For 15 years I have started school in late August, had a break from late December to January, and then enjoyed my summer vacation starting in May. But Germany has pulled an ol’ switcharoo on me! My program in Freiburg, Germany doesn’t start until February 26th, and it ends in late June…this means that for about two months, I will be basking in the glory that is the limbo of winter break. By “glory” I really mean many anxious thoughts about traveling logistics and learning fun German words like schmökern, which means “to bury oneself in a book” – another thing I’ve been doing quite a lot of with my free time. I really am grateful for the weeks I have before the program begins. It gives me a chance to conduct some solid research about Freiburg. I’m trying to learn a bit more about current politics in Germany, but I also find it comforting to know fun little details like what the weather will be like (it’s the sunniest city in Germany!), places to hike in the Black Forest (I found some very scenic pictures), and if I’ll see cute dogs at parks (most likely)!
I keep trying to picture what my life will be like in Germany. Will I successfully rent a charming little bike that can take me around the city? What will the people I live with be like? How much of my hard earned money will I shamelessly spend on tasty bread? (Answer: probably more than I should.) I would be a sneaky liar if I said I wasn’t nervous to depart on this journey and have my questions answered. Truthfully, I am super excited and exceptionally terrified. I’ve been told these feelings are “normal” and “to be expected,” but that does not make the terrified part of me feel any better. There are inevitable challenges that I will learn from one way or another. My German language skills have a ways to go, so conversing with native speakers will undoubtedly be a memorable experience. Also, how the train system works? We don’t have the whole public transportation thing nailed down in Wyoming yet so that’s going to be a new one for me…
What does seem to help calm my nerves a bit is reminding myself that the things I have been afraid of in the past turned out to be life-changing experiences that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Like going to college a couple states away where I didn’t know anyone or anything. Doing that made me learn about myself in ways I never would have otherwise, and I believe that studying abroad offers similar benefits. I feel extraordinarily privileged to have this opportunity to travel and learn. When I think about studying abroad, I think about practicing independence and forging genuine connections with people who have similar interests and goals. How exciting is that! So I look forward to the challenges, because they mean that I am doing something that is important to me.
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<p>My name is Kiara Paninos and I am a Junior German Studies major at Whitman College! I originally hail from rural Wyoming. I love it out there in the wilderness, but I got a bit tired of the three other people from my home state so I am embarking out to see the rest of the world! I am a big fan of meeting new people and learning new things. I also love being creative and I excel at pushing through awkward social interactions of my own creation.</p>