Diana in Germany: Re-entry and Reflection

January 26, 2015

The past week and a half back to the USA has been full of energy and fun! I’ve seen all of my friends again, celebrated my 21st birthday in my hometown of Baltimore, and returned to school. Reverse culture shock is not really happening to me, which surprises me given how much time and resources were devoted to this topic by my IES program and the study abroad office at University of Richmond. I know several of my friends are experiencing it though – especially as it relates to their much heavier workload and busier extracurricular lives. For me, coming back to America has been almost entirely positive with one or two moments leaving me feeling uncomfortable.

Friends and I celebrating my 21st birthday back in the USA sleepover style.

Friends and I celebrating my 21st birthday back in the USA sleepover style.

So why do I feel so good? Unlike many people, I studied abroad in a country where I did not know the official language before arriving. Every day sent new struggles and triumphs in the form of language barriers out in public. Now I am back in a world where I can listen in to conversations others are having and order food with 100% certainty of what I will be receiving. Places are familiar, faces are familiar, I have access to my family and friends again! The coolest thing I realized about Americans once I came back is how friendly we are in public. Exchanging smiles on the street with complete strangers, saying good morning in a hotel elevator, discussing things with people in the grocery store line, which did not happen once while I was abroad. I used to take for granted how open we are in public, but with the lens of studying abroad in Germany I will always appreciate the warmth we show each other. There is also the fact that, even though I am taking 5 classes this semester, they all seem manageable and are being taught by passionate, supportive professors. The biggest struggle academically is keeping track of all 5 at once instead of one at a time.

What were the few experiences that have left me feeling a little wistful for Freiburg? So far they mostly relate to transportation, energy saving, and recycling. there are still plenty of ways we waste BIG TIME compared to Freiburgers. People who even label themselves environmentalists leave the lights on or keep their power cord on all day when they are not in their rooms. At the grocery stores and convenience stores they pack everything up in plastic bags, which I forgot about while I was abroad. Everyone in Freiburg would bring their own cloth bags and buy for only a few days worth of food because grocery stores are so close by. Here, the stores automatically put your products into plastic bags… which I know from my work at Watershed Monitoring often end up in rivers. I miss wind turbines and streetcars and knowing that my energy is coming from woodchips and biogas. However, I am happy to see several new recycling/trash combination receptacles on campus and several new options for public transport from University of Richmond’s campus into the city.

What has changed about me because of study abroad (besides my hair color, haha)? How has it impacted me?
-Navigating public transportation is like breathing now.
-I know a bit more German and have a new perspective on English. We are so privileged to live in a predominantly English speaking country. Young people in all areas of the world are learning English, which makes it that much easier to study abroad anywhere.
-I’m totally confident in my cooking skillz for the future (oh right that brings up my sadness about no longer having a kitchen)
-My life goals and day-to-day perspectives are more flexible. I believe that no matter what, I will get a job I like. Somehow and in some unexpected way.
-On New Years Day I felt a shift in my heart. I let go of past fights or negative feelings about situations and people. Thankfully it seems those people involved have also grown in this way 🙂 GO POSITIVITY!!

Finally, I promised you all a list of the things I would exchange between Germany and the USA to make one super awesome place. The things I would want from Germany are: curry ketchup, more wind turbines, more trams/subways, bike lanes, biking culture, chemical trackers (see below), good cheap beer, actual dancing, and black forest cake in every bakery. The things I would want from the USA are: more vegetarian options, more fruit and vegetables in restaurants, grocery stores open on Sunday, less bottled water, more free or inexpensive tap water, no cobblestone streets, Chipotle, and real milkshakes.

Wistful for wind turbines

Wistful for wind turbines

These track levels of different chemical pollutants that are in the air and gives a green, yellow, or red light depending on the air quality. Freiburg gets all green!

These track levels of different chemical pollutants that are in the air and gives a green, yellow, or red light depending on the air quality. Freiburg gets all green!

I missed volunteering! For MLK Day I volunteered at a non-profit farm, Shalom Farms, that sends its produce to those with less access to fresh, healthy food. Photo taken by Kevin Heraldo.​

I missed volunteering! For MLK Day I volunteered at a non-profit farm, Shalom Farms, that sends its produce to those with less access to fresh, healthy food. Photo taken by Kevin Heraldo.​

Blogging has been a wonderful experience and a way for me to record my life in Germany for myself. I appreciate the opportunity very much and thank the Office of International Education for selecting me!

Signing out for the last time on this particular blog!

Diana in Germany


Diana in Germany: Winter Waltz

January 9, 2015

Class ended December 18th, so what have I been up to since then? Traveling. A lot. In total I estimate that, without counting my flight back to America, I traveled over 2000 miles. Part of that time was spent with my mom, dad, and brother when they came over for Christmas in Germany. Another large chunk of that time I was traveling for a week with Topdeck Travel Tours on what was called the “Winter Waltz.” Continue reading for the adventurous details!

