Diana in Germany: Re-entry and Reflection

January 26, 2015

The past week and a half back to the USA has been full of energy and fun! I’ve seen all of my friends again, celebrated my 21st birthday in my hometown of Baltimore, and returned to school. Reverse culture shock is not really happening to me, which surprises me given how much time and resources were devoted to this topic by my IES program and the study abroad office at University of Richmond. I know several of my friends are experiencing it though – especially as it relates to their much heavier workload and busier extracurricular lives. For me, coming back to America has been almost entirely positive with one or two moments leaving me feeling uncomfortable.

Friends and I celebrating my 21st birthday back in the USA sleepover style.

Friends and I celebrating my 21st birthday back in the USA sleepover style.

So why do I feel so good? Unlike many people, I studied abroad in a country where I did not know the official language before arriving. Every day sent new struggles and triumphs in the form of language barriers out in public. Now I am back in a world where I can listen in to conversations others are having and order food with 100% certainty of what I will be receiving. Places are familiar, faces are familiar, I have access to my family and friends again! The coolest thing I realized about Americans once I came back is how friendly we are in public. Exchanging smiles on the street with complete strangers, saying good morning in a hotel elevator, discussing things with people in the grocery store line, which did not happen once while I was abroad. I used to take for granted how open we are in public, but with the lens of studying abroad in Germany I will always appreciate the warmth we show each other. There is also the fact that, even though I am taking 5 classes this semester, they all seem manageable and are being taught by passionate, supportive professors. The biggest struggle academically is keeping track of all 5 at once instead of one at a time.

What were the few experiences that have left me feeling a little wistful for Freiburg? So far they mostly relate to transportation, energy saving, and recycling. there are still plenty of ways we waste BIG TIME compared to Freiburgers. People who even label themselves environmentalists leave the lights on or keep their power cord on all day when they are not in their rooms. At the grocery stores and convenience stores they pack everything up in plastic bags, which I forgot about while I was abroad. Everyone in Freiburg would bring their own cloth bags and buy for only a few days worth of food because grocery stores are so close by. Here, the stores automatically put your products into plastic bags… which I know from my work at Watershed Monitoring often end up in rivers. I miss wind turbines and streetcars and knowing that my energy is coming from woodchips and biogas. However, I am happy to see several new recycling/trash combination receptacles on campus and several new options for public transport from University of Richmond’s campus into the city.

What has changed about me because of study abroad (besides my hair color, haha)? How has it impacted me?
-Navigating public transportation is like breathing now.
-I know a bit more German and have a new perspective on English. We are so privileged to live in a predominantly English speaking country. Young people in all areas of the world are learning English, which makes it that much easier to study abroad anywhere.
-I’m totally confident in my cooking skillz for the future (oh right that brings up my sadness about no longer having a kitchen)
-My life goals and day-to-day perspectives are more flexible. I believe that no matter what, I will get a job I like. Somehow and in some unexpected way.
-On New Years Day I felt a shift in my heart. I let go of past fights or negative feelings about situations and people. Thankfully it seems those people involved have also grown in this way 🙂 GO POSITIVITY!!

Finally, I promised you all a list of the things I would exchange between Germany and the USA to make one super awesome place. The things I would want from Germany are: curry ketchup, more wind turbines, more trams/subways, bike lanes, biking culture, chemical trackers (see below), good cheap beer, actual dancing, and black forest cake in every bakery. The things I would want from the USA are: more vegetarian options, more fruit and vegetables in restaurants, grocery stores open on Sunday, less bottled water, more free or inexpensive tap water, no cobblestone streets, Chipotle, and real milkshakes.

Wistful for wind turbines

Wistful for wind turbines

These track levels of different chemical pollutants that are in the air and gives a green, yellow, or red light depending on the air quality. Freiburg gets all green!

These track levels of different chemical pollutants that are in the air and gives a green, yellow, or red light depending on the air quality. Freiburg gets all green!

I missed volunteering! For MLK Day I volunteered at a non-profit farm, Shalom Farms, that sends its produce to those with less access to fresh, healthy food. Photo taken by Kevin Heraldo.​

I missed volunteering! For MLK Day I volunteered at a non-profit farm, Shalom Farms, that sends its produce to those with less access to fresh, healthy food. Photo taken by Kevin Heraldo.​

Blogging has been a wonderful experience and a way for me to record my life in Germany for myself. I appreciate the opportunity very much and thank the Office of International Education for selecting me!

Signing out for the last time on this particular blog!

Diana in Germany


Diana in Germany: Holiday Happenings

December 15, 2014

Late fall and early winter mark several celebrations for Americans back home. Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and all the days until Christmas and New Years. Though Germans do not celebrate Thanksgiving, my IES program was very sensitive to the fact that this is a special time for family and friends to come together for a large meal back home. So about 2 weeks ago IES hosted a dinner at one of the fancier restaurants in Freiburg up on Schlossberg mountain. After everybody huffed and puffed up the stairs to the top – because really who is going to pay for a two minute funicular – we were so ready to eat. I entered the dining room feeling mildly underdressed, but easily relaxed as I saw my friends and two of my previous teachers, Klaus and Sandra!

Klaus, my Environmental Ethics professor, and I at the Thanksgiving Dinner

Klaus, my Environmental Ethics professor, and I at the Thanksgiving Dinner

Sandra, my Sustainable Policy professor, and I at the Thanksgiving Dinner

Sandra, my Sustainable Policy professor, and I at the Thanksgiving Dinner

We still waited quite a time for the food! That may have been the only bad part of the evening though. The wait staff kept bringing a steady supply of fresh bread with butter to my table in particular (Many vegetarians, one vegan, and me, the “flexitarian”) Our first course was a kurbissuppe or pumpkin soup and our second course was a wonderfully dressed selection of salad and vegetables. The main meal was different than what I am used to. For me, it was in a good way. We got small cylinders of what I assume was their version of stuffing. Many of the other students mentioned they missed “real” stuffing. Mashed potatoes, warm applesauce, corn, carrots…. more bread. The pièce de résistance were the mushrooms in cream sauce. I have always been a huge mushroom fan, but never in my life have I experienced them in a more mouth-watering way. The one small piece of turkey I ate from someone else’s plate was very nice, better than the turkey I eat at home. The dessert left a lot to be desired (no pumpkin or apple pie), but we were entertained by two IES students, Ben and Katrina, singing songs from Sound of Music. I left the Schlossberg restaurant happy and very full of Thanksgiving food. IES really pulled out all the stops.

mushrooms

Those mushrooms…. I will never forget them.

