguer when it comes to homework.  They’d probably consider some of the professors back in the states to be spoon feeding their students.

My first class was entirely auf Deutsch.  It’s a course on the history and culture of the Sinti and Roma that I thought would be do-able for me in German.  All of my courses here transfer as either pass or fail so it takes a lot of the pressure off of me!  The entire class actually went really well even though I was terrified.  When the professors (there are two for this class) finished their lecture though, I was totally shocked when all of the students began to knock on the tables.  Apparently it’s like clapping for someone and it happened at the end of all my courses.  I’m going to have to get used to that one.  Another surprise happened to me in my course about the anthropology of anarchy: a student brought her newborn child into class with her!!  The professor didn’t even seem to notice! I’m entirely speechless on that one.

Of course during my first week of classes, my throat began to hurt and just got worse over time.  It hurt so much that by Friday, I decided I should see a doctor.  I didn’t have a clue what to do so I had to call my Resident Director here to find out.  Some doctors, like in the States, do appointments only, but many here in Marburg have “open speaking times” every day. They’re basically like walk-in hours that anyone can come to.  So I just found a random doctor in town that had these walk-in hours and literally just walked in.  It was really simple to see the doctor too.  I just had to give my name, address, and telephone and show them my insurance and then I could wait to see someone.  The hardest part was that my doctor did not speak English.  It was frustrating for me not to understand everything and to not be able to tell her more about my medical history.  I did get some medicine though and am already starting to feel better so it all worked out in the end!

There’s just one little thing I want to comment on before I end my post.  As I have gone throughout Europe, there is one thing that I have noticed that every European can do well: tie and wear scarves well!  Seriously, both the guys and girls here look like they were just born wearing them!  Meanwhile, I can only wear a scarf two different ways and look extremely awkward in them. Anyways, hopefully by the end of this trip I’ll be able to pull them off!  Danke for reading my blog! Until next time =)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Welcome to Marburg!

Well guys, I’ve officially made it to Marburg, Germany! For those of you who don’t know, I spent those 8 weeks in Vienna working on my German so I could study in Marburg.  The university here is called Philipps Universität and is home to around 20,000 students.  During my time here, I’ll be taking German classes, history classes, and hopefully anthropology classes. Most of the classes here are in German so I’ll be attempting one or two classes auf Deutsch, which is pretty scary!  I’ve been here for a week and a half already so I’ve got a lot to update you all on.

 A little bit about the city of Marburg: Marburg is a small university city located in the German state Hessen and has a population of around 80,000 people.  It has been around since the Middle Ages and has two great pieces of gothic architecture: the Marburger Schloss and the Elizabethkirche.  The castle is literally located on the top of a giant hill so it’s hard to miss.  Also, when you walk into the city center, you literally feel like you’re walking into the Middle Ages!  All of the buildings have been beautifully restored and the paths are still cobblestone.  There are also tons of modern stores and buildings around the center too so everything you need is right there.  I really love the town already!

 I live in a newly renovated dorm here called the Dr. Carl Duisburg Haus.  It’s located in the Oberstadt, which is close to the Schloss and near the top of the giant hill.  This means I have a beautiful view of the entire city from my window, but that I have to climb about 340 steps to get there (yes I tried counting but kept losing track)!  My dorm’s pretty similar to the dorms in the States, but what’s really different for me, however, is the wash room.  In Germany, most people don’t use dryers at all and let their clothes air dry.  It’s definitely a great thing to do to help the environment, but it’s going to take some getting use to for me! 

Since coming to Marburg, I’ve mostly been doing a lot of shopping in order to settle in to my dorm.  Since the other BCA students and I can take any public transportation in the state of Hessen for free with our student ID’s, we decided to go to the IKEA in Frankfurt as a day trip to get stuff for our rooms.  It was a great idea and we did end up getting some good things at IKEA, but we had the worst luck with transportation.  There was a big soccer game in Frankfurt that day so the train ride there was crowded and then the main subway lines that we needed were closed for construction.  We had to take an S-Bahn (quick train), a bus, a subway line, and then another bus just to get there.  When heading back, we just barely made it onto one of the trains leaving for Marburg.  Turns out though, that there are two different types of trains leaving from Frankfurt in the direction of Marburg: one that goes directly to Marburg and one that stops at another city before Marburg and then towards a town called Dillenburg.  Turns out we were on the one to Dillenburg.  It wasn’t until we were almost at Dillenburg, though, until we realized this mistake!  We eventually did make it back to Marburg but had some interesting train rides with the very intoxicated fans from the soccer game.

