Vienna by the Numbers

Between the end of the intensive language course and the orientation for the beginning of the semester, we had a 10 day gap to travel. Patricia, another student from OU, and I decided to visit Vienna for the first weekend. We left Friday and arrived back Tuesday and had an absolutely wonderful time. Vienna has such a rich musical and political history and was a hub of the western world for centuries prior to World War I. After our trip, we totaled up our experiences as follows:

12 Castles

13 Churches

3 Art venues

1 concert (free!)

1 opera (only 3€)

1 walking tour (free!)

2 hostels

3 buses (one overnight)

1 flight

6 trains

3 bike rides

0 missed transits!

5 neat food places

6 parks

2 rivers

3 nights

4 days

70 kilometers (and sore feet!)

somewhere between 8-10 cups of coffee

4 very stinky feet

6 cough drops

Living in Heidelberg

I’ve realized that its been almost 2 months since I left for Europe, and much of that time has been spent living in Germany. Still, I have not really posted on daily life here or the experiences I have had. In a nutshell, I have loved being in Heidelberg, though adjusting to a new culture and different way of life has its ups and downs.

For the month of May, I attended a pre-semester German course at the University language institute. I tested into A2 level and attended class from the morning into early afternoon every day. The course increased my vocabulary, listening skills, and vocabulary significantly. My German isn’t great, but I can now generally understand what is going on and have the vocabulary to find my way around and make a bit of small talk. Another activity that has helped with this is SMD’s Life Cafe language course/Bible study, a Sunday evening event organized by local students to help teach German to international students through Bible stories. Getting to know and speak German to (very patient) native speakers has been so helpful. I’ve also been attending a German/English church that translates everything spoken in both languages, which has been helpful for learning new vocabulary and meeting local citizens.

The semester officially starts on April 15, so I have spent most of my time with other international students who where also taking the pre-semester course. There are several student excursions set up by the Erasmus student network that have been a fun way to get to know people from all over the world. That may be one of the best parts about the exchange so far – getting to experience such an international community.

Outside of class, I have done so many interesting things! I have done a lot of Hiking around Heidelberg, taken trips to Kaiserslautern and Waldorf, picnicked on the Nekar river, attended the Karneval parade, and explored the Altstadt of Heidelberg. Now that the weather is getting better, I am looking forward to more excursions near Heidelberg to local gardens, castles, and rivers. Below are some of the pictures of my little adventures as I have settled into everyday life here.

Weekend in Paris

After being in Heidelberg for one week, I took a weekend trip to Paris to celebrate my birthday with my friend Emma. Most of the time spent there comprised of walking around the beautiful city, eating delicious food, and attending an Hillsong Paris youth conference.

This post is mostly a photo dump, but here were some of my biggest takeaways. Firstly, it was amazing to me to see students from a completely different country, history, and language coming together to worship the same God. Additionally, I can say with certainty that eating baguette and/or croissant in Paris is 95% better than eating it anywhere else. When I was in Barcelona, I was introduced to the idea of observing the people and setting of a city as a kind of art gallery – Paris and it’s people as God’s masterpiece. I couldn’t agree more when it came to Paris. Some of my most memorable moments were the kind waiters, the random people who took our picture, and the street artists we encountered. I most enjoyed walking around and taking in the beautiful sights and cultural encounters along the way.

It was such a gift to be able to visit Paris and be hosted by such a sweet friend. This trip was entirely too short, and I can’t wait to return sometime later this summer!

Europe: Week 1b – Norway

Week 1 (continued) – Norway

After Spain, I spent Monday evening through Friday morning in Tromsø, Norway with my friend Dina and her family. It was such a beautiful trip and made all the better by living with a host culture and experiencing every day life with them.

Tromsø is in the north of Norway, very close to the arctic circle. This means that the amount of sunlight is much more varied – while I was there, the sun set around 4pm. In the summer, the sun never sets, hence Tromsø’s famous Midnight Sun marathon. The city has a history of arctic

Just one of the many many landscape pictures I took.

exploration and feels like a gateway to islands, glaciers, and arctic tundra that have yet to be touched by man. While I was there, I visited a handful of Norwegian museums with Dina’s sweet mother, visited an arctic aquarium with Dina, drove around the island, and tasted lots of Norwegian cultural dishes. Most memorable were the Moose, dried fish, Pops(!), and toast (kind of like a panini in the states).