Christmas in Germany oozes feelings of winter wonderland. Christmas markets, light dustings of snow, and hearty food all contribute to that feeling that your life is a movie. Overall we traveled to Frankfurt, Baden-Baden, Freiburg, and castles near Munich. My top three moments of traveling with my family included the wonderful soup shack at the Frankfurt Weihnachtsmarkt, spending the day in the thermal baths of Baden-Baden, and having the perfect amount of snow on our tour of Linderhof and Neuschwanstein castles.

Frankfurt Christmas Market

Frankfurt Christmas Market

diana family

My family at Linderhof castle

diana neusch

Neuschwanstein Castle

Travel is no easy feat – it is completely exhausting after a few days, even with a more reasonable amount of luggage. I could see my mother experiencing many of the same emotions – the growth and hardships – that I have experienced traveling this semester. Sometimes it makes you emotional for absolutely no reason. In regions where everything is in a different language you can feel lost and confused easily. You keep on going and solving constant problems. Looking back it makes you proud of yourself, but in the moment it’s overwhelming. I was very proud of my parents for making every single train we took and growing as world travelers with me.

New Years was the start of my Topdeck tour. It was quite an international New Years as I was in Prague, Czech Republic, my parents were in the US, and my brother was in Morocco. Prague at New Years is completely hectic. Amateur fireworks are being set off everywhere… even right next to you!! The chaos built up my adrenalin so much that I had to blow off steam somehow. The opportunity provided itself in the form of Prague going up the down escalator of the subway. I was entirely sober at this point mind you, so that wasn’t it. I fumbled my way on and set a blistering pace upwards to the sound of thundering applause. However, my legs turned into jello three feet from the top. Two people from Topdeck tried to reach out to pull me to victory, but alas, I could not take one more step forward. It was a courageous way to start 2015.

diana prague old town square

Prague Old Town Square decorated for Christmas. Photo from http://prague.athome-network.com/blog/prague-christmas-2014.html

The rest of the trip led us to Berlin and Amsterdam for two days each. The highlight of Berlin was going out to a beer hall dressed in drag. It was a girl named Heidi’s birthday and she wanted a gender-bender party! I sampled the absolutely delectable pork knuckle dressed in a bow tie and five o clock shadow. In Amsterdam a ton of things happened including a Red Light District tour and the Heineken Experience with Masnoon before he studies abroad in New Zealand for a semester. The Heineken Experience was amazing!! We learned the history of its founding, the ingredients and process, in addition to getting some free samples and a glass to take home!

diana gender bender

I’m ready for the gender bender party!

diana heineken

Masnoon and I at the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam having some fun with the photo cut-out boards.

My last day with Topdeck was a whirlwind start to the next 48 hours of travel. We started really early in the morning from Amsterdam and took a short lunch in Bruges, Belgium. I ate traditional Flemish stew with some fries and even squeezed in running into a shop for a waffle. A few hours later we were in Calais, France boarding a ferry across the English Channel on our way to London where I spent the night. The following day I went under the English Channel in the Eurostar train on my way to Frankfurt, Germany for my flight out to the US. 6 countries in under 48 hours, phew!

Alright folks I’m going to hibernate for a week or so and come back to you with my final post – a reflection on my changes as a human being throughout study abroad and re-entry. Bonus: What I would exchange between US and Germany to make ultimate super cultures.


Diana in Germany: Holiday Happenings

December 15, 2014

Late fall and early winter mark several celebrations for Americans back home. Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and all the days until Christmas and New Years. Though Germans do not celebrate Thanksgiving, my IES program was very sensitive to the fact that this is a special time for family and friends to come together for a large meal back home. So about 2 weeks ago IES hosted a dinner at one of the fancier restaurants in Freiburg up on Schlossberg mountain. After everybody huffed and puffed up the stairs to the top – because really who is going to pay for a two minute funicular – we were so ready to eat. I entered the dining room feeling mildly underdressed, but easily relaxed as I saw my friends and two of my previous teachers, Klaus and Sandra!

Klaus, my Environmental Ethics professor, and I at the Thanksgiving Dinner

Klaus, my Environmental Ethics professor, and I at the Thanksgiving Dinner

Sandra, my Sustainable Policy professor, and I at the Thanksgiving Dinner

Sandra, my Sustainable Policy professor, and I at the Thanksgiving Dinner

We still waited quite a time for the food! That may have been the only bad part of the evening though. The wait staff kept bringing a steady supply of fresh bread with butter to my table in particular (Many vegetarians, one vegan, and me, the “flexitarian”) Our first course was a kurbissuppe or pumpkin soup and our second course was a wonderfully dressed selection of salad and vegetables. The main meal was different than what I am used to. For me, it was in a good way. We got small cylinders of what I assume was their version of stuffing. Many of the other students mentioned they missed “real” stuffing. Mashed potatoes, warm applesauce, corn, carrots…. more bread. The pièce de résistance were the mushrooms in cream sauce. I have always been a huge mushroom fan, but never in my life have I experienced them in a more mouth-watering way. The one small piece of turkey I ate from someone else’s plate was very nice, better than the turkey I eat at home. The dessert left a lot to be desired (no pumpkin or apple pie), but we were entertained by two IES students, Ben and Katrina, singing songs from Sound of Music. I left the Schlossberg restaurant happy and very full of Thanksgiving food. IES really pulled out all the stops.

mushrooms

Those mushrooms…. I will never forget them.

