“Final” Reflective Paper

Below is my final assignment for the course; a reflection on my time abroad thus far, posted on May 9, 2019

The beginning of May marks two and a half months that I have spent living in Europe and close to two months in Heidelberg, Germany. At this “midway point” in my study abroad journey, I am settled into daily life in this different culture. I can navigate the train systems, find my way around without having to use Google translate, understand common cultural norms and expectations, and have a daily routine that reflects the German University system. If I were going back to the US tomorrow, my time in Germany would have been worth it. As I reflect on this first half of the summer semester, I have already noticed three common themes in my experiences in Heidelberg that I hope will impact my life, long after I have returned to the United States.

Before studying abroad, I knew to expect culture shock as I transitioned to living in Germany. I expected to find the German culture itself to be challenging to get used to, but I have found the opposite to be true. The structure, punctuality, directness, and general values in Germany, sometimes called “der Deutsche Weg,” has been one of my favorite parts of German culture. It has provided me with a clear set of guidelines on what to expect and how to process my experiences. One culture shock I didn’t expect was the language barrier. I knew that I would struggle to speak German at first and would often have to revert to English. Prior to arriving in Europe, I felt comfortable with this notion since English is spoken by most of the younger generation in central Europe. When I arrived, however, I was very self-conscious of the fact that my presence would force the people I interacted with to speak in my language, rather than their mother-tongue. There are two natural responses to cross-cultural conflict and culture shock: fight or flight. I quickly realized that my gut-reaction is flight – to avoid potentially uncomfortable or awkward situations altogether. To overcome this, I have had to be intentional in seeking out conversations and interactions with people in my host culture. Though I may have reservations beforehand, I have never regretted these encounters, be they in English or German. Lastly, I have observed that being immersed in a different culture means that I am far more easily exhausted from my daily routine, because I’m constantly translating in my head and must be more aware of my surroundings. Taking time to rest, connect with a friend or family from home, and to do something familiar have been important parts of settling into a different culture.

Another theme that has been reoccurring during my time abroad has been hospitality. I expected German culture, and European culture in general, to be cold and more reserved, making it harder to make lasting friendships over a semester in Heidelberg. This has not been the case. In my travels, I have been welcomed into several homes for a weekend or a nice meal. I have met families and students that have selflessly included me into their daily lives and let me get a glimpse of true German culture. Even on the University campus, student organizations go out of their way to be welcoming and to build community for international students. Small talk rarely occurs in Germany, which means that I must be proactive to meet new people. However, the friendships I have made here have been genuine and generous, especially because of their intentionality. I have been touched and surprised by these acts of hospitality. However small, they have made large impacts on me and my time in Germany.

The first city I flew into before coming to Heidelberg was Barcelona, Spain for a conference. There, I learned about a method of sight-seeing called the “living gallery.” Essentially, the point is that each city has its own history, architecture, attractions, and everyday life and people that make it unique. In my experience, viewing a city as a “living gallery,” has made me more attentive and enriched my perspective of the places I have visited on short trips, like Tromsø, Vienna, and Bonn. In my long-term stay in Heidelberg, this “living gallery” perspective has taught me to take a step back and observe the culture that I am immersed in with a new perspective. My posts for the IAS 2790 course are the result of these observations – as I have learned more about German culture, history, language, norms, activities, and ideals, I have been able to build a better and more accurate picture of my host city. These observations go beyond the Heidelberg that the 11.9 million yearly visitors will get to experience.

By attending the “Authoring Your Study Abroad” course, I was able to set aside time to reflect on how much I have already learned from week to week. I now have a small collection of my experiences and observations of my host culture, which I appreciate. I was also able to be in connection with students from across the globe, who shared their unique perspectives on their host cultures. I found these stories encouraged me to look deeper and to discover more about my own host country and culture.