The following weekend after Thanksgiving, I began my exploration of the Christmas Market in Freiburg! There were bright lights, people selling their crafts (glass, wood, ceramics, you name it). My friend Dave and I shared glühwein which is traditionally a mulled red wine for the winter season. (P.S. I am not a fan of glühwein) I also ate kartoffel puffers which are actually latkes! Dave had potatoes with a fried egg on top. There was flammkuchen (flat pizza), pasta, sauerkraut, burgers, sausages, cheeses, and sweets. Basically a smorgasbord! I returned to the markets the following day after a few hours of ice skating with my friends.

Kartoffelpuffer - yummy

Kartoffelpuffer – yummy

The next weekend I went to the Christmas Market in Colmar, France. First, my group got a tour of the city. We saw their Mannekin Pis, which was made to look like the one I saw earlier this year in Bruxelles, Belgium. Afterwards we saw the birthplace of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, creator of the Statue of Liberty, which I saw for the first time right before coming to Europe. Colmar is obviously just on the border of France and Germany based on the different architectural styles and languages written and spoken there. In fact Colmar has switched 5 times between French and German rule.

Mannekin Pis à Colmar

Mannekin Pis à Colmar

The Christmas markets themselves were more spread out throughout the city (5 different areas), which was different from the centralized market in Freiburg.The glühwein here is made with the traditional wine and spices, but also has some brandy in it.  The white wine version here is made from Alsace grapes. There were also more crêpe and waffle stations and even a stall selling escargot. I almost tried it, but chickened out when I realized I did not know the proper way to eat them. Food etiquette is a pretty big deal to me in respecting a culture, so escargot will be on the list in the future. I also noticed more people selling lace products in Colmar and fewer wooden products. It was great to experience two different markets to get a feel for what they have in common and how regional differences play into their diversity as well.

Colmar Christmas Markets

Colmar Christmas Markets

A Santa spotting!

A Santa spotting!

Back at my flat, this winter season has brought with it many awesome surprises. One of my flatmates, Hanna, organized an advent calendar. Nine of the flatmates contributed 3 presents each (that were 5 euros or less in cost). We hung the presents up in the living room as part of our Christmas decorations. Each day one person opens the presents (we have a list on the wall to keep track of who opens a present on which day). So far I have opened two presents: a cloth pencil/paintbrush holder and a bar of chocolate. A few days ago I woke up and found Stutenkerl, barely sweet dough, in the shape of a man on the handle of my door. This was to mark St. Nikolaus Tag (St. Nicholas Day) on December 6th. French legend has it that a hungry butcher killed three lost boys, but that St. Nicholas brought them back to life. My flat had a Christmas dinner this weekend with knödel, which are round bread dumplings, along with different soups and salads. For dessert we had baked apples filled with nuts and topped with vanilla sauce. It was great to have this bonding experience just one week before I move out.

Advent Calendar

Advent Calendar

Baked goods for St. Nikolaus Tag

Baked goods for St. Nikolaus Tag

Christmas dinner with my flatmates

Christmas dinner with my flatmates

Which brings me to letting you know I have only:
-3 days left of class
-6 days left in the flat
-7 days until I see my parents who are coming here to Germany for Christmas (we are starting in Frankfurt, then Baden-Baden, Freiburg for Christmas, and Munich)
-24 days until I am home… after my parents fly back home from Munich I get to go on a weeklong tour of Europe

I am excited to enjoy my last month or so in Europe with family, friends, travel, and great food. But I really am also ready to come home to fulfill all my plans. Through this time abroad I set up an opportunity to shadow a genetic counselor, volunteer training at a domestic violence shelter in Richmond, and joined an organization called WILL* (formerly known as Women Involved in Living and Learning) at my school. I will also be able to declare a double major in biology and environmental studies and a minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Not to mention when I get home I turn 21 two days after arrival, get to go to Washington D.C. with Oldham Scholars, and get to settle into the newest dorms on campus in Westhampton Hall. My life is filled with endless blessings. Coming to the end of my time in Germany allows me to reflect on how thankful I am for all my supporters, for all my challengers, and for my privileges, all of which have led me to live this full, spectacular life.


Diana in Germany: Environmental Ethics and Sustainable Policy

December 2, 2014

Two classes have passed since the last time I spoke in depth about the academic portion of my study abroad, so here’s what I have been up to in the classroom (and out!).

Environmental Ethics

My professor for this course was named Klaus. He’s a really silly guy who has a huge passion for his subject matter. Throughout the course he would make anecdotal quips about how his young sons confronted ethical questions in their daily lives. He would also explain some concepts or hypothetical situations in highly candid and casual ways. I left our first day of class feeling so excited about the subject matter. Never having studied philosophy before it was exhilarating to learn different codes of ethics, the arguments against them, and the counterarguments against those denunciations. I’m known to be “debate prone” which I like to call “debate loving” and the debates were written down right in front of me.

​Heeeere's Klaus!

​Heeeere’s Klaus!

We covered three main topics in this class which were:

  • Deontological vs. Utilitarian Ethics (do something to follow universal, moral law vs. do things to increase overall happiness)
  • Anthropocentricism vs. Physiocentrism (protecting nature for other people vs. protecting nature because it has value in itself)
  • Weak vs. Strong Sustainability (balance ecological, economic, and social needs vs. need to focus on ecological needs in order to fulfill economic and social needs)

Klaus took our class out for beer after our final exam, which is not an uncommon practice here. When I turn 21 in the U.S. I would like to compare how students and teachers socialize differently, with part of that analysis focusing on the role of alcohol. So far in the U.S. I certainly have hung out with teachers outside of the classroom setting, but never in a bar.

Sustainable Policy

The class I finished last Friday pertained to Sustainable Policy in the European Union (EU) and Germany specifically. Our first day of class I was struck by the energy and passion of our teacher, Sandra. It was also evident that the class would have interactive components in addition to lectures. Sandra wrote different topics on the board and asked us each to write our thoughts underneath. She also had us put different sources of energy production by the US in order and then showed us the real order. This method of teaching always services me more. I enjoy thinking first instead of being told first if possible.