The following weekend after Thanksgiving, I began my exploration of the Christmas Market in Freiburg! There were bright lights, people selling their crafts (glass, wood, ceramics, you name it). My friend Dave and I shared glühwein which is traditionally a mulled red wine for the winter season. (P.S. I am not a fan of glühwein) I also ate kartoffel puffers which are actually latkes! Dave had potatoes with a fried egg on top. There was flammkuchen (flat pizza), pasta, sauerkraut, burgers, sausages, cheeses, and sweets. Basically a smorgasbord! I returned to the markets the following day after a few hours of ice skating with my friends.

Kartoffelpuffer - yummy

Kartoffelpuffer – yummy

The next weekend I went to the Christmas Market in Colmar, France. First, my group got a tour of the city. We saw their Mannekin Pis, which was made to look like the one I saw earlier this year in Bruxelles, Belgium. Afterwards we saw the birthplace of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, creator of the Statue of Liberty, which I saw for the first time right before coming to Europe. Colmar is obviously just on the border of France and Germany based on the different architectural styles and languages written and spoken there. In fact Colmar has switched 5 times between French and German rule.

Mannekin Pis à Colmar

Mannekin Pis à Colmar

The Christmas markets themselves were more spread out throughout the city (5 different areas), which was different from the centralized market in Freiburg.The glühwein here is made with the traditional wine and spices, but also has some brandy in it.  The white wine version here is made from Alsace grapes. There were also more crêpe and waffle stations and even a stall selling escargot. I almost tried it, but chickened out when I realized I did not know the proper way to eat them. Food etiquette is a pretty big deal to me in respecting a culture, so escargot will be on the list in the future. I also noticed more people selling lace products in Colmar and fewer wooden products. It was great to experience two different markets to get a feel for what they have in common and how regional differences play into their diversity as well.

Colmar Christmas Markets

Colmar Christmas Markets

A Santa spotting!

A Santa spotting!

Back at my flat, this winter season has brought with it many awesome surprises. One of my flatmates, Hanna, organized an advent calendar. Nine of the flatmates contributed 3 presents each (that were 5 euros or less in cost). We hung the presents up in the living room as part of our Christmas decorations. Each day one person opens the presents (we have a list on the wall to keep track of who opens a present on which day). So far I have opened two presents: a cloth pencil/paintbrush holder and a bar of chocolate. A few days ago I woke up and found Stutenkerl, barely sweet dough, in the shape of a man on the handle of my door. This was to mark St. Nikolaus Tag (St. Nicholas Day) on December 6th. French legend has it that a hungry butcher killed three lost boys, but that St. Nicholas brought them back to life. My flat had a Christmas dinner this weekend with knödel, which are round bread dumplings, along with different soups and salads. For dessert we had baked apples filled with nuts and topped with vanilla sauce. It was great to have this bonding experience just one week before I move out.

Advent Calendar

Advent Calendar

Baked goods for St. Nikolaus Tag

Baked goods for St. Nikolaus Tag

Christmas dinner with my flatmates

Christmas dinner with my flatmates

Which brings me to letting you know I have only:
-3 days left of class
-6 days left in the flat
-7 days until I see my parents who are coming here to Germany for Christmas (we are starting in Frankfurt, then Baden-Baden, Freiburg for Christmas, and Munich)
-24 days until I am home… after my parents fly back home from Munich I get to go on a weeklong tour of Europe

I am excited to enjoy my last month or so in Europe with family, friends, travel, and great food. But I really am also ready to come home to fulfill all my plans. Through this time abroad I set up an opportunity to shadow a genetic counselor, volunteer training at a domestic violence shelter in Richmond, and joined an organization called WILL* (formerly known as Women Involved in Living and Learning) at my school. I will also be able to declare a double major in biology and environmental studies and a minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Not to mention when I get home I turn 21 two days after arrival, get to go to Washington D.C. with Oldham Scholars, and get to settle into the newest dorms on campus in Westhampton Hall. My life is filled with endless blessings. Coming to the end of my time in Germany allows me to reflect on how thankful I am for all my supporters, for all my challengers, and for my privileges, all of which have led me to live this full, spectacular life.


Diana in Germany: Environmental Ethics and Sustainable Policy

December 2, 2014

Two classes have passed since the last time I spoke in depth about the academic portion of my study abroad, so here’s what I have been up to in the classroom (and out!).

Environmental Ethics

My professor for this course was named Klaus. He’s a really silly guy who has a huge passion for his subject matter. Throughout the course he would make anecdotal quips about how his young sons confronted ethical questions in their daily lives. He would also explain some concepts or hypothetical situations in highly candid and casual ways. I left our first day of class feeling so excited about the subject matter. Never having studied philosophy before it was exhilarating to learn different codes of ethics, the arguments against them, and the counterarguments against those denunciations. I’m known to be “debate prone” which I like to call “debate loving” and the debates were written down right in front of me.