Though I am only half-way through my semester in Germany, I can already begin to imagine how my time here will influence me once I return to the United States and OU. I expect that I will be more willing to try new experiences, more prone to spontaneity and curiosity, more interested in other cultures and traditions, and more appreciative of the little things that I love about my home culture. I know I will miss some of the structure and efficiency of the Deutsche Weg. I hope to incorporate what I have experienced of hospitality and intentionality in relationships into my community. I will also miss the ease of travel, multi-lingual and cultural community of the European world. Yet, with all that I will miss in Germany, I am also going to be incredibly thankful for systems and social expectations with which I am both familiar and comfortable.

Wandering in Heidelberg

A typical day in Heidelberg mostly consists of studying, classes, and running errands. The semester officially begun on April 15th. I’m attending a course on Numerical Analysis of ODEs (in English) and an intensive German course – both of which are challenging and very fun! The students have arrived and so every part of Heidelberg is significantly busier and more alive with people. Even with classes, I have a lot more free time on my hands than I have ever had while studying in the States. At first there were lots of new things to see and traveling to do. After a while, travel gets exhausting.


When there weren’t so many students and tourists, I enjoyed roaming and window-shopping on the Hauptstraβe. I still enjoy spending time on the main street, but with the steady influx of people during the day, it’s a little much for me. So recently in my free time I do what I am doing today – I wander the outskirts and walking trails of the city. Example: two weeks ago, I wanted to go for a run on the trail around Heiligenberg (the mountain across the Neckar from the castle. I rode my bike up to the base of the hill to find a trailhead, which I knew existed but couldn’t find on a map. In the end, I found the trail but also discovered Handschuscheim, a residential district of Heidelberg that has a more authentic charm. Here, real life continues away from the invasion of casual tourists. There’s an old moated castle, Tiefburg, and beautiful old church in the middle, surrounded by winding streets, houses, and my new favorite Bäckerei – which brings me to where I am now, sitting in a busy Bäckerei sipping Kaffe and nibbling on a Zimtschneckennudel (cinnamon roll). The best part? No English. No easy way out, which forces me to learn and practice more of what I am learning.

Heiligenberg trail

Sometimes when I wander, I find little treasures like this Bäckerei, a nice picnic spot in the woods, farmers market and flea market stands, a secluded park bench with an amazing view, or interesting people. Other times, I find dead ends, end up with muddy shoes, buy an overpriced coffee that was no good, get lost in the supermarket, miserably fail to overcome the language barrier, or take the wrong bus in the opposite direction. I used to (and mostly still do) hate doing things without a plan. But if studying abroad has taught me anything, it’s that the little, spontaneous adventures are the best part of traveling. Here’s to many more rambles in Heidelberg and beyond!

Heidelberg castle gardens
flea market on campus

Easter on the Rhine

For the sake of documentation, here’s another photo-dump from my Easter trip to Königswinter. I stayed with my friend’s family in a small village in the Siebenberge region near Bonn. I was able to experience 2 new cities: Köln and Bonn, an art museum, and mostly the beauty of small-town Germany in the Rhine river valley. I was absolutely touched by the generosity of my hosts to share their Easter, home, and culture with me.

Whirlwind Journey to Ireland

The other weekend trip I took during was the break was to Ireland, with an InterVarsity study abroad Journey program. Visiting Ireland with InterVarsity, friends old and new, was such a treat.

The focus of the trip was to take in Ireland’s beauty, while learning about Celtic Christianity and some of the famous patron saints of Ireland. I took a whirlwind bus trip through Dublin, visited Glendalough (an old monastic city with two breathtaking lakes), stayed the night in an active monastery, visited St. Brigid and St. Patrick’s wells, the Cliffs of Moher, took in the atmosphere of a traditional Irish pub, stayed a night in Westport, made a sunrise hike up Croagh Patrick, ate a full Irish Breakfast.

I know I write (or at least think) this for everywhere I visit, but a weekend in Ireland was really not enough time. I was captivated by the beauty and peace in the Irish landscape, the rich history, and the great Creator of it all.


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.

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