​US Energy Generation​

​US Energy Generation​

EU Energy Generation

EU Energy Generation

Of course there were many topics Sandra had to simply teach us in lectures. Energy efficiency and renewables were two major themes of the course. For instance, two-thirds of the economic potential to improve energy efficiency remains untapped in the period up to 2035 in Germany. Then we learned in an increasingly specific fashion, scaling down from international policy, to EU policy, to Germany, to Freiburg and Freiamt.

The day we discussed international policy, we had a roundtable discussion on how to penalize countries who did not meet reduction goals. It is much more difficult to enforce emissions reductions on the international level, so the effectiveness of bodies like the International Policy United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (IPUCCC) is low. The Kyoto Protocol that resulted from their meetings was NOT ratified by the U.S. According to Bush, it would decrease our ability to build our economy, however we spent a lot of time in class discussing the numerous ways to be greener as a country. There is a lack of policy to encourage it and subsidies to non-renewable energies do not help because there is not an even playing field for renewable energy competition.

The next few days were spent on the EU Climate and Energy Package, which called for a  20% reduction in emissions, 20% increase in energy efficiency, and 20% increase in renewables energy consumption by 2020. The New EU Framework that was just ratified extends different goals out to 2030: a 40% reduction in emissions and 27% increase in energy efficiency and renewables consumption. Different member states (countries) within the EU get different targets of emissions reductions in order to meet the overall goal.

Germany plans to get at least 35 percent of its power from renewables by 2020, at least 50 percent by 2030, and at least 80 percent by 2050. This emphasis on renewable energy consumption is part of the German movement called Energiewende, which was in part fueled by the Fukishima nuclear plant disaster. Nuclear plant moratoriums began soon after the disaster. Nuclear power should be phased out entirely from Germany by 2022. Replacing this power with renewables instead of coal would help keep emissions down. One piece of policy that helps Germany become more green is the Renewable Energy Law, which includes feed-in tariffs for renewable energy. A feed-in tariff means that independent power producers have unlimited access to the energy grid and unlimited production of energy. If they feed their energy into the grid they are guaranteed to get paid for that energy at a set rate.

​Creating a model of a sustainable house in class

​Creating a model of a sustainable house in class

One afternoon class we were each tasked with exploring our village called Vauban. It runs on a cogeneration unit from natural gas and wood chips. This system enabled Freiburg to reduce its reliance on nuclear power from 60% to 30%. The famous Heliotrope, the house that rotates with the sun, is also located about 10 minutes walking from my house. The Heliotrope was the first home in the world that produced 5 times more energy than it expends: the energy consumption is emission-free, CO2-neutral and 100% renewable. The builder of the home, Rolf Disch lives there. Even closer (across the main road from my flat)  are the Solar Settlement, a low emissions planned community, and the Solar Ship. The Solar Ship is a business center with tons of solar panels on top.

​This model of an energy plus house is on my jogging route!​

​This model of an energy plus house is on my jogging route!​

​Skyview of the Solar Ship and Solar Settement. Look at all those solar panels!

​Skyview of the Solar Ship and Solar Settement. Look at all those solar panels!

One of our final days in class, we went on a field trip to a community called Freiamt. This community has 250 solar roofs, a biogas heat and energy generator we visited and also several wind turbines. At the biogas facility, 10 tons of corn go into the first tank. After the first step, everything foes into an anaerobic fermentor or 90 days. 1.3million kWh are produced at the facility we visited. Next we went to a farm with cows, solar panels, and a wind turbine. 65% of their income is from their cows, but 35% comes from selling their energy. They also produce schnapps from the energy they produced with renewables! During our tour of Freiamt we also stopped at several wind turbines, discussed how long the projects took, the sizes of the blades and height of the turbines, and also the financials of each project. We were even allowed into one of the turbines! To learn more about Freiamt, go to this link.

​Biogas farm​

​Biogas farm​

​Class Wind Turbine Photo

​Class Wind Turbine Photo

The major homework component of the Sustainable Policy class was coming up with a business plan related to sustainable energy. I will not disclose the specifics of my business plan since I may actually use it one day. We had to include unique selling points, risk assessment and mitigation strategies, financing, marketing, and stakeholders. The process the class went though though – practicing business pitches, presentations, and a final business proposal in writing – all really enhanced my skills and deepened my understanding of starting and running a business. This was a skill I never really expected to get over here, but it was awesome to have this practice. I’m not one to love group projects and this was all on my own. It made me feel that I actually accomplished something when I sent in the final business proposal.

I only have 1 class left, which requires 11 days in school. It’s my “Freiburg Green City” class that counts as an Environmental Economics credit. The class features 4 of field trips with one being a bike tour of Freiburg. After my first day of class today, it seems we will learn more about how the green image of Freiburg is merely a selling point rather than “reality.” A critical perspective Freiburg is certainly a new one, and I am excited to explore it further.

Next Week

Late fall and early winter activities!


Diana in Germany Week Seven: Back Home Blues

October 23, 2014

Sometimes homesickness creeps its way into my almost perfect life here in Freiburg. Posts on Facebook about Homecoming, the autumn colors on University of Richmond’s beautiful campus, and going back home for fall break have made it clear to me that there are things about home that I completely miss. For instance, being over here for fall makes me realize that it is my absolute favorite season in the US.

​Last Halloween, my organic chemistry class received extra credit for showing up in costume. I'm in the light blue dress in the middle as Danaerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones.

​Last Halloween, my organic chemistry class received extra credit for showing up in costume. I’m in the light blue dress in the middle as Danaerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones.

On a more serious note, my grandmother had heart surgery when I left and a few of my friends back home are having a really tough time. It makes me sad that I am not there to be supportive in all the ways that I normally would be. So how do I handle the nostalgia? How do I keep up with the people and news from back home?

 

Keeping up with the Fam

You bet we Skype. We actually seem to be talking MORE now that I am abroad than when I am away from home at school in the states. I even get to see my cats, Cookies and Cream over Skype. Weird right? Not exactly. At UR my workload is extremely heavy. I am also a member and leader of multiple extracurricular activities. Occasionally I barely have time to eat. It’s ridiculous. Here in Freiburg I have one class at a time and only spend about 3 hours a day in class and maybe 1 hour tops doing homework. That leaves a ton of time open to socialize with everyone and have adventures in Freiburg plus getting in touch with everyone back home for an hour every few days or so.