​Heeeere's Klaus!

​Heeeere’s Klaus!

We covered three main topics in this class which were:

  • Deontological vs. Utilitarian Ethics (do something to follow universal, moral law vs. do things to increase overall happiness)
  • Anthropocentricism vs. Physiocentrism (protecting nature for other people vs. protecting nature because it has value in itself)
  • Weak vs. Strong Sustainability (balance ecological, economic, and social needs vs. need to focus on ecological needs in order to fulfill economic and social needs)

Klaus took our class out for beer after our final exam, which is not an uncommon practice here. When I turn 21 in the U.S. I would like to compare how students and teachers socialize differently, with part of that analysis focusing on the role of alcohol. So far in the U.S. I certainly have hung out with teachers outside of the classroom setting, but never in a bar.

Sustainable Policy

The class I finished last Friday pertained to Sustainable Policy in the European Union (EU) and Germany specifically. Our first day of class I was struck by the energy and passion of our teacher, Sandra. It was also evident that the class would have interactive components in addition to lectures. Sandra wrote different topics on the board and asked us each to write our thoughts underneath. She also had us put different sources of energy production by the US in order and then showed us the real order. This method of teaching always services me more. I enjoy thinking first instead of being told first if possible.

​US Energy Generation​

​US Energy Generation​

EU Energy Generation

EU Energy Generation

Of course there were many topics Sandra had to simply teach us in lectures. Energy efficiency and renewables were two major themes of the course. For instance, two-thirds of the economic potential to improve energy efficiency remains untapped in the period up to 2035 in Germany. Then we learned in an increasingly specific fashion, scaling down from international policy, to EU policy, to Germany, to Freiburg and Freiamt.

The day we discussed international policy, we had a roundtable discussion on how to penalize countries who did not meet reduction goals. It is much more difficult to enforce emissions reductions on the international level, so the effectiveness of bodies like the International Policy United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (IPUCCC) is low. The Kyoto Protocol that resulted from their meetings was NOT ratified by the U.S. According to Bush, it would decrease our ability to build our economy, however we spent a lot of time in class discussing the numerous ways to be greener as a country. There is a lack of policy to encourage it and subsidies to non-renewable energies do not help because there is not an even playing field for renewable energy competition.

The next few days were spent on the EU Climate and Energy Package, which called for a  20% reduction in emissions, 20% increase in energy efficiency, and 20% increase in renewables energy consumption by 2020. The New EU Framework that was just ratified extends different goals out to 2030: a 40% reduction in emissions and 27% increase in energy efficiency and renewables consumption. Different member states (countries) within the EU get different targets of emissions reductions in order to meet the overall goal.

Germany plans to get at least 35 percent of its power from renewables by 2020, at least 50 percent by 2030, and at least 80 percent by 2050. This emphasis on renewable energy consumption is part of the German movement called Energiewende, which was in part fueled by the Fukishima nuclear plant disaster. Nuclear plant moratoriums began soon after the disaster. Nuclear power should be phased out entirely from Germany by 2022. Replacing this power with renewables instead of coal would help keep emissions down. One piece of policy that helps Germany become more green is the Renewable Energy Law, which includes feed-in tariffs for renewable energy. A feed-in tariff means that independent power producers have unlimited access to the energy grid and unlimited production of energy. If they feed their energy into the grid they are guaranteed to get paid for that energy at a set rate.

​Creating a model of a sustainable house in class

​Creating a model of a sustainable house in class

One afternoon class we were each tasked with exploring our village called Vauban. It runs on a cogeneration unit from natural gas and wood chips. This system enabled Freiburg to reduce its reliance on nuclear power from 60% to 30%. The famous Heliotrope, the house that rotates with the sun, is also located about 10 minutes walking from my house. The Heliotrope was the first home in the world that produced 5 times more energy than it expends: the energy consumption is emission-free, CO2-neutral and 100% renewable. The builder of the home, Rolf Disch lives there. Even closer (across the main road from my flat)  are the Solar Settlement, a low emissions planned community, and the Solar Ship. The Solar Ship is a business center with tons of solar panels on top.

​This model of an energy plus house is on my jogging route!​

​This model of an energy plus house is on my jogging route!​

​Skyview of the Solar Ship and Solar Settement. Look at all those solar panels!

​Skyview of the Solar Ship and Solar Settement. Look at all those solar panels!

One of our final days in class, we went on a field trip to a community called Freiamt. This community has 250 solar roofs, a biogas heat and energy generator we visited and also several wind turbines. At the biogas facility, 10 tons of corn go into the first tank. After the first step, everything foes into an anaerobic fermentor or 90 days. 1.3million kWh are produced at the facility we visited. Next we went to a farm with cows, solar panels, and a wind turbine. 65% of their income is from their cows, but 35% comes from selling their energy. They also produce schnapps from the energy they produced with renewables! During our tour of Freiamt we also stopped at several wind turbines, discussed how long the projects took, the sizes of the blades and height of the turbines, and also the financials of each project. We were even allowed into one of the turbines! To learn more about Freiamt, go to this link.

