Well, this is it. I have, as of writing this, 48 hours left in Germany, and 24 in Leipzig. I still can’t even begin to fathom that I’ve spent nearly 12 months abroad. I’m excited to get back home to see how much/how little has changed, catch up with everyone, and just get back to reality. At the same time though, this flight back will probably be one of the most bittersweet experiences of my life. While I’ve already said bye to 95% of my friends (which led to a very boring 2 weeks!), it’s so hard to say goodbye to a city that has given me so much. I’ve had some of the best experiences of my life here, but my time in Leipzig is up. Luckily, I still have the memories and hopefully long-lasting friendships to hold onto. It’s strange sitting here in my room, staring at bleak white walls, empty shelves, two overstuffed suitcases, and a carry-on backpack that, fingers crossed, isn’t too big. I’m not quite sure that it has hit me quite yet that I have only one more day, but if anything, the emptiness of my room has hammered it in a bit. The city, too, is a bit empty. The students have left, and now only the locals and small handfuls of tourists fill the city center. It’s a little boring, honestly, because no one’s here, but the desolateness reminds me of my first few weeks in Leipzig, when the atmosphere in the city was the same. The city really does take on different forms during each season and now it has come full circle, bringing back the crisp cool days of fall that graced me as soon as I took my first steps off the train. But, enough about that.

These last few weeks have been also quite an adventure. I finished with exams and had  the equivalent of a 3.7 GPA the whole year! Then I headed off again to Norway & London. Unfortunately my visit to Oslo coincided with the bombings and shootings in Oslo & Utøya. While no one I knew was injured, the events casted a grim cloud over the city for not only my stay, but for most likely the next few weeks, as well. It was an experience that I hadn’t expected, but my situation was a lot better than many others. It was still nice, though, to see Ida again and her family. After 4 days,  I took off to London and had a great time. Not only did I see most of the touristy things I wanted to, but also happened to see Bradley Cooper, who was standing 4 feet away from me! I met up with a few friends from Leipzig who now live in London and also took a one-day excursion out to Stonehenge & Bath. After 5 days,  I headed back to Leipzig and began slowly packing my things.

Now that everything’s packed, here’s my final “Auf Wiedersehen”. Luckily, though, it doesn’t really mean goodbye, but rather, “until we meet again.”    So, Auf Wiedersehen Deutschland, and see you all very soon! And to think, I FINALLY just got the hang of opening German doors… :)

In the amount of time it took me to update this blog (sorry!), I will be back home in the States. I can still hardly believe that I’ve been here this long and have experienced everything I did. It literally blows my mind. I will be in for a bit of adjusting upon my return, but I’m trying not to think too much about it. These last few weeks have been some of my busiest yet and everyday seems to be another adventure (some more fun than others). I visited another elementary class,  had a really bad haircut, was interviewed on German TV, had a visit from my Norwegian friend, Ida, and went to Berlin a grand total of four times. Not to mention, these next two weeks are finals weeks and I’ve been busy busting my brain and my hand to pump out papers and study for tests. So, this will probably be another short post, just to let you all know that I’m still alive and kickin’.

My visit to an elementary school was another success–I love how enthusiastic the kids are and eager to impress me with their english knowledge..a.k.a…asking me over and over again “What’s your name?” “How old are you?” “What’s your favorite color?” “Are you afraid of spiders?” and so on, but to think that these kids know at least some English in the 4th grade is nothing but impressing. One kid came up to me wide-eyed and started shaking my hand. Then repeated to ask in German, “Are you really from the USA? You mean you were really born there? Wooooowwww!” Meanwhile refusing to let go of his grasp around my hand and break his unyielding eye contact. But, it was cute. I had to be at the school really early, so the teacher let me come the night before and spend the night at her house. It reminded me how much I miss houses. The dorms are basic and have everything I need, it’s just that houses have personality and are filled with a different sort of energy. Not to mention she made me a huge German breakfast. I’m really glad to have had the opportunity to be part of such a program!