​My parents and I on Skype call.

​My parents and I on Skype call.

My mother even took her computer up to Pennsylvania last weekend and I got to Skype with my grandparents. My grandma is so tired after heart surgery that she had to lay down in the middle of the conversation. I am rooting for my grandma. She is so silly and goofy when she has the energy. I really hope she can pull through the recovery process and feel well again.

 

​A picture with my grandparents right before I left for Freiburg at their home in Lititz, Pennsylvania.

​A picture with my grandparents right before I left for Freiburg at their home in Lititz, Pennsylvania.

Facebooking Buds from Back Home

Oddly, I have not used Skype with my friends at all. That needs to change, and a group of my friends from Towson, MD want to do a group Ben-and-Jerrys-Netflix call soon.

Expectedly, we connect on Facebook. I love that private group messaging is an option. My best friends from University of Richmond are in one chat group named after a fake sorority we “made” as a joke, RhoRhoRho. My best friends from Towson are all in a chat group labeled Four Fierce Females, named after our recent team name at Applebees trivia this past summer. This is especially awesome because all of us in Four Fierce Females go to different schools and so even when I am not abroad this makes it easy to catch everyone in the group up all at one time. All of these girls have supported me via Internet while I have been here. I feel a lot less close to the people over in Germany because you cannot really make that deep a connection in 7 weeks.

​Four Fierce Female last get-together. In order from left to right are Kayla, me, Allison, and Selena.

​Four Fierce Female last get-together. In order from left to right are Kayla, me, Allison, and Selena.

​RhoRhoRho! Hira, Danielle, and I.

​RhoRhoRho! Hira, Danielle, and I.

Thank goodness I live during this time period because I would have to be no contact except for expensive phone calls and mail without the Internet.

 

Visiting

A lot of people study abroad at the same time. You have to take advantage of that if you ever go abroad. Exploring a city with a close friend and having free lodging is pretty optimal when you’re a college kid on a budget. Thankfully two really awesome people are really close geographically to me – my cousin, Grace, in London and my best friend, Masnoon, in Paris.

I will be visiting Grace for my all time favorite holiday, Halloween. Here in Germany most people do not celebrate Halloween with the same gusto as we do in the states. Only some little kids in some places dress up and there is very little observation of the traditional trick-or-treating.I know a few clubs and bars holding a special night for Halloween as well. I want to get dressed up, eat candy, and have fun on my Halloween, so it is perfect that I will be going to London where the spirits will come out to play and I won’t look like a total idiot wearing my Peter Pan costume.

Now you have already seen my recent trip to Paris, Orléans, Blois, and Chenonceau with Masnoon. But what you didn’t know is he’s coming to visit me here in Freiburg next week. I cannot wait to show him this city and the surrounding natural beauty. Paris does not suit either of us so much because it is so full of tourists and concrete. Freiburg together will be such an awesome adventure. I fully expect that he and I will check of some of my bucket list items!

 

​Goodbye, friend! It was wonderful to have you visit my new home in Freiburg!

​Goodbye, friend! It was wonderful to have you visit my new home in Freiburg!

Feelings for Freiburg

Right this second I realized that once my study abroad experience ends I will feel this way about Freiburg too. Now that I have two “home” countries, I will always be a little homesick. What a thought. It doesn’t bother me though. All it means is that two countries have raised me and shaped me into who I am today. That is truly beautiful.


Diana in Germany Week Six: Ecology and Management of Forests

October 20, 2014

My second class of the semester is already over! Also about 35% done my stay in Germany to put things in perspective. So these past few weeks in Ecology and Management of Forests in Southwestern Germany and the Swiss Alps we have gone on field excursions a total of 6 times, and they were all amazing.

 

Schauinsland

Our first excursion was an all day hike at the nearby Shauinsland hill. We took a bus up the mountain to save time, and we made it to the summit by foot shortly afterwards. There is a tower on top, but we decided not to climb as it would not have offered more of a view that foggy morning. Here we discussed how the Black Forest, Rhine River Valley, and Vosges Mountains were formed by the shifting of tectonic plates millions of years ago.

As we walked down through the hill paths we stopped to talk about the economy, the shift from grazing meadow to coniferous forests for timber, and the forest diebacks Germany experienced in the late 1900’s. We saw beech trees that are naturally predominant in this area and also many Douglas firs that have been introduced for timber and tree coverage.

Unfortunately I did not bring my camera on this trip, so no photos. Sorry!!

 

Rhine River Valley

Our next field trip brought us to the border of France and Germany, which is delineated by the Rhine River itself. It was intriguing to see that the land and vegetation were different on opposite sides of the river!

​The Rhine River. France on the left and Germany on the right. In class a point was made how the banks look different and have different vegetation.

​The Rhine River. France on the left and Germany on the right. In class a point was made how the banks look different and have different vegetation.

We studied the signs of flooding that frequently occurs in riparian areas. For instance, there were trees that were slanted and buildup of vegetative litter that had been carried by floodwaters. Closest to the rivers there were only new grasses and sometimes no vegetation at all since species had not been able to establish since the last flood. Trees were further up the banks. The rocks also gave it away. Smaller, finer sediment deposits higher up on the banks because it travels in the water whereas the largest rocks stay put near the river.

​Flood waters made these trees bend and stay slanted.

​Flood waters made these trees bend and stay slanted.

Our next stop on the trip brought us to the side channel of the Rhine. Here we discussed the human impacts that literally shaped the river. Way back when there were many small side channels and more bends in the river. The riparian areas were relatively undisturbed and stretched a lot wider geographically than they do currently. All of this changed through a serious of straightening and damming projects. Now there are only two major channels with fewer curves. This was wonderful economically as it straightened and shortened the river, so shipping and boating took shorter periods of time. Unfortunately it exposed villages to flooding and destroyed huge areas of riparian habitat.

To reduce flooding and promote a more natural ecology, the Integrated Rhine Program was established. So far 3 out of 13 projects have been completed. It takes a long time to restore riparian ecosystems, but one step at a time things should improve.