​Biogas farm​

​Biogas farm​

​Class Wind Turbine Photo

​Class Wind Turbine Photo

The major homework component of the Sustainable Policy class was coming up with a business plan related to sustainable energy. I will not disclose the specifics of my business plan since I may actually use it one day. We had to include unique selling points, risk assessment and mitigation strategies, financing, marketing, and stakeholders. The process the class went though though – practicing business pitches, presentations, and a final business proposal in writing – all really enhanced my skills and deepened my understanding of starting and running a business. This was a skill I never really expected to get over here, but it was awesome to have this practice. I’m not one to love group projects and this was all on my own. It made me feel that I actually accomplished something when I sent in the final business proposal.

I only have 1 class left, which requires 11 days in school. It’s my “Freiburg Green City” class that counts as an Environmental Economics credit. The class features 4 of field trips with one being a bike tour of Freiburg. After my first day of class today, it seems we will learn more about how the green image of Freiburg is merely a selling point rather than “reality.” A critical perspective Freiburg is certainly a new one, and I am excited to explore it further.

Next Week

Late fall and early winter activities!


Diana in Germany: Halfway at Halloween

November 14, 2014

It’s halfway through my stay in Europe now and more than 65% through my actual classes. I took a week’s hiatus from blogging because the last four days of my Environmental Ethics class took a lot out of me. After all the sleep I caught up on this weekend though, I’m ready to tell you about the amazing trip I had to London!

Werewolves in London – Friday 
Waking up early in the morning is the worst idea ever… unless it’s to travel. That’s how my Friday started out, so I could catch my 10am flight out of Basel on time. The one hour flight I was in and out of sleep, hoping that the extra few z’s would fuel me through a full day of living in London. It worked! After landing, I had to sort out some confusion about getting into the city from the airport. I had preordered a bus along with my RyanAir ticket, but forgot to print the boarding code. Let me just say that after two and a half months surrounded by German, it was beautiful to communicate with native English speakers. I sorted through the problem in a few minutes and was on my one hour bus ride into the city!

The bus stopped at several places and on a whim, I got off around the corner from Regent’s Park. First wonderful decision of the day, which was quickly followed by another – Baskin Robbins for lunch. Shush. I do not want even a little judgement. Baskin Robbins…. it’s been a long time guys. I worked there one summer and spoiled myself with ice cream to the point that I have not visited since.  That Jamoca Almond Fudge really hit the spot as I continued on in the sunshine towards the park. Unlike my original plan for the day, I spent about 3 hours in that park and regret nothing. Regent’s Park has stunning flower gardens and gilded gates, water fowl sanctuaries and weeping willows. There was even an older couple reading on a bench together, which touched my heart.

​Regent's Park has gilded gates that caught my eye several times. ​

​Regent’s Park has gilded gates that caught my eye several times.

​The beauty of flowers in a park.

​The beauty of flowers in a park.

Finally I started to head out of the park as the daylight subsided. My new mission – find a place to Facebook message my cousin, Grace, who is studying theatre in London for the semester. Because my cell plan is not international, it would cost me a lot to call her and let her know I was there. On my way towards a section of London called Camden Town, I passed the London zoo. Through the gates I could see giraffes and hippos! Good thing because that place is really expensive at 20 something pounds for adult admission.

​Giraffe spotted in London

​Giraffe spotted in London

As I walked further I became hungry, and magically a deli and café called Melrose and Morgan appeared. There I accessed some Wifi and ate my first scotch egg. A scotch egg is s hardboiled egg surrounded by meat and rolled in breadcrumbs. Basically, it is breakfast all rolled into one. Breakfast is my favorite meal, so I was not complaining about eating this at around 4pm. I ordered mine with chili chutney, which added just the right amount of spice and sweetness to satisfy my tastebuds.

​My Scotch egg - a dining experience I recommend

​My Scotch egg – a dining experience I recommend

After this short break in walking I continued onto Camden Lock Market, which has a ton of international food stalls. I remember seeing Polish Sausages, Peruvian food, sushi, crêpes, and a stall devoted to mac-and-cheese (which had no vendor behind it much to my chagrin). My stomach was full from my Scottish egg snack, so I went with a fresh smoothie instead of any food. At this point I still had about two hours to kill before meeting up with Grace at her schoolroom, so I walked through Camden. It is obviously a very grunge artsy place, which I loved! There were tattoo parlors, people in Darth Vader costumes, a DJ Grandpa, and other hilarious costumes. At this point my stomach made its presence known once again, so I stopped in a lovely looking tapas restaurant called Jamon Jamon. I recommend it, especially on a Friday night for their specials.

​I feel like this would only happen in Camden - The Joker serenades three trick-or-treaters.

​I feel like this would only happen in Camden – The Joker serenades three trick-or-treaters.