There’s no fluid way for me to transition between everything that happened, so here it goes: being interviewed. Leipzig is known for it’s annual Gothfest. Great, right? Well, hoping to avoid the masses of overly-pierced people dressed in clothing that looks like it came from a galaxy 100x farther away than Mars, Kaja and I decided to head to the Park and have a picnic. Well, little did we know, that was the first meeting point. After falling asleep for an hour or so, we both woke up in the middle of a swarm of black. We were the “odd” ones out. Everybody recognized us–including the television station, who proceeded to ask us why we weren’t dressed up, what we thought of it all, where we were from, etc. So, although it was a strange occurence, it was kind of cool, too :)

Ida came to visit and we just spent 4 days chilling in Leipzig and taking a tour of Berlin. I think I now know the streets of Berlin better than my own hometown after giving so many tours around it for friends. But, I do love the city, so I don’t mind. I also went there for two days this past week with my political science class, where we toured Berlin government buildings, met with German politicians, listed (or attempted to) to speeches and presentations by experts, and got insider tours of buildings such as the German Bundestag. While I can easily say that it was a long two days, it was a rewarding once-in-a-lifetime experience, that I will definitely be able to use in my future.

…and, tomorrow is the 4th of July! which makes me wish I had a rootbeer float or something. But soon enough, I’ll be home. I’m going to the U.S. Consulate tomorrow for an Independence Day program. I think I’ll probably be the youngest one there, but after I got my invitation in the mail, I knew I couldn’t  pass it up. I have a windsurfing class at the same time (Oh I forgot—I’m taking a windsurfing class!!!!!), but I’m hoping I can network with some VIPs :) If not, it’ll still be a way to bring in the 4th of July with other fellow Americans.

I have 3 weeks left with my friends–most are going home at the end of July :(… then I’m heading to Norway to visit Ida in Oslo and then to London for 5 days. After that it’s time to head back. As sad as it will be to leave my friends and life here, I will be glad to be back.  As they say in German,  “manchem schweren Abschied folgt ein herzlicher Empfang” or A warm welcome follows a hard departure. Bis bald :)

The temperatures are rising in Leipzig, especially in my non-air conditioned, 6th story room. Speaking of which, I moved! Instead of living in an apartment, I now live in a dorm, and honestly, I like it a lot more. While living in a WG (german term for student apt.) was a great experience, I really enjoy my dorm. It’s a little bit farther away, but there are always students around. Before it was in a quiet area that at times was completely desolate. But, I must admit, as we get closer to the summer months (although we’ve had our fair share of 80˚+ days), I will miss my first floor room. But, I can survive through another 81 days (the time is really winding down…).  School here is becoming pretty time consuming, but I know I will be pretty proud of myself after completing it. My to-do list probably rivals that of the Santa’s Naughty & Nice list, but sometimes I just have to buckle down and work. Fun, too, is of course, allowed :) I went to a “Fußball” soccer game with friends two weekends ago, and I just got back from a weekend at the Ostsee in Northern Germany. It’s strange, because I’ve noticed lately that I really don’t feel like I’m in Germany…I feel, almost, like I’m in Ohio. There really aren’t any language barriers, the landscaping is basically the same, and I’m so used to the cultural differences now, that at times I have trouble recognizing them if someone asks me about comparisons between the US/Germany (which happens all the time). But, I love it here! Here are some pictures from the last few weeks:

The flowers outside are blooming into bright shades of pinks, yellows and whites, the grass is green, the trees are full of leaves and my back is the color of a tomato (yes, ouch!). We’ve had the best week of weather and Kaja and I spent every possible minute these last four days breathing in fresh air and soaking up every sunburn-inducing ray of light. Easter, whose traditions are rooted in Germany, is essentially celebrated the same here as it is in the US. Children decorate eggs (or kids at heart, too!), families go to church, and then feast on the greatest feast foods. Although I didn’t spend Easter with any Germans, mainly because almost everyone I knew went home to another part of Germany or another country in Europe, Kaja & I had a make-shift Easter. We colored hard-boiled eggs with markers and ate ham & cheese sandwiches! However, unlike in the States, the period leading up to Easter is huge in Germany, and depending on the area, it’s either called Karneval, Fasnet, Fasching, Fastnacht, and I’m sure some other variety. People dress up and celebrate every week, and sometimes every night. It’s equivalent to our Halloween, but on a 40-day scale.