This was at the summit of our night hike. So many layers!

Because of the size of the island and the variation of sunlight, Norwegians don’t seem to let the weather or light stop them from being outdoors. I walked a lot in sub-freezing temperatures, which was actually quite fun.

And in the evenings, we went hiking to an overlook of Tromsø one night and cross-country skiing another. I really really loved cross country skiing and can’t wait to do it again. Another night, I went with Dina’s mom to a church where we listened to a Finnish opera singer – what a once in a lifetime experience!

And finally…. YES! I did get to see the northern lights! And I didn’t even try to take a picture. They were beautiful and faintly “danced” across the sky. I immediately thought of Psalm 19:1,

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Psalm 19:1

All in all, I am so thankful for the beauty I got to experience in Norway and the generosity of my host family. Norway is different from America in a lot of ways that are a little bit hard to pinpoint, but I loved the Norwegian style, the views, the simplicity, outdoor adventures, and their unique cultural perspective.

More pictures:

Europe: Week 2 – Heidelberg!

It’s been almost one week since I arrived in Heidelberg. There is so much to say about my time here already, but I’ll get to that in a later post. Suffice it to say, Heidelberg is lovely and I’m looking forwards to starting classes next week. In the meantime, while I collect my thoughts for a more thorough summary of my initial thoughts on Heidelberg, here is a description of one of my favorite spots in the city. I had to write it for a class, but it gives a glimpse of where I’ve gone to walk, jog, eat meals, and journal. 

Topic: The Use of Public Spaces in my Host Culture

This is farther west of the main part of the park – I had to stop jogging to take it because I just love the trees!

“In the one week that I have lived in Heidelberg, the place I have most often frequented is the Neckarwiese. This is a park that sits on the bank of the Neckar river and extends outward as a biking and walking trail through the whole city. The Neckar divides the city in half, which makes it almost impossible to spend an entire day in the city and not find yourself on the Neckarwiese. At the main part of the park, there is a long grassy bank, separate biking and walking paths, a fountain, picnic tables, and benches. As it extends north and south, it becomes a narrow path encased by trees with a steep grassy bank leading to the river.

“As I’ve already mentioned, the path along the river is frequently used for commuters going from A to B. It is also nearly always frequented with joggers and people walking their dogs, like any park in the US. Unlike the US, the German locals will seek out this place intentionally to spend their spare time on lunchbreaks, after work, and on the weekends. During lunchtime, there are many people spread out along the river eating their lunch and soaking up the sunshine. After work, groups of people walk along the trail and catch up on each other’s days. The most popular time to be at the park, however, is on Sundays. I’m convinced that some people get up in the morning to go for a walk and don’t come home until it’s time for dinner. In Germany, almost every store is closed on Sundays and the people go out to “be in nature.” Young and old wind up along the bank of the Neckar.

“Admittedly, it is one of the first nice weeks of weather Heidelberg has had since winter. And I’ve never lived next to a river to compare. Still, the Neckarwiese really is one of the hubs of activity in the city. From what I’ve read of German culture, this is pretty typical of German culture and their love of nature. A local German told me, “we have a saying here: There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.” I love that the locals, regardless of age or walk of life, seem to enjoy the beauty of the river and scenery around them and have made it a part of their daily routines. I have yet to see anyone along the Neckar glued to their phone, and only a

Sunset on the Neckar!

handful with their phone even in sight. It seems to me that nature provides an escape from the daily grind. This is one aspect of German culture that I can’t wait to add to my daily routine!”


And just to emphasize how much I love this spot, I choose to spent the evening of my birthday outside  on the Neckar enjoying a special birthday treat!

I also ordered this using only German – though the clerk laughed at my pronunciation!