Grace’s school was only a ten minute jaunt away. I waited outside for a few minutes and a woman came out who graciously let me in. Upstairs I found Grace and gave her a huge hug! Her friend Maggie who is from Baltimore was also there and we all walked for an hour back to where they live. The rest of the night was spent getting into costume, Cards Against Humanity, dancing, and junk food. My cousin Grace went as Sally from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and I decided to change from Peter Pan to Misty from Pokémon. Grace was sweet and let me go downstairs to sleep in her bed while she took the couch, which I definitely needed after walking around with my backpack on all day. It was a howl of a Halloween.

​Misty and Sally Skellington

​Misty and Sally Skellington

Operation Mega Tourist – Saturday
Ahhh how nice to wake up at 10am. Grace and I were refreshed and took our time getting ready in the morning as our only schedule was to make it to the Mayfair area of London by noon. When we arrived there we took a quick walk to see Buckingham Palace and then headed back to our real destination – Murano Resturant. Murano is a one Michelin starred restaurant owned by Angela Hertnett, protégé of Gordon Ramsay. I consider myself to be a foodie and also wanted to treat Grace for hosting me. This was the most memorable meal of my life so far.

​It was gorgeous weather in London but these men continue wearing their bearskin hats.

​It was gorgeous weather in London but these men continue wearing their bearskin hats.

Before we ordered anything, we were brought three kinds of bread, olive oil, parmesan crisps, fried truffles, and carpaccio. This seriously was their “free bread” portion of the meal. Are you kidding me. Pure heaven. For starters we ordered a tuna dish and a quail dish, and for mains Grace got the risotto while I got pork cheek. My main was such a homey dish it made me really feel like I was back home eating my mother’s pot roast. We both ordered desserts and we even got orange gummies plus chocolate raspberry lollipops after our real desserts! Overall, excellent service, value, taste, and presentation – everything I dreamed it could be.

​My Murano dessert. Chocolate cake with pear filling, pear ice cream, and pear pieces.

​My Murano dessert. Chocolate cake with pear filling, pear ice cream, and pear pieces.

To get rid of our massive food babies, Grace and I started a day long trek through the city. We passed Buckingham Palace a second time on our way to Big Ben and the Eye. We didn’t go up in the Eye because of how expensive and time consuming it is to do that. Our investment of time in lunch was much more worth it! After crossing a bridge, we saw the National Theatre where Grace has seen several plays and also saw the Globe Theatre of Shakespearean fame (though it is obviously relocated and remodeled). We went through some side streets and happened upon the original Globe Theatre site! This all took a couple hours of walking so when we reached Borough Market we both got a little sweet treat to tide us over until dinner. I got a lime mint cupcake while Grace got a scoop of chocolate and vanilla ice cream on a cone.

​The Eye and Big Ben

​The Eye and Big Ben

​The Globe

​The Globe

​Tower Bridge

​Tower Bridge

​Tower of London poppies

​Tower of London poppies

As evening approached, the rest of the tourist sites were in store. Crossing London bridge allowed us to view Tower Bridge. We went to see the Tower of London. Great timing because this was one of the last changes to see the gorgeous WWI poppy tribute. Trying to save our time we did not stay through much of the reading of the names. Instead we continued on to the Tube to Kings Cross Station for a picture at Platform 9 and 3/4. I wore my Hufflepuff scarf proudly. My cousin is a Hufflepuff too I think, but they only had one yellow scarf! This was my crowning moment as a Harry Potter fan, I have to tell you. To wrap up the evening, Grace and I got carry out Thai food and watched Footloose. The next morning I got up at 4am to catch the bus back to the airport for my 7am flight. What a whirlwind weekend in London!

​Quitting Muggle school. I'm goin' to Hogwarts!

​Quitting Muggle school. I’m goin’ to Hogwarts!

 

Next Week’s Post
Check out the blog post about a break down of what I learned in my Environmental Ethics class! This was my first time studying philosophy and I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Diana in Germany Week Seven: Back Home Blues

October 23, 2014

Sometimes homesickness creeps its way into my almost perfect life here in Freiburg. Posts on Facebook about Homecoming, the autumn colors on University of Richmond’s beautiful campus, and going back home for fall break have made it clear to me that there are things about home that I completely miss. For instance, being over here for fall makes me realize that it is my absolute favorite season in the US.

​Last Halloween, my organic chemistry class received extra credit for showing up in costume. I'm in the light blue dress in the middle as Danaerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones.

​Last Halloween, my organic chemistry class received extra credit for showing up in costume. I’m in the light blue dress in the middle as Danaerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones.

On a more serious note, my grandmother had heart surgery when I left and a few of my friends back home are having a really tough time. It makes me sad that I am not there to be supportive in all the ways that I normally would be. So how do I handle the nostalgia? How do I keep up with the people and news from back home?

 

Keeping up with the Fam

You bet we Skype. We actually seem to be talking MORE now that I am abroad than when I am away from home at school in the states. I even get to see my cats, Cookies and Cream over Skype. Weird right? Not exactly. At UR my workload is extremely heavy. I am also a member and leader of multiple extracurricular activities. Occasionally I barely have time to eat. It’s ridiculous. Here in Freiburg I have one class at a time and only spend about 3 hours a day in class and maybe 1 hour tops doing homework. That leaves a ton of time open to socialize with everyone and have adventures in Freiburg plus getting in touch with everyone back home for an hour every few days or so.