Tomorrow I am off to Berlin for a small two-day visit with the BCA program!  I’m super excited to see all the history there and can’t wait to explore a bit.  Classes then start up on Monday for me.  I hopefully will post again after my first week of classes to let you all know about that!  Until next time =)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Summary of my Life

Hello again!

It’s been too long since I last posted and so much has happened since then! I’ll try to give a short and sweet update for you all on some of the stuff I’ve been doing:

Museums: These past few weeks I’ve been visiting tons of different museums for my history class.  I’ve been to the Schatzkammer (or the imperial treasury of the Habsburgs), where I learned that the Habsburgs really were filthy stinking rich; I’ve been to the art museum called the Albertina, where I got to see some of Monet’s and Picasso’s works;  I went to Schloss Schoenbrunn, which was one of the many palaces that those awfully rich Habsburgs owned; I went to the crypts of the Michaelerkirche, where I got to see some pretty awesome mummies; and I went to the Belvedere palace, which had a ton of amazing art and was surprisingly owned by Prince Eugene of Savoy and not the Habsburgs!  Even though I’ve seen so many museums already, I feel like there are many more here that I won’t have enough time to see!  I hope to visit a few more before I leave!

My first Opera:  As some of you may have seen on Facebook, I went to my first opera two weeks ago at the Wien Staatsoper.  I saw the opera “Don Giovanni,” which was written by Mozart and premiered in Vienna over 200 years ago in 1788!  The singing was amazing and I really enjoyed the entire experience.  The only thing I wish I had was a better seat.  Operas really are the only show places I know of that purposely block your view so you want to pay more for the tickets!  From where I was, I could only see a little less than half of the stage! Even though I couldn’t see what was happening in the opera, however, I could easily follow the plot and I really loved listening to the music.  The opera is in Spanish, but every seat had a translator so I could understand everything being sung.

Bratislava:  Last week I traveled to Bratislava with my history professor to learn about the city.  Bratislava is only an hour away from Vienna by bus and there are a lot of economic ties between the two cities.  We only went for the afternoon, but I thought Bratislava was very beautiful.  During the Cold War, the city fell into disrepair, and many of the buildings were falling apart.  There was even a major road build right through the city center only a few feet from the city’s major church.  Since the Iron Curtain fell, however, the city has begun to repair itself and has become very beautiful.  It was also snowing when we traveled there so it became even prettier…that is until the wind picked up and it became blizzard-like!  Our bus ended up being 45 minutes late and took almost 20 minutes longer to get back to Vienna because one of the major highways was closed!  I guess some of the Austrian drivers were driving a bit too fast in the storm and caused several accidents (I even saw crazy drivers on back roads too!). I guess when you own a BMW or Mercedes, you feel like you can drive fast through anything! My bus eventually made it back to Vienna safe and sound though.

Prague:  I spent this past weekend exploring and experiencing Prague.  Unlike Bratislava and Budapest, Prague managed to keep many of its buildings in good shape.  As a result, it has become a major tourist destination in Europe (I believe its number 6 on the most visited European cities list).  Everything in the old city was beautifully preserved and it felt like you were walking through an old medieval town.  They even sold mulled wine and mead at many street vendors, keeping that atmosphere alive.  The weather was very cold for us but we had bright blue skies making everything better!  I ended up seeing the Prague Castle, St. Vitus’s Cathedral, the Strahov Monastery, the Lennon Wall, the Astronomical clock, the Charles Bridge…there was just so much to see!  The only downside to Prague is that there are tons of tourists everywhere.  It got so crowded by the afternoon that I had to push my way through crowds on the Charles Bridge and in the city square.  Overall though, I really enjoyed seeing the city!

That’s a little summary of what I’ve been up to these past few weeks.  I only have one week left in Vienna before I move to Marburg to start my actual semester.  I hope to see as much as possible in these last few days! Vienna is such a wonderful city, and I’m really hoping I’ll get to travel back some day in the future!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


So I haven’t been very good with updating my blog on a regular basis so I decided today would be a perfect day to write an entry, especially since I had such a momentous weekend.  I actually took my first trip outside of Austria and went to the lovely city of Budapest, Hungary! It was an amazing trip and wish I could have spent more than just a weekend there, but I made sure every second counted.

