After a long 11-hour bus ride from Freiburg, I arrived home late Sunday night to an apartment filled with Christmas decorations. After two weeks of traveling it’s good to be back in Berlin, a familiar city.
I spent my first week in Istanbul, which was unexpectedly my favorite city. The narrow, zigzagging streets reminded me of Italy. Built on seven hills, we were walking up and down steep streets, similar to my experience in Siena, Italy. The Turkish were much more welcoming than the Russians. Studying and living in Germany, I have never felt out of place. With semi-blond hair and light skin, I fit right in. No matter how “un-American” I tried to be in Istanbul, I still looked very different from everyone else. During a visit to the Topkapi Palace, for example, young Turkish students stopped to take pictures of us.
We had plenty of free time to explore, so we spent time walking through the Egyptian Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. The large crowds of people and the vendors’ constant heckling made for an overwhelming experience. As a program, we spent the mornings touring the famous attractions, including the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Galata Tower, and the Basilica Cistern. We also spent time at the Süleymaniye Mosque and the Chora Church. We even had the opportunity to take a ferry from the European to the Asian side of the city! I was satisfied with the amount of time spent in St. Petersburg, however I could have spent so much more time in Istanbul. With a population of 18 million and a continually expanding city, we didn’t even break the surface of what Istanbul has to offer.
The week following Istanbul was our fall break. A few students went straight from Istanbul to their respective destinations, however I flew back to Berlin for a few days. I took the train down to Freiburg in Baten-Würtenburg to visit some American friends who are studying at the Uni for a full academic year. There are about 60 other American College students in their program. All of them are enrolled directly into the German University with classes completely in German. We were invited to a Thanksgiving dinner with the other American students, which was a ton of fun! We spent time getting to know the Americans, however had the chance to meet a handful of German students too. Throughout my time in Germany, I’ve met so many international students, but it has been difficult to actually meet Germans my age. I was thankful for the opportunity to be in a “college town” setting where I could interact with German students and converse in “Danglish”, a mixture of German and English.
I spent some time talking with one of the American students, whose goal is to become an interpreter. In addition to speaking German, she is studying Arabic and is fluent in Italian. She spent a year living in a small town in Italy, which forced her to learn the language quickly. She said at one point in time she could speak Italian better than English. I thought it was impressive how many languages she learned and the level at which she could speak in each, especially because she confessed to hating learning languages in school growing up. She said it took being fully immersed into the Italian culture for her to find her love for languages. Talking to her gave me the inspiration to continue learning languages, and most importantly taught me to take every opportunity to practice and improve.
I spent a day in Strasbourg, France, which is about an hour train ride from Freiburg and is a really cute town. My friends and I just walked around for most of the day, stopping to see vendors setting up their stands in the Christmas markets. The rest of our time in Southern Germany was spent walking through Freiburg and the Black Forest. We unfortunately didn’t have time to make it deeper into the forest, however we hiked up Schlossberg. It was so foggy that the view was disappointing. Freiburg is surrounded by mountains, but you couldn’t see them either because of the fog. The Christmas market was packed, but I loved walking around the city at night. The streets are filled with hanging lights and wreaths in shop windows. Germany definitely does Christmas right! The city was transformed into such a magical place.
It’s hard to believe I am headed into my second to last weekend in Berlin. I have a pretty stressful next couple of weeks with papers and final exams. Hopefully I can find time to enjoy what short time I have left in such a great city!
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Hi, my name is Andie D'Agostino. I am a senior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. I am an Architectural Studies major with a minor in Sociology. After graduation, I hope to pursue a career in urban planning and community development.</span></p>