 

Coventwald

Forestry relies on scientific research nowadays and Coventwald is one such research forest. Our guide for that day has been studying chemical deposition rates in the forest depending on tree type/amount of tree cover. The factors that increase chemical deposition in forests are the leaf area index and age of the trees. basically chemicals in the air (a lot now input by industries and humans) stick to leaves and then when it rains the chemicals wash off the leaves and deposit themselves into the soil. When soil chemistry changes, some trees are not as suited to the environment.

​​​This is an example of the equipment used to get water out of soil.

​​​This is an example of the equipment used to get water out of soil.

The major results of the studies so far have been the following:

  • Higher deposition under canopy and in soil of spruce trees than under beech trees
  • Soils are becoming more acidic
  • Nitrate levels have decreased

The coolest part of the trip was walking up a research tower. We had an amazing view from there, but it was scary! The stairs were wet, so walking up to and down from the top made me think I was on Fear Factor or The Amazing Race. At the top I also pondered the fact that my father would never be able to be there (he is pretty afraid of heights).

 

​We got to go on top of the research tower at Coventwald! 11 flights of stairs was a work out. On top, we could feel the tower moving in the wind.

​We got to go on top of the research tower at Coventwald! 11 flights of stairs was a work out. On top, we could feel the tower moving in the wind.

Swiss Alps

7am sharp this past Monday my class gathered outside of the Konzerthaus in Freiburg to start our 4 hour bus drive to Disentis, Switzerland. When we arrived in the Alps it was absolutely pouring (which is why I don’t have pictures from this first day of the trip FYI). To make a long day short, the class hiked hard terrain up into Scatlé forest that has been untouched by humans since before the 13th century, which makes it extremely unique. Very few tourists go through it and only a few researchers interact with the forest at all. We were out there for a long time with no facilities, so I unfortunately had to “interact” with the forest. You got it… I peed in a primeval forest. Soaking wet, we made it back to our hostel for showers and a great dinner with schnitzel, vegetable soup, and caramel flan. We were all very grateful to be warm and dry indoors.

Our second day welcomed us with beautiful weather. The excursion for that day consisted of taking a cable car up to the top of a mountain and walking back down it, similar to what we did during the Shauinsland excursion. Our speaker for the day had an extremely thick Swiss German accent and I could barely pay attention to anything said. That was fine because the surrounding area was gorgeous!

​The cable car we took our second day in the Swiss Alps.

​The cable car we took our second day in the Swiss Alps.

The final day of our trip started very early. We left our hostel at 7am and then had a few hours on the bus to sleep. We arrived at Aletsch mountain, which is the most beautiful natural place I have been so far during my study abroad experience. There were trees turning yellow and conifers that were green. The tops of the mountains are covered in snow. We even got to see Aletsch Glacier and, off in the distance, Matterhorn! We had to rush through our hike a bit because of the bus driver wanting to get back to Freiburg (about 6 hours away at this point).

​Mountain ash​

​Mountain ash​

​Larch​

​Larch​

​Swiss Stone Pine​

​Swiss Stone Pine​

​Aletsch Glacier​

​Aletsch Glacier​

​A stunning view from the top of the Alps.

​A stunning view from the top of the Alps.

On the way home our bus drove onto a train… it carries cars and busses. I had never even heard of this mode of transportation before! (Have you?) At 8pm, all us tired students made our way off the bus and back to bed.

 

Last Day of Class

The last day of class we started with a student presentation on the ways forests are managed all around Europe. However the most interesting part was that our teacher then spent the rest of the class period asking us for our critical input about the course. He took notes about our suggestions and what things we liked best. At University of Richmond we’re supposed to fill out forms online with our evaluation of a class, but this was such a more rewarding experience. Having a conversation as a class with a teacher and hearing what the teacher thought of our suggestions gave me a huge feeling of independence and control over my education.

 

Next Post

Alright guys I have to admit it – homesickness has finally gotten to me a tiny bit. I want to devote a blog post to what things I do to handle those feelings and about how my relation to home has changed a lot since I came to Freiburg.


Oliver in Spain: Time to Travel

October 16, 2014

Fall break came and went and it is about time that I recap that experience for you all. The itinerary was as follows: 4 days in Paris, 2 days in Prague, 1 day in Berlin, and 2 days in Amsterdam. The 10 days that I spent traveling around these cities defined the best fall break I have ever had without a shadow of a doubt. I’ll do my best to recap each of these cities and try to keep it brief.

I flew into Paris on Thursday night and ended up being without my luggage for 48 hours. The funny thing was that I didn’t have a worry in the world. I know it’s a little gross to be touring a city in the same clothes for two days but Paris left such an impression on me that I will soon forget the inconvenience of not having a change of clothes. As soon as the plane landed I had the type of feeling that I got the first time I stepped onto Richmond’s campus. It is inexplicable but I felt so excited and ready to go. Along with five of my friends I found my way to the apartment that we would be sharing for the next four days. It was a small two room apartment but we did not spend much time in it. The next four days were a balance of tourism, relaxation, and fun. We hit all of the big stops like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.

The Louvre

The Louvre

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

We also went out to dinner one night to a great street side restaurant. The wine was flowing and the escargot was sizzling. Everything about that dinner left me satisfied for the night out.

Escargot and wine

Escargot and wine

Looking back on my time in Paris, I think it is my favorite city I have ever visited and I would move there in a heartbeat.

Next was Prague. My friend Will and I traveled by train and bus and arrived early afternoon. We moved into our “penthouse” apartment (at least it felt like a penthouse after our tiny place in Paris) and immediately went out to walk the city. Pink, green, and red painted buildings lined the streets and I felt like I was in a children’s book. We walked across the Charles Bridge and up to the main castle.

The castle entrance.

The castle entrance.

The street view

The street view

Berlin was a short, under 24 hour, stop. It wasn’t great weather but we still made the most of it and walked to the Holocaust Museum and Berlin Wall.

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall

The Holocaust Museum

The Holocaust Museum

Finally came Amsterdam. This city was my second favorite stop on this trip. The canals running through the city gave a unique vibe to the city that made it feel similar to Copenhagen. I made an attempt to go into the Van Gogh museum but after 9 days of traveling through Europe I was feeling a little frugal. I settled for a picture with the “I AMsterdam” sign and continued to walk through the city. Even though it was raining quite hard, I was thoroughly enjoying the walk. There is a very different, and enjoyable, feel to a city when it is raining.

The canal

The canal

The windmill.

The windmill.

