By Peter Frankman
One of the first things I learned in high school German was, “Was machst du in deine Freizeit?” This means, “What do you do in your free time?” It’s one of those seemingly useful questions that doesn’t work here because Germans don’t do small talk.
What I do in my free time isn’t that different from what I do at home. Why would it be? I’m 22 years old. I’m not an old man or stuck in my ways, but I know what I enjoy doing.
Not counting class, sleeping, the short amount of time I pretend to do homework, cleaning, and cooking leaves me between ten and 12 conscious hours to fill a day. Some of that I spend writing and some of that time I read. I go on walks a lot more here than I do at home.
Taking some free time to enjoy a hot chocolate at Cafe Zeitgeist.
“Exploring” Lüneburg. It’s not exploring anymore. Lüneburg isn’t as familiar as the back of my hand, but I have a pretty good idea of what it looks like.
Playing basketball is what I enjoy doing most here. Two hours, twice a week, I get to gear up, get psyched, and potentially injure myself chasing much more athletic people up and down the court. It’s nice to hang out with some new bros and that one, soul-crushingly attractive German girl. There’s the joy of getting exhausted and the endorphin rush of making a great play. I don’t get this excited playing with old dudes at The Rec in Iowa City.
No matter what I do, I’m doing it wrong. Free time doesn’t feel free, it feels wasted. Out here there’s a lot of pressure to “make the most” of your time. It’s not just internal pressure, though.
You feel the pressure from everyone back home who told you what to do while abroad. Everyone, in this case, isn’t much of an exaggeration. Friends, family, distant relatives, awkward acquaintances that heard from coworkers that you were going to Europe, they all know exactly what you should do.
It starts at “have fun” and “take pictures” and “drink beer” and it builds to “travel” and “go to Oktoberfest” and “Europe? You have to see Venice!” and “When my cousin was in Germany he said there was this bar in Berlin...” and it goes on.
Then there’s peer pressure that comes with social media.
Everyone looks like they’re having more fun. You go on Facebook and see Megan and Allister off doing something in München that looks way more fun than anything you’ve done out here. All these happy people doing all their happy things. Clearly you’re the only one doing it wrong, right?
Looking back after it’s all over might make it worse. Friends will ask what you did and at some point you’ll add in “I had a good time but I wish I had...” You’ll be forgetting the exams you studied for or the money you didn’t have.
Free time becomes less free when everything is expensive.
It’s that scene from Seinfeld, the show you’re wasting your free time re-watching again. Elaine says, “Well is this a waste of time? What should we be doing? Can’t you have coffee with people?”
Peter is a senior from Burbank, California, majoring in English and Journalism at the University of Iowa. He is spending his fall semester studying abroad on the USAC Lüneburg program in Lüneburg, Germany.