Europe: Week 1

Last Friday, I finally arrived in Europe after a very long plane flight from Arizona. Since then, I have set foot in three different countries (counting the airport in Belgium) and am on my way to the fourth – Germany!  So much has happened since I left home last week and, though I know I’m going to forget many of the details in hindsight, I’m going to try to document as much as I can. 

Barcelona, Spain

I landed in Barcelona, Spain on Friday and took a bus to the old tourist part of the city. Since I was so tired of sitting and didn’t want to purchase a metro ticket, I decided to walk the 20 min with my big suitcase to the youth hostel. Lugging a heavy bag through cobblestone streets isn’t especially convenient, but I am so glad I did! I got to see so much of the beautiful architecture, interesting people, little shops that make up Barcelona. After getting a little turned around, I finally arrived at the hostel and met up with the directors of the program I was attending just in time to make dinner.

For a little background, I traveled to Spain to attend the weekend Global Leaders Internship Launch retreat, which is for student leaders in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship who are studying abroad in Europe for the semester. The purpose of the Launch is to introduce the students to one another and help them to use their time abroad well in a Christian context. It really was well worth the trip and helped me to feel more comfortable exploring a new place on my own. That’s not to mention how much I enjoyed the people I met in the program and the city in general!

It was a wonderful trip and we spent the time seeing the city in between GLI sessions. Some of the highlights were the Gaudi architecture –especially the Sagrada Familia cathedral, which was spectacular. We also spent a morning observing the “living gallery” of Barcelona and roamed the Gothic Quarter, open air market, beach, old chapels, restaurants, and encountered many street artists along the way. When we took the subway, a few street performers with an accordion stepped into the train and played Despacito for the duration of our ride. And then on the way to a cathedral, we found an opera singer standing in the street. I loved every moment of the experience!

Spain seems to have such a different schedule of time. It wasn’t uncommon for restaurants serving dinner to open their doors around 8 pm. And in the meantime, everyone sits at outdoor cafes eating tapas, which are a little bit like hors d’oeuvres.  In the mornings, we often ate fresh bread and coffee. One of the best moments of the trip for me was ordering my coffee and croissant all in Spanish.

Based on my observations, it seems there are two things that make Barcelona unique. One is the political tension as a part of Catalonia. It wasn’t uncommon to see the Catalan flag and banners calling for independence to be hanging out of windows. The locals speak Catalan, street signs are primarily in Catalan, and many of the historic buildings are from Catalonian royalty and government. The other unique part of Barcelona is the presence of Gaudi’s unique architectural style. Most of Gaudi’s work resides in the city, and evidence of his style was everywhere. There was so much more to see and do that we could possibly fit into one weekend; I hope someday I can come back, learn more about Gaudi, see the finished Sagrada Familia, and learn more about this beautiful place.

Some Pictures:

Schloss Heidelberg

With the last week of the Fall semester wrapping up, I’m celebrating by looking forwards to next semester – in Heidelberg! Now that classes are over, I will turn my attention to packing, assembling my documentation, reviewing my German, and preparing to leave the US. In the meantime, I’ve been reading up a little bit on the history of the city of Heidelberg. It’s in incredibly old town, dating back at least to the 1200s. One of the most notable features is the Schloss Heidelberg, or Heidelberg Castle, which overlooks the city.

Mark Twain wrote about the castle in his A Tramp Abroad (1880):

“A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed. It stands upon a commanding elevation, it is buried in green woods, there is no level ground about it, but, on the contrary, there are wooded terraces upon terraces, and one looks down through shining leaves into profound chasms and abysses where twilight reigns and the sun cannot intrude. Nature knows how to garnish a ruin to get the best effect. Misfortune has done for this old tower what it has done for the human character sometimes−improved it.”

No doubt, this has contributed to Heidelberg’s popularity as a tourist destination. Even without Twain’s commendation, the castle has a rich and beautiful history that makes it work seeing.

Heidelberg Castle is first noted in historical documents in the early 1200s.  It played a tactical role in both the Thirty Year’s War and the Nine Year’s War. Over that time, the castle has burned down three times – twice in battle and once due to lightning. Because of this, renovations to the castle have occurred many times over the past 800 years and display many different eras of German architecture.