I know these descriptions were all very brief but I did not want to write an overwhelming post. I could go on forever with each of these cities separately so if you are interested in hearing more, please reach out to me. I returned to Valencia and was greeted by 75 degree weather. Valencia is truly home for me and I am excited to stay grounded in Spain for a little while. Time to perfect my Spanish and see what cities like Barcelona and Madrid have to offer me.


Diana in Germany (Delayed) Week Four: Double Dose Part 1

October 6, 2014

Sorry for the delay everyone! I have been so busy with academics and travel that I am behind by a week! So what does this mean for you? Glad you asked. This means two blog posts are coming your way next week in a little thing I like to call Double Dose Diana. One post about travel and one post about everything else. This is the post about everything else.

Flat Talk

My flatmates are flabbergasted by the price of college in America. This spurred many a conversation so far. The students I have talked with barely pay anything or get paid to attain a higher level of education. In America there are several more affordable options than paying the sticker price for a private school, such as University of Richmond at almost $57,000 a year. For instance UR gives wonderful aid – I attend on full scholarship. There are also 4-year public schools averaging $21,000 a year and community colleges for much less. All told though, the average student debt in 2013 for U.S. college graduates was over $30,000, a decently horrifying number to some Europeans whose governments subsidize post-secondary education. Germany actually just passed a resolution that public college tuition would be free for all German students. Lucky them!

​A viral photo on Facebook after the announcement that German university will be tuition free.

​A viral photo on Facebook after the announcement that German university will be tuition free.

I brought up another issue close to my life and to University of Richmond: rampant sexual assault in colleges. About 12% of female German Uni students experience attempted or completed rape in German colleges vs. 25% of female American college students. So basically, it’s too dang much in both places. It also seemed to me that the German uni students I know rarely have conversations about sexual violence as they had to research what the rates were.

Of course we have also discussed obesity and the general (lack of?) health in America. Simon notably stated, “America has one day of independence and 52 of eating badly… land of the free, home of the fat.” That one stung a bit. I think there is a general lack of healthy food available in America, especially for people who do not make a ton of money. We have a lot of work to do here as a country. Only recently I learned about food deserts in America. These areas have no nearby, accessible grocery stores. Many people in inner city areas like this rely on public transportation, but that isn’t going to take you to the grocery store 20 miles away quickly, if at all. Here in Freiburg, I can walk for 3 minutes and see 2 grocery stores.

Finally, I always knew Europeans eat with their fork in their left and their knife in their right, no matter if they are left or right handed. As a right-handed American I always eat with my fork in my right hand until I need to cut something and switch hands briefly. My flatmates had never noticed this phenomenon! Last night during my weekend travels, I looked down and realized I finally was eating in the European style!


Study Abroad Bucket List

I was supposed to have this list before leaving the US. However, I knew I had no clue what my life would be like and set to settling in first before solidly deciding on an official “I have to do this” list. Here are the top 20 left to do, accompanied by pictures of some of the ones I have already completed so far!

1. Climb the Münster Cathedral Tower
2. Go to the rooftop restaurant, Skyda
3. Eat international food from every stall in the Markthalle
4. Eat a Turkish Döner from Euphrat
5. Try on a dirndl
6. Eat at the most stereotypical restaurant for German food in Freiburg, Martin’s Bräu
7. Hike up to the tower on Schauinsland mountain
8. Go skiing for the first time
9. Take a paddle boat out on Titisee Lake
10. Getting through a meal without the waiter or waitress switching to English
11. Enjoy the thermal baths of Baden-Baden
12. Visit nearby French cities such as Colmar and Strasbourg
13. Slide down the longest tunnel slide in Europe at Baumkronenweg
14. Explore Neuschwanstein castle
15. Travel through the exhibits at the Augustiner Museum
16. Watch a soccer game in the Freiburg stadium
17. Ride a boat on the Rhine River
18. Join a University of Freiburg extracurricular activity
19. Watch a Baltimore Orioles game in an Irish pub called O’Kelly’s
20. Lounge in the botanical gardens

 

​The Black Forest cake my friend Anne and I made. This was one of the items on my bucket list that I already checked off!

​The Black Forest cake my friend Anne and I made. This was one of the items on my bucket list that I already checked off!

The End of German Class

The last week of German class was much more difficult as we leaned new verbs called separable verbs in addition to learning travel vocabulary. Frau Snuggs made no signs of letting the class off easy, which is wonderful. When a professor expects a lot from me, I tend to work harder. All in all, we made it through 10 of the 12 chapters in our book in just 3 weeks! Our test was on a Wednesday and I’m proud to say my 10 hours of studying paid off. I got a 1,0 on the test and in the class, which is an A! This is how grades work for class:

​German gradingsystem as compared to American grading system

​German gradingsystem as compared to American grading system

The morning of our last day, which was two Fridays ago, we went to the student café together for breakfast. Then we had a “graduation ceremony.” This ceremony was pretty awesome as all of the German students for this three week program attended. One of my classmates, Quinn, and his wife sang with a choir in front of the whole crowd. We received our grades afterwards and enjoyed the spread of food and drink the program set out for us. I am so thankful to Frau Snuggs and my other German classmates – this was an amazing beginning on the journey to German fluency.

OH yeah, I also surprised my class by showing up with a completely new hairstyle and color.

 

​​I loved all the people in my German class!

​​I loved all the people in my German class!

​Our teacher, Frau Snuggs was amazing.

​Our teacher, Frau Snuggs was amazing.

 

First time getting my hair dyed!

First time getting my hair dyed!

A New Class

This past week my first environmental class began, but we only had a three day week! This class is called Ecology and Management of Forest Landscapes in Southwest Germany and the Swiss Alps. The format of this class is very unique. We have lecture and student presentations one day and then the next we go out into the field. This week, we took a bus up Schauinsland mountain and hiked down the rest of the way. We made frequent stops to talk about the history, geology, vegetation, etc. at different altitudes. At the end of the day I was tired and very content to take a hot shower. Hopefully our trip next week to the Rhine River Valley will be a bit less strenuous!

Next Post

Stop by the blog mid-week as I am planning to post about my travels outside of Freiburg! It will include details and analysis of my solo trip to Brussels and my trip with fellow UR Spider, Masnoon Majeed, in Paris and the Loire Valley. Finally, read some travel tips that come from my recent experiences.