Apart from Easter, the last few weeks have been spent at the Uni, taking classes and just living a normal life! My classes, which once again are completely in German, are pretty challenging, but extremely fascinating! Two of my favorite “modules” (a series of classes) are The Political System of the European Union, where we are assigned countries (I’m Ireland) and role-play, and Cultural Studies of Germany. It’s a lot of work, but it’s not overbearing. I still can soak up the sun and take advantage of all the green parks that Leipzig has to offer! But, a few days spent inside studying will probably do wonders for letting my sunburn heal. I’ve never been happier to see a 3-day forecast of rain–no temptation to bask outside for hours :) With that said, I’m really glad to have had the opportunity to stay here for a whole year. It’s amazing to watch how a city slowly transforms into a completely new environment with each new season. I’ve been here for more than 7.5 months, and  I discover something new everyday. Not to mention, it’s so much easier starting a second semester, because I now know the in’s and out’s of the system and how to survive. This start was not consumed by long, bureaucratic lines, and a bunch of hassles & headaches like my first. I’m definietly, if it’s even possible, enjoying this semester even more!

Two friends of mine from the US, who are currently studying abroad in Italy, came to visit me for a long weekend! It was great seeing familiar faces and speaking English. It was a taste of home in a country 4,000 miles away from it. Despite the fact that Ohio will always be where I call home, I’ve grown attached to this city; it has irreversibly left an impression on me! I’ve learned more about myself here than I could’ve ever imagined, and in a few months I’ll have to start mentally preparing myself for the  bittersweet return home. Until then, it’s just about enjoying and making the most of everyday–in my home in Leipzig, or when I’m there, in my home in Kent. :)

There are many ways to travel, but there’s only one way to pack: light.  Not only did I save myself from grudgingly lugging along an extra 20 pounds of unneeded stuff for a month, but I also saved my bank account from hitting empty. Because I was traveling with just a bookbag and a purse, my space was limited; so, any urge or temptation to rampage through endless Italian shops, (although the shoes and bags almost made me reconsider) was halted by the fact that I just didn’t have any room. While I did LOVE those italian leather boots and those spring sales were tempting, the best souveniors I could have asked for were just the memories that came from this experience–and there were a lot of them. I’m still in post-travel euphoria when I think about all the amazing people I met, and in general, just everything I experienced. So here it goes, from the beginning:

Western & Southern Germany

I started this whirlwind tour with a quick stop in Mainz to visit a family friend of a family friend and then headed off to the Black Forest (Freiburg and Baden-Baden) to visit another friend, who I met in Leipzig. It was relaxing to just have a weekend without any responsibilites, before I headed off on my own to Switzerland.  Although I absolutely love Leipzig, every time I go to southern Germany I instantly want to pick up my things and head there for the rest of my study abroad. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

Switzerland

Then I was off–on my own, with my meticulously detailed table of train times, lodging information, and maps. Although I have always felt adaquately independent, it’s a strange feeling to be completely self reliant when traveling by yourself. After waking up before the crack of dawn to catch my train, I headed to the train station, hopped on, and quickly became mesmerized by the serenity outside my window and the repetitive hum of the train gliding along the tracks. I felt like I was in a grown-up version of cradle, because more often than not, after an hour I was knocked out. I slept better on some of those trains, than I did in some hostels. I arrived in Lucerne, and while the weather was a bit overcast, it was still gorgeous. I just wandered off for a bit away from the city center and ended up on top of hill overlooking the city. Breathtaking. I also met a girl, who was lost, from Finland and we ended up doing more sightseeing together for awhile. Then I headed the next morning to Zürich for a few hours, then on to Austria.

