It’s been a long three months. 93 days to be specific. 93 days since I packed up my life and moved 7,000 miles away to the beautiful town of Heidelberg, Germany. Before stepping on the plane, I thought it was going to be the longest three months of my life. In some ways, it was. But it was some of the best three months of my life.
There were 57 of us students from Pepperdine going to Heidelberg. As we congregated at LAX for our group flight, it seemed as though everybody knew each other already. I didn’t have any friends and stood awkwardly over by my parents in the hopes that I would eventually make a friend. Thankfully I chose a travel buddy to stay with on the trip. Her name was Laura and she became my closest friend in the program. I don’t know what I would have done without her.
Each weekend we traveled to a new place. Most students in the program didn’t travel as frequently, which I could never understand. Traveling each weekend nearly broke my bank account but in my opinion it was worth every penny. Memories are expensive. I was exhausted after every weekend but I felt as though I was able to make the most of my time. I wouldn’t be content to just sit in my dorm room for a semester and only tour Heidelberg. The world was at my front door and I was going to see as much of it as I physically could.
Was it easy? No. I was a full-time student fitting 16 credits into a four-day week and traveling on the three-day weekends. I had class from 9:40 in the morning until 5 at night with an evening class on Mondays. My school didn’t allow me to ever skip class and if I ever wanted to go home I had to climb up to the top of a steep hill. It was both physically and mentally exhausting.
But was it fun? Yes. Despite knowing nobody on the first day, I created some of the most amazing friends. There is nothing more extraordinary than being able to travel to exotic places with your friend. They say that it’s not about the destination and that traveling is about the people you travel with. The people I’m with are very important, but the destination is important as well.
Here are a few highlights from my past semester:
I get to wake up to this view EVERY MORNING! Waking up early is my least favorite thing to do but when there’s a view like this outside my window, it makes it a little bit more bearable.
Did I mention that I live in a mansion directly down the street from the Heidelberg Castle? It was destroyed centuries ago but a large portion remains and attracts thousands of tourists each year. Did I tell you that I live right down the street from it?
Speaking of living, here’s Moore Haus, the mansion we all live in. It’s a bit of a squeeze with 59 people living under our roof but we haven’t killed anybody yet so I consider that a success.
The first weekend that we were allowed to travel, four of us headed to Köln, a city in Germany about two hours away from Heidelberg. It wasn’t a very eventful weekend because we only had one day there, but the four of us became very close friends and remained friends throughout the rest of the semester. That weekend in Köln helped to define the rest of my semester… and it was a great one!
Oktoberfest was the weekend after that and was one of the craziest weekends of my life. I have never seen so many drunken people concentrated into one area in my life before. Lots of my friends were there with me and we had so much fun checking out the different bier tents. We had front row seats to several fights and even watched a girl get thrown out and break her wrist. It was absolutely insane but something that everyone should experience in his or her life.
Laura and I headed to Berlin the following weekend on our own. We saw the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, got our passports stamped at Checkpoint Charlie, and even snuck into an abandoned amusement park. I still wasn’t able to walk underneath the Brandenburg Gate because it was Germany’s Reunification Day and it was blocked off. Regardless, it was a much-needed girls weekend!
After visiting my favorite city in the world (Berlin), the next weekend I went to my second favorite city in the world (Amsterdam). There was a huge group of us going, 15 people to be exact. I learned that travel with that many people is nearly impossible. After the first day of accomplishing almost nothing, I became a bit frustrated with how difficult it was to motivate my travel partners to do a lot of sightseeing. Nonetheless, I ate some stroopwafels and krokets and was able to enjoy the trip. It might sound as though I didn’t have too much fun but I actually did have a blast on the trip once I learned to just let it go and relax.
One night we were… fortunate enough to be getting some snacks and eating outside of an Albert Heijn grocery store. There were steps that the 15 of us were sitting on and just visiting. Out of nowhere a drunken homeless man came up to us and began preaching about the best way to catch girls. He was trying it out on some unsuspecting women that walked by while telling us all about his foolproof methods. After he left, the group of us had our picture taken by a (slightly) more sober person. When we looked at the picture later, we noticed a random person in the upper left hand corner that we had never seen before. What a surprise!
