Before writing this blog post, I stopped and read some other IES Abroad student blog posts to see what was happening in their worlds. There are some really beautiful blogs and adventurous students out there with some amazing tips and stories. However, I did not see anything that was similar to the post that I felt led to write: The Brutal Honest Truth of Landing in Europe Alone. The story of actually getting here. This is going to be a brutally honest post that isn't meant to scare anyone, but rather something I wish I could have read before traveling alone to Europe for the first time. So here's my story.
One week ago today I arrived in Germany. The airports in the States were manageable, the language familiar (which I totally took for granted), and I had traveled by airplane before, so flying was exciting. After eight hours on the flight, a rough two hours of sleep, some sudoku and restless movie watching, the plane started descending.
Now, hearing German being spoken by the flight attendants and seeing the diversity of travelers on the airplane was exciting and were definitely clues that I was heading to Europe. But when that plane touched the ground... my goodness. My stream of thoughts was crazy. I had just stayed up pretty much all night, so I knew my emotions were a little bit wacky. I looked out the window and thought the forest was so beautiful, there will be so much to explore here... But I also thought to myself "What have I done. I hardly know anyone here. My phone doesn't even work. What have I done?"
My plan for when I landed in Germany had been set in stone for a while: fly into Frankfurt, check into the hostel and spend the night, catch a train to Freiburg, and boom. Easy. Done.
Again, I don't want to scare anybody. Reflecting back on this, I'm glad it all happened and realize that it was a great learning experience. But almost immediately after getting off the plane, I had to ask someone where to find my luggage becuase the signs and arrows weren't clear enough. Rolling your giant duffel bag into the small airport bathroom stalls also isn't ideal. And then came trying to purchase a train ticket to the right station... I knew my hostel was in front of the main train station in Frankfurt, but still had to ask multiple people to help me with the machines. I ended up merging with two women that spoke English and found a help desk for people trying to buy tickets! Hauling my bags down the stairs to the train platform was pretty comical, especially among the Germans who are calm and pulled together and do this everyday. And then while waiting for the train, I asked two more people for help to assure I wasn't going to catch the wrong train. A girl traveling from Japan came up to me and asked for help, but once we realized we were pretty much in the same boat and clueless, we stuck together on the train ride to Frankfurt city center. We were absolutely blown away by the size of the train station, and thankfully she had data on her phone to access a map and we parted ways as we each headed to our hostels.
I had screenshotted a picture of the map from her phone and thankfully my hostel was super close to the station. After making it up to the third floor in the smallest elevator I've ever been in before, I discovered that I couldn't check into my room for another four hours. So I sat in the common space and that's where the traveling really started to hit me.
As I sat on the couch eating my sandwich from the airport Starbucks from the day before, I started feeling panicky and that I had made a complete mistake. Using the hostel WiFi, I started messaging every single person I had ever known who had studied abroad. My fingers moving frantically across the phone, I asked everybody if they had been scared when they arrived in their country or simply asked them to message me back and help me calm down. One person suggested walking around the city while I waited for my room to open so I would be more comfortable with my surroundings. This was a good call; I stored my luggage at the hostel and walked up and down the main street and through a market where everyone was eating and drinking wine. I thought "If they can live here and chill out, so can I."
I eventually was able to check in to my room, and after struggling with the key card in the dark for ten minutes, I was able to lay down and take a nap and shower. My three hostel mates all showed up shortly after, and I instantly clicked with one girl from Brazil. We ended up all eating together at a free pasta night provided by the hostel, and I felt calm for the first time since arriving. After dinner, we walked around the city and my new friend showed me the Altstadt where she had explored earlier that day. We walked and got to know each other and then got gelato (so yummy by the way). Upon returning to the hostel, I took my computer to the common room and looked up trains for the next morning to Freiburg (book early if you can, the prices are way cheaper for early morning trips). My friend from Brazil said her train was at 8am so I decided to get up early, eat breakfast, and go the train station together with her.
We stuck together as long as we could (I went directly to the help counter to purchase my train ticket this time, and they told me the exact platform to go to, which was helpful). I found a seat on the train that I hoped wasn't reserved and just was happy to enjoy the beautiful scenery on my two-hour ride to Freiburg. (Pack snacks from home, they save your life. And water, always fill up on water.)
When I arrived at the train station in Freiburg, it was rainy and the temperature had dropped. I used the WiFi there to look up the address of the study abroad center and did exactly what they suggested - get a taxi. I was so tired at the IES Abroad center I could hardly sign the papers they wanted me to, but they had water and cookies, so that was amazing. They called me a taxi to my housing, and I met my housing tutor, who then showed me to my room. She said I had a few hours to myself before going out to eat with some other students from my building. I unpacked, which scared me because this meant I was really settling in to this foreign place. I was so doubtful I even looked up if I was allowed to change my mind about the program.
But. I stuck it out. I met the two housing tutors and the four other students from my building and they took us to an amazing restaurant for dinner. The next day, they took us to a cozy restaurant for breakfast. Later that day was orientation, and I met 27 other students who were in the exact same boat as me. We took two tours of the city in two days, and now I feel like a pro.
I've now been here a week, and every day is better than the last. The awkwardness has worn off, and now we're all friends. We cook dinner at each others flats and meet up to take the tram to German class everyday at 8:55 outside our building. We make sure to communicate with each other in group messages and have tried to do something new everyday, and I know it's only going to get more exciting and our friendships are going to grow stronger from here.
I feel a bit vulnerable writing this post about my emotions after landing in a foreign country, but if it helps anyone out there, then it will be completely worth it. I'm pretty introverted, independent, and stubborn, but not being afraid to ask people for help is a must.
This has only been the first week in Germany, and I'm so excited to share the rest!