Friday, July 31, 2009

Isn't getting there supposed to be half the fun?

Friday, July 31, 2009 1
Ich bin da! I'm here! After just finishing a wonderful dinner with Theresa and her family surrounded by the lush foliage of their back porch, it's hard to return to the stress of 24 hours ago!

Here's a recap: My flight to Newark was delayed 3 hours due to "heavy air traffic" (in other words, certain air traffic controllers weren't being very effective!). Thus instead of leaving at 3:35, we were scheduled to take off around 6:15. Nearly everyone around me at the gate began loudly complaining, calling family or colleagues, and in some cases even making a scene at the front desk and leaving in slim hopes of finding another flight. Meanwhile, I checked my flight statuses online and realized this inconvenient adjustment gave me less than 30 minutes between when our flight would land and my flight to Frankfurt would take off.

Mind you, this exact same situation happened to Noelle and I last year with our Newark connecting flight to India. But I don't think we had such a stressful time crunch!

Along with a young man traveling to Delhi in a similar situation, we went up to the front desk to see if there was anything that could be done, but alas, the airline personnel were all cold-hearted and worn out from all the complaints. But then this well-suited older man who was standing at the gate gave us advice about Newark and making a (relatively) quick transfer from one side of the airport to the other for our international flights. Apparently he used to work for the airlines and he still traveled quite frequently - I didn't get all the details about him because I was too distracted with the looming possibility of missing my flight.

Everything felt so disorderly in those moments of anxiousness during the longest 1 1/2 hour flight I've ever experienced, and the panic of running through the airport with my backpack askew, dodging wandering toddlers and wheelchairs. Yet somehow everything managed to fall into place. The guy going to Delhi and I were in the same row, so together we spoke to the stewardess who gave us the privilege of getting off first (we had explained ourselves to so many different people that it seemed the majority of the plane was aware of the situation anyway). Knowing about the shuttle saved us two trips through security and a trip through the entire airport.

Of course, my gate was at the furthest end of the furthest branch of the terminal, so running was the only option. The whole time I'm praying for a delay as my backpack's swinging in all directions and digging into my shoulders. As I came up to the gate I was immediately relieved to see lots of people (some definitely looked European) - my flight had indeed been delayed until 8:45. But they started boarding a few minutes after I had sprinted to the finish, and I hopped in line as soon as possible to settle into my seat!

The rest of my trip went quite smoothly - I sat next to a German boy about my age named Alex who was returning home after 9 months in the states, and we had an engaging bilingual conversation (though admittedly I'm still tripping over my German, while he had barely any trace of a German accent). I actually slept on the flight because for once, there wasn't a baby to wake me up. And thankfully, the Frankfurt airport and train station were so organized and well-labeled that I had no problem getting my rail pass validated and hopping on a train to Freiburg.

Theresa's house is beautiful: back from the street, tucked away under the arms of grapevines and other lush foliage. Three stories are connected by a winding oak staircase to create the feeling of individual apartments - my room is on the top floor next to Theresa's. Then of course there's all the European amenities which I find charming - unattached showerhead, square light switches, multiple trash cans for proper recycling - though I'm sure I'll grow used to them in the coming months.

Theresa leaves for India on Thursday, so we'll spend our next few days together exploring Freiburg on bicycles - the preferred mode of transportation around here, it seems. I'll even get to ride a bike to class every day - it's one of the many things I'm looking forward to in this enchanting city.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Final Details

Monday, July 27, 2009 3
This summer has felt like one long waiting game. The library didn't give me many hours this summer and it seems nearly all my friends had left Rochester for internships and other opportunities. And to be honest, spending a month in London for my Spring Term and another week in Berlin just had me craving more of those nuances of European life when I came home.

Not that my two months at home haven't been wonderful. In attempts to keep my language skills at least partially refreshed, I took advantage of our local library's foreign film section. Most were so interesting and innovative that I forgot to concentrate as intently on the language! But of course, these also helped to serve as small cultural spritzers.

(Some of my favorites included:
Pierrot le Fou, a dazzling postmodern film from the French New Wave;
Goodbye, Lenin!, both humorous and moving, about a teen's attempts to keep his bedridden mother from finding out the Berlin Wall fell while she was in a coma;
The Lives of Others, another German film about the invasive surveillance that took place in East Berlin under the Soviet regime).

Now finally, instead of living vicariously through bizarre film characters and re-telling the details of my itinerary each time my mom strikes up a conversation with someone, my real journey begins Thursday. One last time, as a preface to all my upcoming adventures, I'll lay out the details here.

First, I'll be spending a month in Freiburg, Germany to study with the Goethe Institute. A 4-week intensive course will replace the semester of German I'll miss in the fall--assuming I don't forget it all after a semester in France! In Freiburg, I will be staying at the home of my friend Theresa, who was an exchange student for a year at my high school.

I think I'm more nervous about this program than France, because I'm not as sure what to expect with the program. I've also only had a year of German at Alma, compared to my six years of French.

Oh, and I have to take an examination at the end of the course that's required for my German minor. (I have to take a similar test in France).

Once the program ends, I have a few days to travel before my France program starts. As of now, I'll probably go to Cologne (Köln on the map) to visit Kathi, a friend who was the German TA at Alma last year. Then it's off to Paris to meet Heidi, another Alma student doing the France program with me. We're hoping to cram lots of art museums, historical sites, and café-sitting into 3 days!

Finally, the last and longest stop on this journey will be a semester with IES Abroad in Nantes, France. A fellow Alma student highly recommended this program to us, in part because it's a "truly French" experience. Paris has so many students and tourists from all over the world that it would be quite easy to fall back into speaking English--which is exactly what I don't want to happen. IES is the only permanent American study abroad program in Nantes, and thus we'll be immersed in French language and culture.

Many of you kept up with my India blog last summer; your feedback was undoubtedly a perpetual source of encouragement. This time around I'll try to respond more to your questions and observations, as well as provide photos, pictures, and relevant links (which I've test-driven a bit in this entry). I hope that my writing is entertaining and intriguing enough to keep you reading!

Until my next entry (which will probably be abroad), bis später...à bientôt...'til next time!