It’s a week into the new year and I’m happily sitting at home with my dogs, looking out the window at the latest snowfall. Right now, everything is peaceful and simple, as I sit in the house I spent all twenty-one years of my life in. But, nothing lasts forever, and glancing over at the German dictionaries my mother got me for my birthday, I’m reminded that in a little over a month I’ll be leaving my familiar surroundings for the experience of a lifetime.
With a month before departure, I’m left with plenty of free time, and as any college student could guess, catching up on sleep is on the top of my to-do list. I’ve also been spending time with friends and family, and after a busy semester, practicing some well-deserved self-care. Although there are definitely benefits to a shorter break between semesters, I’m extremely grateful for my late program date. My predeparture panic hasn’t hit yet, but I know myself, and I know that change is always hard for me, so I’m spending my time taking preemptive measures to help limit my nerves and prepare for culture shock upon arrival.
I’ve been blessed with friends and family who are almost as excited as I am for me to go abroad, so I’ve really been capitalizing on that energy. Although I’m going to have to care for myself while abroad, I’m finding it’s helpful and enjoyable to engage in this predeparture process with loved ones, and wherever possible invite and welcome their enthusiasm. Entering a new culture is scary, so doing it with loved ones helps take the pressure off me. Here are some things I’ve been doing with loved ones this break to hopefully help make settling into Germany as comfortable as possible.
Tasting new food and perfecting comfort food! When it comes to living in a new country, one of the biggest adjustments physically can be the food. As someone who grew up with primarily Italian cooking and isn’t a huge meat eater, I knew the switch would be difficult. But rather than make it a scary experience abroad, I decided to make it a fun experience with family. For the first time in the nearly thirty years my family has lived in the area, we tried a local German restaurant together and ordered three authentic dishes and desserts that I’ll likely find abroad. It was a great experience with my parents and we all loved the food! Now when I’m eating out I already know of some dishes I enjoy and have good memories from home associated with them.
But, if you’re like me and you aren’t on a meal plan, then you have a bit more freedom when it comes to your food. I’ve taken time this break to find and perfect healthy dinners with family that will provide me with a taste of home when I feel homesick. I did some research and found out that Freiburg has frequent farmers' markets, meaning I’ll have access to an abundance of healthy vegetables. I take time to plan meals with very few ingredients and almost every night my dad and I cook them together. If it’s a recipe I like, I add it to a folder on my laptop so I have them while abroad. Having planned meals will help me relieve stress when I’m first navigating markets and will hopefully help keep my spending low as I’ll know exactly what I need.
Learning a new language! Other than Heidi Klum saying “Auf Wiedersehen” on Project Runway, I’ve never been exposed to the German language before. When I was first accepted to the program, I downloaded apps like Duolingo that let me set goals and daily reminders to practice German every day which was really helpful. A couple of weeks later, I found out that IES Abroad provided me with free Rosetta Stone access and it has been a total game-changer. Every day I do a couple of hours of German, and I can choose to go in order or learn words that I feel are most important, like navigating a hotel or airport. The best part is my mom has even taken the time to learn German with me and while we’re doing everyday tasks we refer to things in German if we can! It’s been a really fun and stress-free way to learn the language so I’m not so overwhelmed abroad.
Trying a new culture! While visiting my boyfriend over break, he took me to a local Christkindlmarkt, or a German Christmas festival, so I could see German traditions and try German drinks and snacks. It honestly got me really excited about going abroad! It was nice talking to some of the workers as well, as a lot were from Germany or had lived there for some time and were happy to recommend places for me to visit. He also took the time to help me complete a puzzle of Europe, which although it may sound silly, was a really fun way to get an idea of how close I am to a lot of countries and made the idea of traveling to them a lot less scary.
Packing like a pro! Packing is always a stressor - it’s inevitable! With worrying about baggage weight, temperatures abroad, and battling the unexpected, it’s hardly what anyone could describe as enjoyable. However, it’s a lot more manageable when done in phases. I’ve been looking at all kinds of sites, from Pinterest to REI to IES Abroad blogs, to see what experienced travelers recommend taking abroad. I’ve also been discussing Europe in general with friends and family who have been abroad. It’s great to hear their stories and suggestions! It’s been eye-opening to have people recommend products I didn’t even think about needing, such as a reusable tote bag for groceries. It turns out a lot of European countries don’t supply bags at markets. While I have somewhat flimsy bags I bring to stores here in the States, I’ve been looking into sturdy totes for groceries that can double as my personal bag on my flight. But remember, each person’s experience is just that, THEIR experience. It’s important to read lists but always tailor them to your own needs. Packing that small plush or those family photos could be beneficial to your mental health abroad when combating homesickness, even if packing lists online don’t include them.
Doing little things with loved ones every day has made me excited, rather than anxious to go abroad.
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<p>Originally from rural Pennsylvania, I'm currently a third-year at Emory University studying Environmental Sciences and minoring in Sustainability. I'm really excited to spend a semester in Germany's sunniest and most sustainable city! Hiking and camping have always been passions of mine, so I'm ready to go explore Europe!</p>