Jack in Czech Republic: Oktoberfest: Truths and Myths

October 2, 2014

Ah, Oktoberfest. An event that somehow combines the best parts of Halloween, Disney World, a family reunion, and Beerfest into a one-month celebration. One of the few things larger than the fest itself is the aura surrounding it. Because I have a whopping 48 hours of Oktoberfest under my belt, I deem myself credentialed to separate the truths from the myths, the facts from the legends, and the moderately exaggerated from the ludicrously overstated.

You need to get there early – Myth

The tents that serve beer open at 10:00 on weekdays and 9:00 on weekends, but people line up much earlier to ensure they get into the tent of their choice as soon as the gates open. As the fateful weekend approached, everyone’s supposed wake up times grew earlier and earlier. “Dude, you better get there by 7:30 or there’s no way you’re getting in.” “My friends went last weekend and they said you need to be there by 6:45.” “I’m gonna set my alarm for 5:45.” I did not arrive before noon on either of the days I attended. And guess what? I still got into a tent. Yes, some waiting was involved, but not as much as there would have been had I woke up at some devilish time. Maybe I missed out on the fun of waking up and hating yourself for a couple hours. Oh well.

You should book Oktoberfest well in advance – Truth

You don’t really have to. But do it. Your life will be easier. I knew people who booked their trips the week before, but they seemed pretty stressed out trying to get all the logistics together. Also, many places, especially cheap hostels and nice hotels, sell out well in advance. My advice: once you know you’re going to study in Europe, link up with your friends who will also be in Europe and book the trip. It will make for a great European reunion.

Oktoberfest is all about beer and nothing else – Myth

To me, this is probably the most exaggerated myth of all. There is so much more to Oktoberfest than the beer, which I was happy to see. In fact, Oktoberfest has activities for everyone. I saw people of all ages, including babies in strollers, at the fest. There are rides on rides on rides, a bunch of different types tents and exhibits, and almost too much different food to try. You could spend a whole day at Oktoberfest without approaching one of the beer tents and not see the entire grounds.

 

Some friends and ventured away from the wildness inside the tents and checked out some of the rides.

Some friends and ventured away from the wildness inside the tents and checked out some of the rides.

Beer, however, is important – Truth

While beer is certainly not the be-all end-all of Oktoberfest, it certainly has a role. The beer is delicious, but more importantly, it comes in steins. Few things are more fun than drinking large quantities of liquid out of a massive German stein. Most of the beer is served in gigantic tents, which have an unbelievable atmosphere. Thousands of people fit into these tents, and there is continuous singing and dancing on the tables. A personal highlight was when the large band played a great version of Sweet Caroline.

Gigantic is not an understatement.

Gigantic is not an understatement.

Oktoberfest defines German culture – Myth

Whenever I brought up Oktoberfest to a Czech or German, they all seemed to give me an odd smirk and a quick chuckle before responding. It’s actually amazing how they all do it the exact same way. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure it’s code for “Haha silly, naïve American. Look at you trying to be all cultural. You’re annoying.” I asked one German from Hamburg in one of my classes if he goes most years. Mistake. He legitimately laughed in my face, and said he never went and has no real desire to go. While there certainly was some celebration of German culture, Oktoberfest seems to be as much of a tourist event as anything else.

Stay out of the waitresses’ way – Truth

The waitresses are absolute machines. They are machines partially because of their work ethic.  They carry large amounts of drink and food, navigate through dense crowds, and practically never spill nor slow down. They are also machines in the sense that they will not stop to talk and they won’t slow down if there’s an obstacle. So if you’re in their way, uh, move, or you will get steamrolled. And don’t ever trying tapping them on the shoulders or getting their attention when they are carrying food. You could get yourself a good ole’ German tongue-lashing. And you won’t get whatever it was you wanted.

Holding one stein is hard enough. These waitresses are constantly carrying eight. Eight!

Holding one stein is hard enough. These waitresses are constantly carrying eight. Eight!

Oktoberfest is overhyped – Myth

After months of build up, the hype surrounding Oktoberfest reached extreme levels. The anticipation began at UR last spring and carried through the summer. In Prague, it exponentially grew, as it seemed like someone was always talking about Oktoberfest. Despite the absurd amount of hype, Oktoberfest easily exceeded my expectations. There is just so much to do, so many people to see, and so much fun to be had. After Oktoberfest, most people who I spoke with about it said the same thing. If you study abroad in Europe, you have to check out Oktoberfest.

I must have mixed up my lederhosen with my Hawaiian shirt. Maybe next time I’ll get it right.

I must have mixed up my lederhosen with my Hawaiian shirt. Maybe next time I’ll get it right.

Thanks for Reading!

Selfie of the week: Because I am an egotistical millennial, here is the selfie of the week:

 

A few thousand of my friends and I at Oktoberfest.

A few thousand of my friends and I at Oktoberfest.

 

 


Oliver in Spain: Education

October 2, 2014

It has been a little while since I’ve posted here, but I have nothing but good things to report. Last week I continued my weekend travel and went to Munich to celebrate Oktoberfest. I even had the pleasure of seeing a handful of UR students that I did not expect to see. Munich is a pretty special city and I was excited at the opportunity to work on my German, or lack there of.

With friends at Oktoberfest

With friends at Oktoberfest in Munich

I want to focus this post on a the education/academics of Spain because it is one of the areas that differs tremendously from that of the US. After a month in Valencia, it becomes pretty easy to pick up on patterns. One of these patterns is seeing my 21 year old host brother at home regularly. In the United States a 21 year old would be at his or her University, living in a dorm and studying every day. In Spain, it is common for students to stay with their family and be a part time student. Another point of interest here is what comes post graduation. I am lucky enough to attend UR and be given a more than 90% chance that I will have a job lined up after college. The students here are not as lucky. For men and women 25 years and younger, the unemployment rate is over 55%. Compare that with our number hovering around 12% and you can see the difference. It is highly unlikely that a student will have a job coming out of college so they just carry on and get their masters.

This might have seen like more of a report than a blog post but these are the things that are visible in my day to day life. I go to school right across the street from the University of Valencia and I can’t help but feel sorry for the students I see.

I’ve decided to keep this one short as my fall break is upon me and I am two hours away from boarding a flight to Paris. Fall break plans include Paris, Berlin, Prague, and Amsterdam so I will have a lot to write about when I get back. I’ll keep the next one focused on travel!


