April 26, 2012
While most of you are preparing for finals, getting excited for Class and Charter Day and finalizing your summer plans, my semester has really just begun. My abroad experience started March 2, and after spending two extremely long and uneventful months living at home, I was finally off to Freiburg, Germany. The bizarre dates aren’t the only distinguishing feature of my program, however. We spend the first five weeks traveling with six other students (one from Hamilton and the rest from Colgate) and our professor before officially starting classes.
Immediately after settling into our hotel in Freiburg, we did the only logical first thing to do upon arriving in Germany and headed to a Biergarten. Over the next few weeks, we would be drinking an abundance of German beer and eating copious amounts of traditional German pretzels (brezeln) and chocolate, which are, of course, the three main food groups for American tourists.
After getting oriented in Freiburg for a few days, we then traveled to Munich. One of the highlights of this trip was hiking up a mountain to Andechs Abbey, a Benedictine monastery that has brewed beer since 1455. It is also famous for its Baroque church, but naturally, we were more interested in tasting the different varieties of beer. We travelled back to Munich recently to celebrate its 40th Frühlingsfest (or Springfest), which is a festival from April 16 to May 2. The beer tents and fair grounds are found in Theresienwiese, more commonly known as the home of Oktoberfest. Although Springfest only attracts a few thousand tourists while Oktoberfest brings in a few million, it was still one of the best and most exciting weekends I have had so far.
After Munich, we headed to a ski village close to Innsbruck, Austria. Having never seen the Alps before, it was an incredible experience. One day we were able to ski Stubaier Gletscher, which is the biggest glacier in Austria you can ski on. The views were amazing- nothing like skiing in New England- and the conditions were perfect. Thankfully, we somehow avoided getting seriously injured or lost on the trails, some of which were dangerous and very poorly marked.
The day after, I experienced the Alps from yet another angle when we went paragliding! Needless to say this was one of the scariest things I have ever done. The guide who took me was a registered and very experienced paraglider, as he was forced to assure me many times, and takes thousands of runs each year without incident. The most intense part was the takeoff, where you are forced to run down a steep, snowy mountain until eventually the wind picks you up. Once in the air, it was amazing. My guide even let me steer the paraglide, although I had him take over for the landing.
After the Alps, we went to Vienna, Prague, Dresden and Berlin. Berlin was definitely one of my favorite cities. We got to see the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburger Tor, the Holocaust Memorial and many other historical landmarks. Berlin also has one of the most amazing and famous zoos in the world, which we spent many hours exploring. They have one of the most comprehensive collections of animals in the world and boast 1,500 different species and 17,500 animals. Three million people visit the zoo annually, making it the most visited zoo in Europe.
Over the course of the trip, we went to countless museums, operas and plays. We are now settled in Freiburg and have just started taking classes at the university with 22,000 other students. Freiburg is Germany’s sunniest and warmest city, and it has so much to offer in terms of hiking, vineyards, restaurants and shopping. Although I miss Hamilton, my experience abroad has been amazing so far, and I highly recommend studying abroad in or at least visiting Germany!