Austria

Not only do I find train travel, well, awesome, but, it’s also interesting to wake up one morning with rain and fields and end up basking in the sunshine between mountains a few hours later. My first stop, Innsbruck, wasn’t lacking in the mountain department, and I ended up spending the most of my day just relishing the scenery and eating what I like to call heaven, aka Apple Streudel. It was so good. Although I went back to my hostel around 6 pm (it was getting dark, and quite frankly I had seen everything I wanted to), I met some great people. There was a woman from England in my room, who I felt was an older version of myself. We ended up just talking about being driven to travel, and that there’s really nothing that can stop us from getting reoccurring cases of the “travel bug”. The next day I went to Salzburg, which is by far my favorite Austrian city. I feel like I’m in a fairytale when I walk down the winding side streets and main passageways. I was there once before in highschool, but I knew that I had to go back! The weather was a bit of a downer (both times!), but if a city can be absolutely stunning in the pouring rain and overcast skies, than it must be well-worth a visit (or two :) ). Not to mention, I met a girl from Leipzig in my room–small world! I was off to Vienna the next day and wow, is that city huge! I went to the Opera at night, because someone I met informed me of 3 Euro standing room places in the Balcony! . I went to both the Schönbrunn and Hofburg Palaces (summer & winter residences) and no words can describe how absolutely amazing they were. The superfluously decorated rooms were not only jaw-dropping, but an extreme sign of the wealth of this family. You could really feel the power and influence they had on the world just when walking through!

Slovenia

Slovenia was great. Not only did Kaja’s mom cook food for us at every meal, but we both got some much needed sleep. For once at this point in my travels, I didn’t have to get up early and I had a comfortable bed. I find it funny that while traveling and after seeing so many amazing things, it’s the little things that you appreciate the most. I will never take for granted sleeping in my own bed, home-cooked food, or quite frankly not having to live out of a backpack. While this four-day part of my trip was all about getting some R & R, we did some sightseeing in capital city, Ljubljana ( I still can’t say it) and to Lake Bled. We had great weather at the lake. It was sunny and warm in a season where both such things are scarcities. It made the scenery that much prettier, if that’s possible.

Italy

If there’s a main feature of my trip, my 2 and 1/2 week trek across the country of Italy would definitely be it. First stop: Trieste, right across the Slovenian border in the North. Kaja and I visited our really good friend Violeta for a few days, and while Kaja headed back the next day to catch a flight to Paris, I stayed a little longer. I was lucky enough to have a tour guide (friends of Violeta) in not only Trieste, but in day trips to Venice and Verona. Venice was everything it’s talked up to be and more. Despite the overwhelming crowds because of Carnevale, the city was incredible. Hopefully the pictures I posted did it justice, because I can’t speak more highly of it. We went to Verona for a day, and saw the balcony where Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet took place. The city itself revolves around the Romeo & Juliet aspect, but in general, it’s a very quaint and charming city! Then I headed off to Bologna, Perugia, and Assisi. I was only unfortunately in Assisi for a few hours, but I was taken back by the generosity of the people who lived there and the stunning views that graced the countryside. I was a little lost on where I needed to get off the bus, so in my very american italian I asked an older man where the stop was. He not only waited longer on the bus to make sure I got off at the right stop, but he also gave me extremely helpful directions on how to get back. I don’t think he’ll ever understand how much he helped me! It’s nice to think there are still many generous people in this world.  The next stop was Rome and it was fantastic. The first day I spent on a tour of the Vatican. We were the first ones in the Sistine Chapel and were able to just sit there and listen to our tour guide explain everything. From what I’ve heard, in the main season, you have three minutes to walk from the first point to the second, and we had over 30 minutes! The Vatican definitely lived up to all the hype surrounding it, and wow, was St. Peter’s Basilica impressive! We headed back on Sunday to see the Pope give his Papal Blessing. While it was incredible just seeing the Pope, it was also great seeing the massive crowds that gathered to see him. The city of Rome, was so fascinating and, the food was fantastic! After four days in the Eternal I met so many great people that I hope to remain in contact with and saw so many things! Like I said earlier, I still smile thinking about this trip!  I spent the next week in Florence, where a few good friends of mine are currently studying abroad. I also had the best Gnocchi of my life (and after the best Gelato). I took a great cooking class–I was by far the youngest one there, but most importantly, I now have the recipes to some pretty delicious italian food. It’s a good thing I don’t live there, I would probably come home looking like a gnocchi–round. I spent a day in Pisa, then Lucca (the hometown of Puccini), two days at Cinque Terre, and my last day in Italy in Milan. Cinque Terre  is without a doubt my favorite place in Italy. The contrast of ridged cliffs, sparkling blue water, and colorful costal villages make Cinque Terre one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen. Incredible. After a day of window shopping in Milan, I flew to Poland.