Diana in Germany Week Three: Rumor Has It

September 22, 2014

Hi everyone! I feel my focus so far has mainly been on surface details – the nuts and bolts of my experience and of Freiburg, Germany. This week I want to delve a little deeper and analyze some observations I have made. **Disclaimer** The following are my interpretation of experiences and discussions with Germans and Americans that I know. This does not reflect every possible opinion, experience, or perspective.

 

Analysis of Observations
Almost instantaneously upon arrival, I noticed that Germans tend to be more reserved in public spaces as compared to Americans. In grocery store lines at home I’m used to striking up conversation with others – maybe about the weather, or how I like their outfit, anything to pass the time more pleasantly. So far people in stores and on trams in Germany do not joke or chit-chat with strangers. This difference is most notable between when I ride the tram with and without my IES group. Without the group, the trains are mostly silent. When a whole group of IES students get on the tram speaking in English, all eyes are on us because of how loud we are. I think both systems have their perks and that a respectful volume on public transportation has been enjoyable.

I understand such formality in Germany to be much more fundamental to the culture, especially as compared to the US. In German class our first day, we learned the difference between addressing someone formally and informally. In the US we also tend to address older strangers as Mr. and Mrs. (Herr and Frau auf Deutsch), while referring to younger strangers and familiar people by their first name. However, grammar and language changes due to formality in German. Verb conjugations in German rely on whether you want to be formal or informal, which to my knowledge does not exist in English.

The issue of formality may also seep into how quickly people become friends between the two countries. Before I came to Germany I read that personal relationships take more time to build here than in the US. One of the IES staff members put it differently: Americans tend to make “friendships” faster, but these are often superficial. Maybe what Americans recognize as friendship is acquaintanceship through another lens? Is this why we differentiate between our “best friends” and people who are only our “friends”? Either way, the people I spend time with here are very friendly and helpful and I strive to be friendly and helpful back — even if we aren’t technically friends. And that’s the way it should be!

P.S. People do not walk around in lederhosen and dirndls (traditional dresses) here. Unless you go to Munich right now or you are in a supremely traditional rural area. Sorry if this disappoints anyone.

Social Updates
There is so much to do during study abroad that it starts getting to be too much to remember to blog about it! Last week I left out an amazing exploration of Freiburg’s art galleries with Tobi, my flatmate and Simon, a houseguest from Toulousse. We visited an art gallery in addition to several smaller private collections with art for sale. The gallery is called Stadische Museen Freiburg im Briesgau, and it was full of contemporary/modern art. I found my new favorite piece of art (as shown below). Unfortunately I did not write down the name or artist, but that only means I will have to go back! We visited two smaller galleries as well, and I have never been to such a small gallery with prices listed next to the artwork. There were a multitude of mediums and techniques utilized in the artwork. Some of my favorites included paintings on aluminum using lacquer, 3-D boxed city collages, and amazing line portraits.

​My new favorite painting. Though the subject is quite gruesome (a huge massacre of animals?), the mark-making is powerful and expressive in a way that I admire

​My new favorite painting. Though the subject is quite gruesome (a huge massacre of animals?), the mark-making is powerful and expressive in a way that I admire

​A painting of Martinstor using lacquer on aluminum. This medium blows my mind and I need to try it sometime!

​A painting of Martinstor using lacquer on aluminum. This medium blows my mind and I need to try it sometime!

​The simplicity of a few lines can still capture the complexity of a portrait. Amazing.

​The simplicity of a few lines can still capture the complexity of a portrait. Amazing.

I also forgot to mention the Apple Pie Contest. Simon created several wonderful dishes and desserts while here. Somehow we ended up challenging each other to a duel where apparently I would have the home field advantage… because all Americans know how to make apple pie, right? Instead of going fully traditional, which would have taken way more baking experience and time, I decided to create an apple crumble Gordon Ramsey style. In addition to apples and caramel and cinnamon crumbles, this dessert has cranberries and lemon zest for extra pizzaz. The Gordon Ramsey apple crumble Youtube video and Simon’s help on making caramel sauce all contributed to me winning in taste. Simon won for presentation with a huge piece of caramel and obviously won for technique. Still – I won in a category against someone who has been cooking and baking his whole life!

​The apple crumble seriously crumbled on the plate - but it was still delicious!

​The apple crumble seriously crumbled on the plate – but it was still delicious!

​Me with my creation. Simon, my competitor, is still cooking in the background.

​Me with my creation. Simon, my competitor, is still cooking in the background.

This week, I also participated in a few social events. My friend Sarah and I went swimming at an indoor public pool. To our dismay there was no hot tub and everyone was swimming laps. I guess the pool is as serious as the gym here in terms of a workout! The planned trip to Titisee on Saturday fell through because I had a cold and ended up sleeping in bed all day. My friend Anne finally got me out of bed with the promise of all you can eat sushi. We ended up each eating 15 pieces of sushi (3 rolls more or less), 2 miso soups, a side dish, and 3 scoops of ice cream. I am definitely going back on a weekday at lunch when the same deal is available for a full 10 euro less. The green tea ice cream was the highlight of my entire day.

Sunday I knew I needed to get out of the house, sick or not. With that goal in mind, I went on the 10km hike through Ravennaschlucht in the Black Forest as planned. Originally there was a group of 8 students, some from Ukraine and Japan in addition to Anne, another IES girl named Katherine, and I from the US. There were gorgeous waterfalls all along the trail and here or there I saw water wheels. The train stop was only one away from Titisee, so we originally planned on hiking then eating lunch in Titisee. Unfortunately, it started raining! This was not the best for my health, but it still was worth it. Katherine, Anne, and I celebrated successfully making it back to Freiburg with a nice, warm falafel pita.

​Goats greet us as we make our way to the start of the Ravennaschlucht trail.

​Goats greet us as we make our way to the start of the Ravennaschlucht trail.

​Me with our guide Mimi on a bridge in the Black Forest.

​Me with our guide Mimi on a bridge in the Black Forest.

One of the many beautiful waterfalls along the Ravennaschlucht trail.

One of the many beautiful waterfalls along the Ravennaschlucht trail.


Next week
-Goals in Freiburg and beyond!
-Common topics of conversation during my trip so far
-The end of German class
-Brussels trip


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