Maddie is a senior from St. Charles, Illinois, majoring in International Relations at the University of Iowa. She is currently studying abroad on the IES European Union program in Freiburg, Germany.
By Maddie Welter
I have been in Freiburg for five days now, and it’s been a blur of tram rides, new friends, language difficulties, and some of the greatest food and drink I’ve ever had. I am attending IES Abroad’s European Union program, which is centered in Freiburg, Germany. This is a unique, specialized program that is primarily focused on international relations and international economics. It also involves a few weeks of field study trips. These trips allow us to take what we are learning in our classes and put them into context with trips all over Europe. In the next four months, I will be visiting the Czech Republic, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Romania, Greece and Hungary.
Here are five things that I’ve learned so far during my time in Freiburg: As for my host city, Freiburg is roughly the size of Des Moines. It is located fifteen miles east of France, and thirty-five miles north of Switzerland. It is known as the sunniest city in Germany, as well as an eco-city. It has a large student population due to the Universität Freiburg.
1) Public transportation is a blessing and a curse (but mostly a blessing!)
The tram system has been extremely useful in traveling between downtown and my flat. Many of us have RegioKartes, which allow us to travel around Freiburg by tram or bus without the hassle of paying for each ride. The RegioKarte also gives us access to train rides within the region and to the neighboring regions as well. It is an incredibly convenient and efficient system. However, at times it can be crowded. Recently some of my new friends from the IES program and I decided to go to a wine festival in a town near Freiburg called Pffafenweiler. Little did we know that it was much more popular than we had anticipated. Before we knew it, we were crammed like sardines into a bus for roughly half an hour. I’m talking a complete sacrifice of personal space. The festival was completely worth it, but we made sure to pick the time of our bus back to Freiburg more strategically.
2) There is a huge appreciation for nature and the environment here.
Many of us on this program were surprised to walk into our apartments and find lots of plants all over the place. Windows and doors are often left open in order to fill buildings with a breeze and fresh air. Biking makes up a third of the traffic in Freiburg, and due to the convenient location of the Black Forest (or Schwarzwald), many people spend their free time hiking. Recycling is also a big deal. The separation of recyclables is facilitated not only in businesses and residences, but downtown as well.
3) It can be intimidating but rewarding to speak with the locals.
It is worth noting that currently, my German is limited to only a few key phrases. It is also worth noting that it can be intimidating to have German rapidly thrown at you. However, everyone I’ve interacted with has spoken English, and they are almost always happy to help share new phrases and correct pronunciation. Misunderstandings can also be brushed off with a smile and a little laughter. Small talk is not a huge thing in Germany, but if you strike up a conversation with a German, you can bet that it will continue for a long time. Our talks with Freiburg locals have resulted in wonderful food, drink, and travel recommendations. What better way to get to know a city than to speak with those that love it most?
That’s the only way I can describe the food and drink here. I look ridiculous trying to eat chocolate croissants every morning, but it’s so worth it. The coffee is also quite good (if you know me, this is extremely important.) I have yet to try many German specialties, but what I have had so far has been absolutely wonderschön (I’m looking at you, Jägerschnitzel und Spätzle). And of course, the rumors about German beer are true.
5) This is going to be an adventure that I look back on for the rest of my life.
I’m already sentimental about this program and I’m less than a week into it. There have been so many moments over the course of the last few days where I’ve had to remind myself that this is really happening. I am so excited to continue to do and see amazing things with my new friends in the next three and a half months.
Until next time, tschüss!