Poland

On the last leg of my journey, I met up with my friend Kaja, and we spent two days in Krakow. My flight was originally delayed and then deferred to another airport due to bad weather, so I really didn’t get to see much of Krakow, but we took a day trip to Auschwitz-the concentration camp. While it wasn’t anything compared to Cinque Terre or Venice, we both felt that it was necessary for educational purposes to take a trip there. Atleast in the evening we had really great pierogies. On the 18th, we headed back together to Leipzig, and honestly, I was quite ready to get back.

Now I’m back and loving every minute of it! If it’s possible, I love this city more and more each day. The great weather definitely helps, but I really realized how at home I feel here. I feel so at ease and really appreciate being able to speak the language. After a month of attempting to speak Italian, and trying even harder to understand their answers, I am thrilled to be able to understand what’s going on. I love having my routine back and being able to just relax. I had a blast on this trip, but I think 5 weeks was long enough. . It’s strange to think that I’m about to start the second of my two semesters here, but I am looking forward to it with enormous amounts of excitement. As for now, I’m just trying to relax and enjoy every minute left of no-homework days!

It’s been 186 Days since I’ve been here. That’s 4,464 Hours or 267,840 minutes or 5 whole months! Believe me, I’ve pinched myself twice and I still can’t believe it! The last few days have been overloaded with goodbye parties, “Auf Wiedersehen”s and a bunch of coffee breaks at starbucks to stay goodbye to friends, who unfortunately, are only staying one semester. However, with every closed door, a new one opens, and I am looking forward to the new opportunities/friendships that next semester will present. Not to mention, I’m turning 20 on Thursday! And at this point, I should probably stop pinching myself! 20!?! So young, but still a new decade for me! On Saturday, I had 20 or so friends over to help me celebrate and I couldn’t have been happier. They surprised me with a new shirt and scarf, and two of my closer friends, Kaja and Violeta, made a personalized travel journal for me (because of my upcoming travels). It was so sweet of them! On the last page of the journal, Kaja and Violeta drew flags showing where I would travel next, i.e. From Germany to the USA, then back to Italy and Slovenia to visit them. But, what Violeta didn’t realize, was that she had drawn the Russian flag instead. So, looks like I’m heading to Russia for an Exchange Year reunion! It was really cute, especially when she tried explaining, at first, to Kaja that it was the Slovenian Flag, because she found it on the internet…even though Kaja’s a Slovene. :) Now, I’m just trying how to figure how to pack for a month, because I am leaving on Friday for tour through Europe:  Lucerne & Zürich, Switzerland; Innsbruck, Salzburg & Vienna, Austria; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Trieste, Venice, Verona, Bologna, Perugia, Assisi, Rome, Florence, Pisa, Cinque Terre & Milan, Italy; and, Krakow & Wroclaw, Poland. I can’t wait!!! I’m doing the traveling myself, but meeting friends in each location :) It should be a blast. I will try to keep this updated, but if not, expect a huge post when I get back. Tschüssi

