Wow, what a great start to my adventures over here. After spending my night in Zurich, I got up early the next morning and took the train from Zurich to Freiburg. The trip was quite interesting on the train, as I transferred from Basel and saw the countryside change from a somewhat urban feel in Austria to a very rural area that surrounds Freiburg. Freiburg is located in a very interesting spot, it’s in the Black Forest of Germany and is considered by many the capital of the Forest, as it is the largest city here. It is about 15 miles from the French border in one direction, and 35 miles from the Swiss border in the other. This is very fortunate for me, since it is so close to two different countries it is a very open city to travelers which also means that a lot of citizens here speak English. This has been very helpful so far, except for my cab driver getting from the train station to my hotel the first night. My hotel was in the downtown area and too far to walk with all my bags from the station, and since I did not understand the public trans system at the time I ended up taking a cab. He unfortunately could not understand English so I tried using a phrase I was almost certain would get my point across: “Credit Card.” He understood and was able to take me to my hotel right downtown, which was a very nice place to spend my first night here. It was very authentically German and the owners of the hotel also owned a restaurant in the main square overlooking the Munster in the center of town. Freiburg is anchored by the Munster, a giant Medieval cathedral that is very typical to the types portrayed in Hollywood with giant gargoyles and statues of Saints surrounding it. As beautiful as the cathedral was though, once my jet lag woke me up in the middle of the night the bells coming from the cathedral kept me up all night!
The next day was my first day as part of my IES Abroad Program. Although for the most part it has just been orientation I have really enjoyed it. The kids on the group all seem great and I can tell it’s going to be an awesome semester. One of the coolest parts of this program will be all the traveling we get to do on it. The last trip they offer us is a choice of different regions in Europe and I was fortunate enough to get the choice I was hoping to go on. In late March and early April I will get to go to Spain and Italy, visiting Rome/Vatican City, Madrid, and Barcelona. This was very exciting for me and the trips will be great. I also found some other really neat travel options to go cheaply around Europe at other times.
One thing that is very interesting over here and giving me a great opportunity to understand the German culture a bit better is my living situation. I am living in a dorm that is shared by German students studying at the University of Freiburg and living with them after only three days has given me a great opportunity to understand German culture a bit better. I also would like to learn a little German over here and although I am taking courses in German, I’m sure my roommates will be willing to help out a bit over here. They also taught me about something called the “putzplan.” It is a plan that everyone takes part of to help clean the room up as it is needed. It ranges to anything from cleaning the kitchen, to vacuuming, to taking out the garbage. Freiburg is a very environmentally friendly city so although taking out the garbage sounds easy, it isn’t. Everything has to carefully be divided in order to safely recycle in the town, but this will be fun to do while I’m over here. The dorms are also very cool here, as they are old French barracks that had been converted following the conclusion of WWII and the allied occupation.
Today ended with me getting a really unique opportunity. We visited the German-American Institute today and I thought this visit was just going to be about learning the differences between Germans and Americans. The center was actually started after WWII by the US government to try and teach Germans about democracy following the war. It since split from the government and now teaches English and studies the differences between both countries. I was able to grab a brochure and it’s cool to see all of the election lectures they are having with Germans to understand what is currently happening in America. At the end of the meeting they announced that we could participate in the “Rent an American” program. The program will take us to high school and middle schools around the region and we will be able to talk to classes about American culture and life. This reminded me of my high school days when we had speakers come in from anywhere ranging from India to Russia, and I decided to volunteer to do the program. It will also give me a chance to understand German culture more and I can’t wait.
During the meeting to teach us how to act in the schools they did simulations with what we would experience. For mine they had everyone else in my program pretend to be eighth graders asking me questions. The first question I had was “What is your favorite sport?” I was so excited by this, as I realized I will possibly get this question and be able to explain a little bit about American football and how great it is. After just starting with one or two sentences on it, the people running the program started grilling me. They asked questions ranging from “What is a tackle?” to “Why is it called football if you toss the ball?” to “How do you score?” After this happened the lady running it said “So do you feel you did a good job answering the question?” I laughed and said no to which she responded “That’s fine, but what would be a better way to answer this question?” I stated matter-of-factly “I’ll tell them that my favorite sport is soccer.”
After that great experience I got back to my dorm and did some shopping and now got ready to go out. Can’t wait to see what Freiburg brings after dark!