​My parents and I on Skype call.

​My parents and I on Skype call.

My mother even took her computer up to Pennsylvania last weekend and I got to Skype with my grandparents. My grandma is so tired after heart surgery that she had to lay down in the middle of the conversation. I am rooting for my grandma. She is so silly and goofy when she has the energy. I really hope she can pull through the recovery process and feel well again.

 

​A picture with my grandparents right before I left for Freiburg at their home in Lititz, Pennsylvania.

​A picture with my grandparents right before I left for Freiburg at their home in Lititz, Pennsylvania.

Facebooking Buds from Back Home

Oddly, I have not used Skype with my friends at all. That needs to change, and a group of my friends from Towson, MD want to do a group Ben-and-Jerrys-Netflix call soon.

Expectedly, we connect on Facebook. I love that private group messaging is an option. My best friends from University of Richmond are in one chat group named after a fake sorority we “made” as a joke, RhoRhoRho. My best friends from Towson are all in a chat group labeled Four Fierce Females, named after our recent team name at Applebees trivia this past summer. This is especially awesome because all of us in Four Fierce Females go to different schools and so even when I am not abroad this makes it easy to catch everyone in the group up all at one time. All of these girls have supported me via Internet while I have been here. I feel a lot less close to the people over in Germany because you cannot really make that deep a connection in 7 weeks.

​Four Fierce Female last get-together. In order from left to right are Kayla, me, Allison, and Selena.

​Four Fierce Female last get-together. In order from left to right are Kayla, me, Allison, and Selena.

​RhoRhoRho! Hira, Danielle, and I.

​RhoRhoRho! Hira, Danielle, and I.

Thank goodness I live during this time period because I would have to be no contact except for expensive phone calls and mail without the Internet.

 

Visiting

A lot of people study abroad at the same time. You have to take advantage of that if you ever go abroad. Exploring a city with a close friend and having free lodging is pretty optimal when you’re a college kid on a budget. Thankfully two really awesome people are really close geographically to me – my cousin, Grace, in London and my best friend, Masnoon, in Paris.

I will be visiting Grace for my all time favorite holiday, Halloween. Here in Germany most people do not celebrate Halloween with the same gusto as we do in the states. Only some little kids in some places dress up and there is very little observation of the traditional trick-or-treating.I know a few clubs and bars holding a special night for Halloween as well. I want to get dressed up, eat candy, and have fun on my Halloween, so it is perfect that I will be going to London where the spirits will come out to play and I won’t look like a total idiot wearing my Peter Pan costume.

Now you have already seen my recent trip to Paris, Orléans, Blois, and Chenonceau with Masnoon. But what you didn’t know is he’s coming to visit me here in Freiburg next week. I cannot wait to show him this city and the surrounding natural beauty. Paris does not suit either of us so much because it is so full of tourists and concrete. Freiburg together will be such an awesome adventure. I fully expect that he and I will check of some of my bucket list items!

 

​Goodbye, friend! It was wonderful to have you visit my new home in Freiburg!

​Goodbye, friend! It was wonderful to have you visit my new home in Freiburg!

Feelings for Freiburg

Right this second I realized that once my study abroad experience ends I will feel this way about Freiburg too. Now that I have two “home” countries, I will always be a little homesick. What a thought. It doesn’t bother me though. All it means is that two countries have raised me and shaped me into who I am today. That is truly beautiful.


Diana in Germany Week Six: Ecology and Management of Forests

October 20, 2014

My second class of the semester is already over! Also about 35% done my stay in Germany to put things in perspective. So these past few weeks in Ecology and Management of Forests in Southwestern Germany and the Swiss Alps we have gone on field excursions a total of 6 times, and they were all amazing.

 

Schauinsland

Our first excursion was an all day hike at the nearby Shauinsland hill. We took a bus up the mountain to save time, and we made it to the summit by foot shortly afterwards. There is a tower on top, but we decided not to climb as it would not have offered more of a view that foggy morning. Here we discussed how the Black Forest, Rhine River Valley, and Vosges Mountains were formed by the shifting of tectonic plates millions of years ago.

As we walked down through the hill paths we stopped to talk about the economy, the shift from grazing meadow to coniferous forests for timber, and the forest diebacks Germany experienced in the late 1900’s. We saw beech trees that are naturally predominant in this area and also many Douglas firs that have been introduced for timber and tree coverage.

Unfortunately I did not bring my camera on this trip, so no photos. Sorry!!

 

Rhine River Valley

Our next field trip brought us to the border of France and Germany, which is delineated by the Rhine River itself. It was intriguing to see that the land and vegetation were different on opposite sides of the river!

​The Rhine River. France on the left and Germany on the right. In class a point was made how the banks look different and have different vegetation.

​The Rhine River. France on the left and Germany on the right. In class a point was made how the banks look different and have different vegetation.