It wasn’t too long ago that I religiously carried my metallic-blue CD player with me to day camp, or paged my mom on her beeper. Drawing endless squares, circles, and squiggly lines on the computer program “Paint” once took up a small fraction of my free time and the internet took at least ten minutes to load one page. Little did I, or the world, know how fast technology would change and how fast technology would change our lives. Today, the world is literally in our hands, or in our cellphones, iPods, and laptops that rest in them. But, despite the numerous advantages that technology provides us, my generation is losing out on “survival” skills that were once innate in the generations before us. We now rely on GPS to navigate through our world and spend way too much time informing ourselves about the world (via the internet) instead of actually going out into it! Although I can’t say that I don’t spend time on the internet (that would be a horrible lie), I can proudly admit that I’ve only used a GPS system twice. Reading maps is a skill and navigating cities is a hobby. While handheld devices are convenient, easy, and readily at your disposal, there’s something magical about holding a map in your hands with a city patiently standing before you. Despite the fact that I am able to find my way around in a city pretty well (and more importantly, my way back), this weekend was an exception.

Thanks to low-cost airline provider, Easyjet, and Danish hospitality, I spent the weekend in Europe’s most expensive city Copenhagen, Denmark without breaking the bank. Tickets were €25 and lodging was free. We got off the plane, found the metro, and easily arrived in the right part of town. That was the easy part; trying to read/pronounce Danish street names wasn’t and trying to find hidden back streets wasn’t either. After walking around in a circle, and having stopped two people on the street, we finally reached Studienstraede–our destination for two days. The city itself was gorgeous, although slightly tainted by the grayness of winter. In less than 36 hours we managed to see the Nyhavn (New Harbour–filled with colorful houses and boats), the Little Mermaid (a statue that gracefully perches upon a rock, melancholically watching the crowds that visit), and numerous other government buildings and palaces. It was well-worth the visit. Walking back however, took a little longer than expected. After seemingly walking in the right direction for 90 minutes (after what should have only taken 30), we readily acknowledged that we were “lost”. But we weren’t really lost;  we knew, to an extent, where to go. But, like all things, everything happens for a reason. We happened to have stumbled upon a series of large lakes that were once artificially made to serve as a method of protection for the city. They were gorgeous. There’s something calming about the serenity of a frozen lake and the stillness that surrounds it. We eventually made it back after backtracking a bit and later wandered around the city looking for a cheap place to eat, which in Copenhagen is the equivalent of looking for a needle in a haystack. But, everything worked out. We headed back the next day to Berlin, and eventually back to Leipzig.

Now that I’m back, I have five days until the end of my semester. I have  unfortunately seen little of Leipzig in the last few days, but rather lots of pieces of paper and heavy books. Not everyday can be an adventure–studying is a must, too! But, soon the semester will be over and I will be heading on a massive tour through Europe: Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Italy and Poland. I’m looking forward to it, but for now I’ve got to keeping looking forward at my books. :)

Although I promise to write a blog entry in the next week, I just don’t have time right now! But, here are some pictures of my visit to an elementary school, my parents in Europe, and anything else I happen to find :) Enjoy!

Ok: Here it goes–an attempt to cram in a month’s worth of information into a single-post!

1. My Meet US Trip to Erfurt: After stumbling across an opportunity to visit local schools in Germany, I instantly decided I couldn’t pass it up. A few e-mails and a few weeks later, I found myself on a train to a small village in the larger city of Erfurt (about an hour and half from Leipzig). The experience itself was better than I could have ever imagined! Despite receiving a few worried phone calls from the teacher the night before and coming up with back-up plan after back-up plan (due to a massive, snow white-out), I arrived on-time without a single complication and was able to present “Christmas in the US” to eager, inquisitive, excited children. I was amazed at how interested they were (probably because I am used to being in class with too-tired, half-awake college students….myself, sometimes included…). I had hoped to plant some seeds of cultural fascination in the minds of kids, and give insight into the life of an American; but, they in turned instilled a greater insight in mine. The experience was extremely rewarding on many levels. One girl hesitantly asked me (in german, of course) “Do you believe in Santa?” and instantly my heart started racing. “Absolutely!!” I responded, scared out of my mind that I would somehow reveal that Christmas secret. Her friend, tapped her on her shoulder and quietly whispered, “It’s ok, I believe!”. It was cute. It was really cute. After two presentations the Children said goodbye and sang Merry Christmas. After a great experience, the teacher took me to lunch, gave me a tour around town, and invited me back in April to do it again for another class. I can’t wait.  I was actually surprised that she spoke to me in German the whole time, despite being an English teacher. But, quite the compliment for me, I suppose!