To this day some of the castle still lies in ruins. Tourists come to see the spectacular gardens and views, diverse architecture, and the Heidelberg Tun. The Tun is the world’s largest wine barrel, which holds up to 220,000 liters of wine and is so big that there is a dance floor built into the top.

Learning a little about the old history of Heidelberg has been enlightening and made me even more excited for next semester to begin!



Destination: Heidelberg!

I have some exciting news to share! Thanks to the Global Engagement Fellowship, I will be continuing my studies next semester at Universität Heidelberg, Germany. A lot of work has gone into preparing for next semester, beginning when I arrived at OU in the fall. In the interest of documenting my entire study abroad experience, below are some of the notable questions and processes I have gone through this Fall.

Why Heidelberg? As a B.S./M.S. student, my major requires that I take at least one upper-division mathematics credit while studying abroad. This limited my options considerably, as I needed the course to be taught in English. German universities are currently some of the leading locations for mathematics study, which made studying in Germany a good option. Just as importantly, I am studying abroad primarily to be immersed in a country, culture, and language. If studied in another English-speaking country, I would be missing out on the main reason I wanted to travel in the first place. To that end, I began taking German this past semester. Since then, I am convinced I made the right choice. I love the language and the culture and can’t wait to be immersed in it!

What next? After I decided on a location, I had several meetings with various OU advisors to confirm course equation, graduation requirements, and financial requirements to clear me to study abroad. I submitted the Study Abroad Office application for Heidelberg and was accepted into the program. There was a pre-departure meeting, meetings with the other students traveling to Heidelberg, and a last meeting with my study abroad advisor. Finally, I submitted my official application to Heidelberg, with a recommendation letter from OU. Now, I am waiting to receive my acceptance letter from Heidelberg and then will purchase my ticket.

It has been a whirlwind of preparations and planning, but I am so excited for what’s in store!

Day of the Dead Street Festival

On November 4th, OU had their annual Dia De Los Muertos street festival at the Lloyd Noble Center. A few friends and I went to experience a taste of this Latino tradition. The parking lot of the LNC was covered with tents of vendors, food trucks, a large stage, artists, and a little carnival. All day long, students and locals crowded in to eat, listen to and watch performers, and take pictures.

A few things stuck out to me from this event. First, the performers were wonderful! They gave such a beautiful example of the musical traditions of Hispanic culture. It was also neat to see people of all ages celebrating together on OU’s campus. We also watched street artists spray paint slabs of wood into frightful pieces of art. Perhaps most interestingly, OU’s Intervarsity Latino Fellowship (LaFe) organization had a table that some of my friends were stationed at. They invited passers-by into conversations about how individuals and cultures cope with death.

The Day of the Dead is a fun festival, but it also serves a purpose. It is a way that a culture takes time to commemorate lost loved ones. LaFe’s table has sparked some questions in my own mind that I would like to further investigate. As a Christian, I have a hope after death and my perspective on how I approach loss and grieving reflect that. How might that differ within my own countries’ culture? How do others around the world approach the topic of loss and death? As I study abroad in the future, I hope to keep this in mind and learn how different worldviews and cultures affect these perceptions.


Kaffee und Kuchen

On November 16th, I attended the Kaffee und Kuchen event hosted by OU German Club. The event was quite possibly my favorite campus activity of the semester.

Naturally, there was coffee and desserts to enjoy while a current OU professors from Vienna presented on the Kaffeehaus tradition in Vienna. Viennese kaffeehauses are places where one goes to spend a couple hours quietly talking or reading while drinking coffee and eating fresh pastries.  Taking your time and quietly enjoying the experience are the main emphasis. The professor also shared about Viennese humor and slang, which unique to the area.

Afterwards, we broke into teams for trivia regarding all things coffee and cake. Needless to say, I learned a lot of random facts about both and there was plenty of laughter involved.

This event made me appreciate German culture even more.  I find the differences between it and American culture so fascinating. This event made me very excited to travel to Germany and experience it for myself!