It’s odd how quickly time passes when traveling. It seems as though I just flew in yesterday, but it has already almost been an entire week. The first week of our study abroad program has been relatively light when it comes to coursework. Much like “syllabus-week” in a typical college semester, the first week of our program has consisted of largely introductory material, preparing us to begin our first course next week. We have, however, taken over nine-hours of “survival German” classes, which will hopefully provide us with enough German knowledge to get by for the next few weeks; we know how to order food and drinks at restaurants or bars, greet and introduce ourselves to people, pay for our items at grocery stores, and communicate with taxi drivers, among other phrases that we have picked up along the way. As most of us have discovered, the most difficult thing about the German language is not only learning all the various words for things, but also the pronunciation of those words, as many of the German letters are pronounced completely different than we would say them. For example, the “w” letter makes the American “v” sound, and the “v” letter makes an “f” sound. These subtle differences are certainly going to take some getting used to.
Because the schedule during our first week was rather free, we spent the majority of the time exploring the city, visiting various food places, bars, downtown venues, traditional sites, and getting to know the history of the city. Perhaps one of the most interesting things we were able to take part in was a Nightwatchmen Tour, where we walked around the old town of Osnabruck at night, wielding lanterns, led by a “nightwatchmen” who told us all about the town’s history, its involvement in wars, its battlements, its leaders, and its role when it comes to all of Germany and Europe.
We were also fortunate enough to be in Osnabruck for the traditional Maiwoche (“May Week”) festival, during which the town completely transforms, and the downtown streets are filled with carnival-style activities, music booths and sound stages, candy and sweet shops, and various food stands (serving things like traditional German bratwurst, potato fries, crepes, chocolate-covered fruits, and various kebabs, to name a few). As someone who has always been incredibly appreciative of music (not to mention, food), I loved the atmosphere of the Maiwoche festival. It was just truly incredible to see so many people from all over Europe (and other parts of the world) in one space, enjoying different foods and music genres, and I am certain that our group will be frequenting the festival for the duration of the next week, joining in on the fun.
The final, pleasantly surprising, thing about our first week is that our local student ambassadors – German students from the university we are attending – have been so unbelievably kind and helpful. More than anything, they have become our friends. Apart from showing us their favorite places to eat and helping us with our German, they genuinely want to spend time with us and learn as much about the U.S.A. as we want to learn about Germany. I am incredibly appreciative of their willingness to be more than just our university tour guides, and I am certain that the rest of our group has the same mindset.
Suffice to say that we have had a week full of cultural exploration and fun, and the next five weeks will certainly bring with them more new experiences, new people to meet, new German phrases to learn, and new places to discover, and I cannot wait to find out what lies ahead.
Until next time, Tschüss (Bye)!