2. Parents in Germany: After a week, I was exhausted. We really did a lot! After only a thirty-minute break at the hotel after they arrived, we headed back on the road to Füssen, where King Ludwig II built the renowned castle, Neuschwanstein. The weather was perfect and there were hardly any crowds (only for the carriage ride up). The next day we headed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where my dad and I tackled the Alps and my mom tackled the shopping center! We headed back in time for dinner at the Hofbräuhaus and meet a couple from Brazil who helped keep us entertained! There was unfortunately no music playing that night… We did some downtown Munich sightseeing the next morning and headed back to Leipzig for Christmas. We ate dinner at Auerbach’s Keller, a common gathering place for Goethe, who eventually eternalised it in his work “Faust” . Later we saw a section of the world-famous, Leipzig Orchestra play in the Gewandhaus. Sightseeing took place the next day: Bach’s grave in Thomaskirche, Nikolaikirche, the Opera, my University, the Federal Courthouse, Peterskirche, and many other local landmarks. We headed off to Berlin early the next day. In the two days they were there we saw: Potsdamer Platz, the East Side Gallery, Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag, Gendenarmermarkt, the Berliner Dom, Museum Island, Alexanderplatz, the Television tower, the Brandenburg Gate, Bebelplatz, Humbolt University and a few other locations. It was quite the trip! I stayed a few days later with a few friends to celebrate New Year’s. It was a bit uneventful….and the surprise guest was….drum roll…..David Hasselhoff! We left early. But, it was still a great trip and I am still exhausted!

I am currently studying for tests like crazy and preparing for a massive trip through Europe in February and March! Not to mention, I’m going to Copenhagen next weekend…I’m busy! Hopefully, I will update this sometime in the near future :) Sorry for the delay!

I believe that everything happens for a reason. Whether that reason is good or bad, big or small, or completely unknown, I’m a strong believer in it. Take this weekend for example. Plagued by a bad cold turn bad sinus infection, I had to miss out on my anticipated trip to Nürnberg (aka the home of the one and only Christmas market). But, what at first seemed like a weekend disaster (I’m not able to get all of my money back and plainly, I’m missing out big time!) turned into something greater: an email. How can a few sentences trump a three-day adventure? Well, maybe it can’t; but, it can lead to other opportunities, which, luckily, it did. For the past few weeks, I’ve participated in a Tandem-Partnership. Which means, that I meet once a week with a native German to speak English one week, and German the next. I originally signed up to meet more Germans, because honestly 60% of my friends here come from other European countries. I came here to be immersed in the authentic German language, not necessarily German with Bulgarian, Slovenien, or Brazilien accents (although, I love their friendship!) So, continuing: The email that My Tandem-Partner Martha (pronounced MAR – TA) sent me was an invitation to dinner at her place with her friends. Despite having already tackled 3 boxes of tissues, having a nose that could rival the brightness of Rudolph’s, and barely being able to speak coherently due to a congested nose, I responsed with a simple “Ja klar. Ich komme gerne–bis bald” Or In the English Translation, “Yes, of course! I would love to come–see you soon”. What I thought was just another friendly dinner turned into 6 new german friendships and the opportunity to eat Argentinian food (She lived in Argentina for a year). The food was great and, anyway, I am a sucker for anything cultural. When there’s an opportunity to meet new people, try new food, and ultimately be fascinated by someone/something  from another corner of the world, I’m there in a heartbeat.  But, the food wasn’t the only thing that it made it great; it was the people. Besides my strong belief in everything happens for a reason, I’m a also a strong believer that people, in essence, make your world; or, that it’s the people in a location that make an experience positive. Afterall, what’s a life without friends? It’s the people in our lives that make our lives so interesting. Anyway, the point of this is, that I made 6 new German friends this weekend. Had I decided to go on the trip that wouldn’t have happened. Yes, I missed out. But, Nürnberg will always be there; the opportunity to meet others isn’t. So, I’ll end rambling on about my thoughts of the world…Hopefully you are all staying warm in the US! tschüssi :)