Only one day after returning from Amsterdam, our whole program went on an educational field trip to Vienna, Austria. Most of us were not looking forward to having our professors dictate what we saw and where we went. There were definitely a few boring moments in museums but overall it was one of my favorite trips with some of my favorite people. It makes me excited for next semester’s educational field trip, which will be in Barcelona.
I also went to the world’s largest pumpkin festival in Ludwigsburg, Germany. I never knew that there were so many ways to decorate with pumpkins nor that you could eat pumpkin so many different ways. Laura and I spent hour wandering among the pumpkin sculptures and marveling at the treasure that we had come across. It was like the Rose Parade, but everything was made out of pumpkins instead of roses!
As an intense history buff (World War II to be exact), I wanted to go to Nuremberg to see the historical sites of Hitler’s rallies. I knew that at Christmastime the city came alive with its Christmas markets but the historical sites were much more important to me. So that’s where I went the next weekend, along with Ava and Laura.
The thing I remember the most from that weekend was learning what Glühwein is. It is a type of mulled and spiced wine that is extremely popular in Germany, specifically during the Christmas season. Ava made us try it and promised that it was delicious. It’s not. If anybody tries to convince you to taste it, don’t listen to them. I did have some back in Heidelberg but that was mostly because I wanted the cute little mug that it came in.
It was very interesting to see where Hitler held his rallies, as well as the courtrooms where the Nuremberg Trials were held. There’s nothing to describe the feeling of standing in the same spot where murderers were tried and convicted of their horrific crimes against humanity.
During the week, Pepperdine arranged for our entire program to go see a symphony in Heidelberg. So of course we all dressed up to look as good as possible. Unfortunately I was so exhausted from all of my traveling that I fell asleep in the middle of the symphony. Oh well! The pictures we took still turned out nicely so that’s what matters the most.
The next weekend was Halloween and Laura, Ava, and I went to Zagreb, Croatia. While there, we took a free funicular ride, jumped out of a plane, and stayed out all night. It was a very memorable weekend.
The first weekend in November was our long weekend and Laura and I went to Dublin, Ireland. Ironically, most of our best friends were also spending the week in Ireland although none of us were staying together. In retrospect we planned the week very inefficiently but we had a blast! Ireland was my favorite destination of the semester.
Tragedy struck the following weekend when terrorists killed nearly 130 people in Paris. Thankfully I was home in Heidelberg with a friend who was visiting the city from Florence. If I hadn’t already made plans to stay in Heidelberg with her that weekend, there was a chance I could have gone to Paris. Three of my close friends were in Paris at the time of the attacks and as I mentioned in one of my previous posts, the events of that weekend shook our core.
Nevertheless, that weekend I explored Heidelberg with my friend Kristen. As she would say, it was a 10/10 good time.
The terrorist attacks in Paris halted mostly everybody’s travels the next weekend. I stayed back in Heidelberg once again (although it killed me) and wrote two research papers. Not the most thrilling but it was a choice I didn’t regret looking back at it.
However, the next weekend my mom came into town and we took of to Romania. Our main goal was to visit Dracula’s and Vlad the Impaler’s castles. Unfortunately, our tour to take us there never showed up. I was furious that we couldn’t go to the one place I wanted to visit in Romania but my mom and I made the best of our situation. We were able to go to Bulgaria on a fun tour and even saw Bucharest’s Christmas market. It was overall a very good weekend to end my international travels on.
Pepperdine requires students to stay local for the final two weekends of the semester so I stayed in Heidelberg and partied studied hard for my finals. I couldn’t believe that my semester was wrapping up… I had made so many new friends and it broke my heart that I wouldn’t be with some of them next semester.
Our Christmas party was successful and we even tried a traditional German Christmas meal… goose. I was not a fan. It still made for cute Christmas pictures though.
So what would I do differently if I were to start the semester again? I would branch out from my initial friend group of the four of us and not be afraid to travel with other people. I took my friends for granted even though four of my close friend won’t be returning in the spring semester. The best advice I have for myself next semester is to live up every moment that I can. Before I know it, I will be on a plane headed back to California and I want to enjoy my time abroad as much as possible!