I took a train directly from Vienna to Budapest with another person in my program named David.  We took a later train so we could make it to German class in the morning on Friday so we didn’t arrive in Budapest until around 9pm.  The first thing I noticed is that Hungarian is so much different than German.  I could barely pronounce any of the street names!  And while it was snowing in Vienna, it was raining in Budapest and slush covered all of the sidewalks.  It was not the most pleasant journey but we eventually did manage to make it to our hostel. This was actually my first time spending the night in a hostel.  It was the cheapest one we could find so I didn’t expect much from it, but it ended up not being too bad!  For those of you who have never spent the night in a hostel, there are two things that hostels are not known for: privacy and cleanliness.  I was in a room that could fit 12 people and got to listen to my roommates snore and talk loudly throughout the night!  Luckily for us though, our hostel was pretty empty because not many people travel in winter. 

On Saturday David and I had planned to explore as much of the city as possible.  Our day started out horribly.  It was raining again, we couldn’t find any working subway ticket machines, I forgot my umbrella and cut my hand on a new one I bought...everything was just miserable.  We did manage to find our way to a museum called the House of Terror though.  This museum is devoted to showing the terrors that Hungary went through while it was occupied by the Germans and Soviets.  Most of it was in Hungarian, but I could understand some of the exhibits.  It was more interesting to watch the other people in the museum.  Many of them had been alive during this time so they were very touched by this museum.  I definitely noticed the effects of living on the other side of the iron curtain throughout the city as well.  Many of the buildings (especially on the Pest side of Budapest) were falling apart and there were not many modern ones as well.  The subway was also very beaten up and in need of an update. There are still many beautiful things in the city too though. 

After the museum, we walked around the city park and made our way to the Parliament Building.  Things were starting to look up too! A man in the subway noticed us struggling to get a ticket from an automatic machine so he gave us two short trip passes so we could go to an actual ticket stand a couple stops down.  We could now use the subway which made everything much easier.  When we got to the Parliament Building, we ended up waiting for over an hour in the cold and rain for a ticket but it was totally worth it.  This is one of the most beautiful and famous Parliament Buildings in Europe.  There were beautiful paintings, gold, and statues everywhere. I also got to see the Crown of Hungary which was amazing.  Here’s just a small sample of how beautiful it is:

After the Parliament building, David and I got dinner and decided to walk around the city in the evening.  Budapest is 10x’s more beautiful at night when all of the buildings are lit up. We went all over, seeing things like Fisherman’s Bastion and the St. Stephen’s Basilica and even walked across one of the bridges over the Danube.  We sadly had to leave early the next day, but I’m really happy I got to see most of the city.  Budapest really is amazing!

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Second Week Gone By

Guten Tag!

I've been in Vienna for two weeks already and I can't believe how fast time has flown! In six weeks I'll be traveling to Marburg for my actual semester to begin.  I'm hoping to do a little bit of traveling before I leave while I'm so close to so many places.  At the top of my list of places to visit are Prague and Budapest.  I'm also close to Salzburg and Venice so I'll hopefully be able to visit them too sometime. 

Along with my German course here, I'm also taking a class on the history of Vienna.  Our teacher is historian so she took us around the center of the city and showed us some of the best places to eat or to visit.  Apparently the first chocolate cake in the world was served at a hotel in Vienna! You can still order the original cake from the hotel so I will definitely be making a stop there sometime soon.  I also didn't know that Vienna also has a world-renowned riding school known as the Spanish Riding School.  Apparently they put on a lot of amazing shows so I'm hoping I'll see that too.

For my history class I am also required to visit 8 different museums in the city.  There are dozens of museums throughout the city so this requirement is really easy (and fun!) to fill.  This week I went to the Art History Museum and the Natural History Museum.  These are two of the biggest and most famous museums in the city.  The Art History Museum is filled with paintings from the Renaissance, has a display of coins from throughout time, and also has a large collection of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian antiquities.  It was amazing because I got to see paintings by Rembrandt, Pieter Bruegel, and even one by Raphael.  I loved the Greek, Roman, and Egyptians collections too.  I also thought the Natural History Museum was amazing too.  This museum had a collection of rocks, minerals, and precious stones that literally filled up around 5 rooms!  They also had a special exhibit on early hominids and humans so I was in heaven! My favorite part was their program that turns people into early hominids.  Here's what I would look like as an Australopithecus africanus:

Anyways, I've been doing a lot of shopping this week too.  This past weekend I went to a mall just outside of the city called G3.  It was a pretty big mall with a lot of shops (most of which I didn't recognize) and places to eat.  The malls main store was called Primark.  It sells pretty cheap clothing that's fashionable so it's extremely popular.  I didn't realize how popular it was until I got into the store. It was literally like Black Friday inside without the sales!! It was crowded with tons of people who were shoving and pushing to get what they wanted.  The line for the fitting rooms looked like it would take a half hour to get through.  This was the only crazy store though...the rest were pretty much like the stores in America.