P.S. Here is a link to a youtube video that perfectly captures the spirit of this city! Enjoy:

The halls are decked, lights are strung, and I can hardly believe that the Christmas season has begun! Time has flown by and everyday I am even more grateful that I still have another 8 months to go–I can’t even imagine only staying for one semester! Despite the freezing cold weather and inches of hard-to-walk-in snow, Winter time in Germany is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Unlike the commerciality that I sometimes feel Christmas in the US has come to represent, there’s something special that surrounds the holidays in Germany. The Christmas markets are filled with hundreds of people of all ages who all share the same goal: to be cheerful and to have fun. It feels like the way Christmas should be. Lights are strung on small wooden cottages, endless varieties of sweets are put on display, and traditional, wooden Christmas decorations are hung and placed in window sills. Black Friday (or anything like it) is unheard of here, and most find it crazy when pictures and stories of insanely long lines and insane people are told via the news. Although the commercial aspect of Christmas is now an international phenomenon, a quick stroll (or a long one, too) through the famous German Weihnachtsmarkt helps one forget the stress that often surrounds the holiday season and one can truly feel the traditional, “cliched” Christmas spirit. I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit many Christmas markets this year: Leipzig, because I live here, but also those in Munich, Erfurt, Annaberg-Buchholz, and THE Christkindlmarkt in Nürnberg (which I will be visiting this coming Friday!).  I will be traveling to Erfurt next Friday to a local elementary school to speak to the third-graders about Christmas in the United States and to be honest, I’m a bit nervous! Speaking in German for 20-minutes straight is, well, intimidating. But, ich schaffe das! (I can do it!) It’s a great opportunity (sponsored through the US Dept. of State) and despite the small amount of anxiety, I’m really looking forward to it.

Putting Christmas aside, the last few weeks have been filled with the dreaded common cold, cooking, and more culture (shock?). The best part about having international friends here in leipzig, is the food they cook. I guess that’s not the best part, but definitely a plus. In the last few weeks, I’ve had italian pasta (twice!), polish pierogies, and traditional German christmas cookies (Plätzchen–although American cookies are better by far). I’ve done my fair share of cooking myself–potato soup, chili and pumpkin pie :) It’s a great life. Although the food has been great, getting sick hasn’t been. I’ve seen too many boxes of tissues in the last few days; have eaten one-too-many cough drops; and, have visited one-too-many german doctors. But, luckily I’m feeling a bit better :) As for culture, German doors still baffle my mind. They always seem to open in the opposite direction! I embarrassingly  rang the outside doorbell (of a doctor’s office) three times (after 15 minutes; every 5 minutes), because I thought the door was locked. After eventually seeing a woman push the door open with ease, I hesitantly walked inside to be greeted by a not-so-friendly German secretary…oops. Not only that, but I always seem to have problems paying with my credit card. Only because I signed the back as “See ID”. All of the German cashiers seem to remind me when I sign a receipt, that it is not my signature. I have perfected describing that “SEE ID” is not a signature and simply means check my “Ausweis (ID)”. But, I’m still loving it here and am still holding up well (without homesickness or extreme culture shock). It’s been a great journey so far and I’m looking forward to the next 8 months!

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