Born and bred “Baltimoron” attempting to double major in biology and environmental studies here! It is my pleasure and privilege to share my thoughts with you as I experience IES Abroad’s Environmental Studies and Sustainability program in Freiburg, Germany.
Originally, I entirely avoided looking at Europe for study abroad and instead set my sights on Trinidad and Tobago. Hands-on exposure to the biodiversity there was the driving force behind the idea. However my mom saw the murder rate is top ten in the world and asked me to consider more options first.
Heading into the Office for International Education at my school, University of Richmond, I was pretty clueless on what to do next. My study abroad advisor, Abby Ward, had the solution up her sleeve: an environmental program in Freiburg, Germany with plenty of hands-on experience. Freiburg is also arguably the most eco-friendly city in an already eco-conscious country. The city is close to both the French and Swiss borders (see map below), so is a prime location for the various field trips to the Black Forest, Swiss Alps, Rhine River and Vosges Mountains. After that conversation there were no doubts that this would be the study abroad experience for me.
Thankfully I have already finished shopping and packing at this point, but now the “waiting” part is driving me insane. To distract myself from the huge transition looming in my future I made a road trip from Baltimore to Philly to New York City and back. In the past week I also went to a 21st birthday party that actually signifies a milestone, a classic rock concert, and an Orioles baseball game.
Stuffing “home” and “region” into a few weeks was a beautiful distraction, but it’s time to face the truth – the time between now and my flight to Germany is approximately 60 hours. I feel anxious, excited, and sometimes scared out of my mind (For instance, I don’t speak any German yet). Overcoming that fear and feeling of strangeness is going to be extremely rewarding. The next few months will be a roller coaster of emotions and experiences.
Indeed the Student Handbook for the IES program contained an image depicting the 10 stages of psychological states in the study abroad process and it looks quite like a roller coaster track. There are dips, (missing home, not feeling immediately attuned to the new culture), curves (periods of rapidly changing perspective), and peaks (gaining comprehension of German language and culture, greater knowledge of the surrounding area). My one experience with transition (from home in Baltimore to college in Richmond) is nowhere near as extreme as the one I am about to embark on. Understanding these emotional ups and downs might help, but past experiences and this graphic are not the things that have prepared me for this trip. I’m ready because my spirit is open for the new people, places, and perspectives waiting for me just around the corner.
Tune in next week to hear about my travel and orientation experience!