My other favorite experience of the week was going to McDonalds for lunch.  McDonalds in Europe is 100x's better than the McDonalds in the states!  First of all, in Austria, most of the food is entirely organic.  You can definitely taste the difference too.  The stores are all updated and clean too.  One of the stores I saw even had three floors of tables you could sit and eat at.  All of the McDonalds also have a McCafe inside too.  This isn't just an option of buying a latte or other coffee house drink though...they literally have an entire bakery and coffee area you can go too!  I definitely want to see those in American McDonalds someday.  There are some small drawbacks to the McDonalds though.  The first is that you have to pay extra if you want ketchup. I LOVE ketchup so this was extremely sad for me.  The other drawback is that you can't get free refills for soft drinks.  If you want more, you have to pay for another cup. 

This weekend is probably going to be a pretty relaxing weekend for me.  I don't have many plans so I'm going to spend some time researching Budapest and Prague.  One of the members of my program, David, and I are probably going to go to one of the two cities next weekend so we've got some planning to do!  Thank you for reading my blog! I'm going to make an effort to post more often so keep checking in to see what I'm up to =)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Hallo Wien!!

Willkommen!! Danke for visiting my new blog! If you didn't know, I am studying abroad through BCA in Vienna, Austria and Marburg, Germany this semester.  I'll be spending 8 weeks in Vienna and 4 months in Germany taking classes and (hopefully) really improving my Deutsch.  I hope to keep everyone updated with what I've been doing through this blog so please enjoy :)

Traveling to Vienna was a hectic and extremely nerve-wracking. First, I took a 7 hour flight to Copenhagen in which I lost my entire night of sleep due to the time difference, turbulence, and a very upset child.  I arrived around 7 at the airport on Sunday (it was 1 am back in PA) and had to wait around for three hours for my next flight to Vienna.  I was exhausted by the time I got onto the plane, but I was pumped up with adrenaline to almost be there so I couldn't even sleep!

I met our program director, Kris Riggs, at the airport in Vienna along with another student in the program and we immediately bought a monthly public transportation ticket that allows us to take any of the subways and trams around Vienna.  Kris took us to our dorms to drop off our bags and then took us to the main office of IKI Wien (our international language school) where we would be taking our German classes.  Turns out, classes started the very next day...surprise! We then took a small tour of Vienna while trying to decide where to have dinner.  By then it was around 2 in the afternoon (around 8 in the morning in PA) and I had gotten no sleep.  I was in a bit of a daze walking around Vienna, but I was amazed at how beautiful all of the buildings were.  There were gothic churches next to modern buildings and many small artistic touches here and there.  We tried to find a traditional Viennese restaurant, but many were closed on Sunday or wouldn't accept credit or bank cards.  One was even closed to prepare for a Super Bowl party.  We ended up at an Indian restaurant and so my first meal in Vienna was a dish with spinach and lamb. 

By the time I actually got to my room around 6, I almost immediately wanted to fall into my bed but I had to unpack. My dorm has a tiny kitchen, a bathroom, and a pretty spacious bedroom with two beds. I'm sharing my room with a girl from South Korea who is also attending IKI. She was extremely helpful with all of my questions, especially when I attempted to make my bed.  Turns out that in Europe, people put a sheet around their comforter kinda like a pillow and then have only one sheet to cover the mattress.  It took me a good 15 minutes to figure it out!  I finally got to sleep around 8:30 ( I had not slept for over 24 hours) and had the best night of sleep I've ever had.

For the past two days, I've been going to Deutsch class from 9-12 and then exploring the area, trying to buy school supplies, buy groceries, and also run errands.  I've gotten lost twice so far, but the Viennese are extremely helpful and very nice to foreigners so I haven't been too stressed.  Most of them speak a little bit of English, but I've been trying to speak only in Deutsch for practice.  I've also mastered the U-Bahn (subway) system these past few days.  All of the public transportation is efficient and definitely the quickest way around. 

So far, I love Vienna!  I'm hoping I'll find some time to explore more of the city this week :)