Background music: Good Life by OneRepublic. It’s the anthem of my time abroad, the best way to convey how I feel about this past semester (and life in general). This song has always had a powerful impact on me, but now I relate to it even more strongly.
Today is June 19, 2016. I’m on a train from Naples to Rome, to catch a plane back to Germany tomorrow morning – meaning it’s officially the end of my study abroad travels. Italy was our last big trip; most of my friends and the people I’ve met have been slowly trickling out of Marburg; in less than a week, my parents will be here.
It’s crazy to look back on the last few months, to think about all that has happened. Sure, I took some classes and learned a TON of German, but the school part was more of an afterthought. What this semester consisted more of was traveling and finding myself – starting off with Chamonix, and now finishing up with Italy – plus the dozens of other places I’ve visited in between.
February started off slow – meeting people was a whirlwind, a mad dash to make friends and find a group to hang out with, but orientation and the first weeks of class seemed to last forever. As the weeks went on, and I spent all but five of my 20-ish weekends travelling with different people, time seemed to stretch out and condense all at once. It felt like we had all known each other for years (not a matter of weeks or months), and as if we’d lived in Marburg forever. I began living from weekend to weekend – the couple days in Marburg in between consisted of catching up with friends, doing laundry, and planning my next trip. The few weekends that I stayed in Marburg, it felt like time had stopped. Then, I’d be off to another city or country, experiencing a different culture, and putting my life in Germany on hold until my return.
My favorite part of travelling was pretending to fit in, acting as much like a local as possible – figuring out how to pronounce words in Dutch or Czech; learning basic phrases in Italian, and of course finally being able to have conversations, make jokes, or argue/negotiate entirely in German; spending hours on subways, busses, and trams in Poland and Italy (turns out Europe is incredibly well-connected, no matter which country you’re in); walking through the hip residential neighborhoods of Berlin; looking up the best local brunch places in Prague, instead of taking a shot in the dark at any random café; wandering aimlessly in Luxembourg and Naples, rather than following all the top tourist attractions; sketching scenes from the streets of Amsterdam and Dresden to the tune of a street performers’ music; hanging out with people who actually know the city in Florence and Szczecin; spending all day at a street fest in Frankfurt like a true German; sleeping in a hostel room with a dozen other travelers in Zurich and Prague, or a campsite way outside the city in the Netherlands; skiing proper alpine terrain at one of the most popular places in the French Alps; the list goes on and on.
It’s crazy how much different travelling is, though, when you don’t just rent a car and stay at a nice hotel or with family, which is the only kind of traveling I’d ever done with my parents. I saw a lot of Europe as a kid, and I’m very thankful to my mom and dad for giving me that opportunity, but there’s nothing quite like transferring from train to bus to plane to bus to train with nothing but a backpack. That’s the kind of travelling that really gives you a feel for somewhere, I think, and the kind of travelling that I’d like, more than anything, to do more of.