We studied the signs of flooding that frequently occurs in riparian areas. For instance, there were trees that were slanted and buildup of vegetative litter that had been carried by floodwaters. Closest to the rivers there were only new grasses and sometimes no vegetation at all since species had not been able to establish since the last flood. Trees were further up the banks. The rocks also gave it away. Smaller, finer sediment deposits higher up on the banks because it travels in the water whereas the largest rocks stay put near the river.

​Flood waters made these trees bend and stay slanted.

​Flood waters made these trees bend and stay slanted.

Our next stop on the trip brought us to the side channel of the Rhine. Here we discussed the human impacts that literally shaped the river. Way back when there were many small side channels and more bends in the river. The riparian areas were relatively undisturbed and stretched a lot wider geographically than they do currently. All of this changed through a serious of straightening and damming projects. Now there are only two major channels with fewer curves. This was wonderful economically as it straightened and shortened the river, so shipping and boating took shorter periods of time. Unfortunately it exposed villages to flooding and destroyed huge areas of riparian habitat.

To reduce flooding and promote a more natural ecology, the Integrated Rhine Program was established. So far 3 out of 13 projects have been completed. It takes a long time to restore riparian ecosystems, but one step at a time things should improve.

 

Coventwald

Forestry relies on scientific research nowadays and Coventwald is one such research forest. Our guide for that day has been studying chemical deposition rates in the forest depending on tree type/amount of tree cover. The factors that increase chemical deposition in forests are the leaf area index and age of the trees. basically chemicals in the air (a lot now input by industries and humans) stick to leaves and then when it rains the chemicals wash off the leaves and deposit themselves into the soil. When soil chemistry changes, some trees are not as suited to the environment.

​​​This is an example of the equipment used to get water out of soil.

​​​This is an example of the equipment used to get water out of soil.

The major results of the studies so far have been the following:

  • Higher deposition under canopy and in soil of spruce trees than under beech trees
  • Soils are becoming more acidic
  • Nitrate levels have decreased

The coolest part of the trip was walking up a research tower. We had an amazing view from there, but it was scary! The stairs were wet, so walking up to and down from the top made me think I was on Fear Factor or The Amazing Race. At the top I also pondered the fact that my father would never be able to be there (he is pretty afraid of heights).

 

​We got to go on top of the research tower at Coventwald! 11 flights of stairs was a work out. On top, we could feel the tower moving in the wind.

​We got to go on top of the research tower at Coventwald! 11 flights of stairs was a work out. On top, we could feel the tower moving in the wind.

Swiss Alps

7am sharp this past Monday my class gathered outside of the Konzerthaus in Freiburg to start our 4 hour bus drive to Disentis, Switzerland. When we arrived in the Alps it was absolutely pouring (which is why I don’t have pictures from this first day of the trip FYI). To make a long day short, the class hiked hard terrain up into Scatlé forest that has been untouched by humans since before the 13th century, which makes it extremely unique. Very few tourists go through it and only a few researchers interact with the forest at all. We were out there for a long time with no facilities, so I unfortunately had to “interact” with the forest. You got it… I peed in a primeval forest. Soaking wet, we made it back to our hostel for showers and a great dinner with schnitzel, vegetable soup, and caramel flan. We were all very grateful to be warm and dry indoors.

Our second day welcomed us with beautiful weather. The excursion for that day consisted of taking a cable car up to the top of a mountain and walking back down it, similar to what we did during the Shauinsland excursion. Our speaker for the day had an extremely thick Swiss German accent and I could barely pay attention to anything said. That was fine because the surrounding area was gorgeous!

​The cable car we took our second day in the Swiss Alps.

​The cable car we took our second day in the Swiss Alps.

The final day of our trip started very early. We left our hostel at 7am and then had a few hours on the bus to sleep. We arrived at Aletsch mountain, which is the most beautiful natural place I have been so far during my study abroad experience. There were trees turning yellow and conifers that were green. The tops of the mountains are covered in snow. We even got to see Aletsch Glacier and, off in the distance, Matterhorn! We had to rush through our hike a bit because of the bus driver wanting to get back to Freiburg (about 6 hours away at this point).

​Mountain ash​

​Mountain ash​

​Larch​

​Larch​

​Swiss Stone Pine​

​Swiss Stone Pine​

​Aletsch Glacier​

​Aletsch Glacier​

​A stunning view from the top of the Alps.

​A stunning view from the top of the Alps.

On the way home our bus drove onto a train… it carries cars and busses. I had never even heard of this mode of transportation before! (Have you?) At 8pm, all us tired students made our way off the bus and back to bed.

 

Last Day of Class

The last day of class we started with a student presentation on the ways forests are managed all around Europe. However the most interesting part was that our teacher then spent the rest of the class period asking us for our critical input about the course. He took notes about our suggestions and what things we liked best. At University of Richmond we’re supposed to fill out forms online with our evaluation of a class, but this was such a more rewarding experience. Having a conversation as a class with a teacher and hearing what the teacher thought of our suggestions gave me a huge feeling of independence and control over my education.

 

Next Post

Alright guys I have to admit it – homesickness has finally gotten to me a tiny bit. I want to devote a blog post to what things I do to handle those feelings and about how my relation to home has changed a lot since I came to Freiburg.


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