Traveling Ireland

When someone thinks of Ireland what do you think of? I know when I first started thinking about Ireland I thought about rural farm lands, stone walls, and castles. The past two weekends these thoughts came true. After traveling to the Dingle Peninsula, Aryan Island, and Cliffs of Moher, it was like what someone would expect from a movie. There is so much difference when traveling around Ireland than when traveling in the United States. In Ireland sure you can have a tour and follow a group but if not you are on your own. There are no real park rangers or anyone to tell you what you can or cannot do. At the Cliffs of Moher you can get as close to the cliffs edge as you want. So many people were sitting there, hanging off the edge and nobody said a word. I am thinking, wow these people are crazy. Sure there are signs that say be careful and what not but it just seems so relaxed. There are no walls or barriers to stop people or rangers to say watch it. I am not sure how many deaths there are per year but I am sure there have to be some. After getting over that fear of falling though, man it was a beautiful sight. It was amazing just looking down at the cliffs and seeing the ocean. The Cliffs of Moher is a definite must see if you travel to Ireland. After the Cliffs of Moher, our group took a weekend trip to the Dingle Peninsula. This was perfect, small town rural Ireland. We stayed in a small town and it is exactly what I pictured it would be like in my head. At the Dingle Penninsula our group traveled and saw many great things. The biggest difference between Ireland and United States lies within the grave. In the United States most people get their own coffin and grave, or get cremated. In Ireland, an interesting fact is that families get buried together. Sure some get cremated still but most are buried with parents. For example, when a husband and wife die, they get buried together in the same grave, with a shared head stone. If an unmarried child dies, the Irish dig up the grave and put the child with the parents and they all share the head stone. If the son goes off and gets married then he may start a new grave/ headstone if he is no in the same town as the parents. Yes, there are special circumstances for some people and wishes do get protected but it is very different. There are graves that may share a family of 5 who all died at the difference times. These are just some of the cool things that can be learned on these excursions but it is just great. It is pure awesomeness learning about a new culture. 58227_205851842903203_326893740_n 36508_206228009532253_470368829_n

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Galway, Ireland

After spending a week in Ireland my eyes have been opened to a new style of living. Here in Ireland everyone walks from place to place, or takes a taxi. The average walk for a day for is probably 4-5 miles depending on what a person does. It is a miles walk to the University and a miles walk back to the apartments. If classes are a few hours apart that is four miles right there because most people won’t stick around waiting in between classes. Then if you walk into town that is another mile or two depending on where you go so you could walk anywhere from 2-8 miles regularly. Also here in Ireland nobody worries about time. A professor may have class at 11:00am and the lecture probably will not start until 11:10am or sometimes even 11:15am. The classes are lecture based here though and so it is a lot like American schools. The biggest thing to get used to though is driving on opposite sides of the road. It is tough because everyone walks here and the drivers are super aggressive so people need to be careful. The drivers do not wait for people to cross the road and sometimes speed up just so people cannot cross. It is weird crossing streets and looking at cars coming from the “wrong” side of the road. All in all though it is not very different from America because everyone speaks English but you will hear the old Gaelic language which is now a dying language. It has been an awesome experience and I get three more weeks of it. I cannot wait for the rest of this long journey to continue. 10161_391876630918682_253570991_n

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Why Am I Here: A look into the reasons I chose to live and work as an au pair in Italy

“Why would you want to live here in Italy, when all of us are dying to live in the U.S.?!” When my new friend, Davide, asked me this question, I didn’t really have an answer for him. I gave a non-committal answer and told him that I just wanted to experience the Italian culture first-hand. But the question has been bothering me ever since that conversation. Why did I choose to study abroad in Italy for 8 month? Yes, I am working as an au pair, but I could have gotten a similar job back home. Sure, I’ll pick up the language but also could have done that in the U.S. as well. So why am I here?
I decided to move to Italy and work as an au pair this past November. Therefore, I only had two months to make all of the arrangements, try to get a visa (a total waste of time on my part), change my classes, and pack. I arrived in Tradate, Italy – a small town 40 minutes outside of Milan – on January 11. I came here to be an au pair – a nanny – so I am not taking any classes here at the university, just online classes through Concordia. But again, none of this explains why I chose to study abroad.
The best part of studying abroad, in my opinion, is the fact that you can experience a completely different culture – language, food, and way of living. However, this can also be a disadvantage because you have nothing that is familiar: new people, new home, new language, new food, new schedule, work, and a full-time load of classes. It all adds up to a large case of sensory overload. But it is manageable; I have just been trying to digest one thing at a time. The best way to adjust is to immediately adjust to the style of living. For example, I absolutely HATE coffee in the states, but I now drink cappuccinos almost every day (a major staple in any true Italian’s diet).
One thing I love about being an au pair rather than a student is that I get to stay with a family, so I am getting a true experience of Italian living – away from the tourists and the big city. However, living in a small town guarantees that most of the residents don’t speak English. Just to ask about the weather, I had to wave my hands like a crazy person and point outside for five minutes before a look of realization crossed over my host nonna’s (grandma’s) face and I finally thought she understood me. Then she responded, “Si, è mattina! (Yes, it’s morning!).” As you can tell, the hardest adjustment for studying abroad is the language barrier, so learning the language is a must when studying abroad.
But aside from these obvious reasons for studying abroad (experiencing the culture, learning the language, and eating some of the best food in the world!), studying abroad has many long-term effects that many people don’t consider. The greatest benefit of studying abroad is the affect that it has one you as an individual. By thrusting into this experience, one quickly learns to be very self-reliant and independent. A student in a foreign country also learns to appreciate not only the culture they are experiencing, but also their own in a new light. I have already found myself to be much more reflective about aspects of American culture that I never even thought about before (like how amazing it is to have a summer barbeque of hot dogs and hamburgers or having access to Pandora!). In addition, studying abroad includes increases in the value of one’s education as well as increases one’s candidacy while searching for jobs.
I was very excited to come because I knew that this experience would never come again, but now that I am actually here, I am appreciating my decision even more. Though I have only been here for a short time, I can already see myself changing little-by-little. As I mentioned, being here makes me appreciate Minnesota even more – there is nothing like seeing a fresh snowfall while curling up with a glass of hot chocolate! Studying abroad – or even just living abroad – is something that I would recommend to anyone, but as college students it is the perfect opportunity because we have the time and financial aid money to do so. In a few words, I think that the biggest reason that I chose to study abroad was just to be able to say, “Yes, I lived in Italy for 8 months.” ###
By Amanda Och

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December in Deutschland

This truly is the most wonderful time of the year!
December in Germany has been truly magical. Spending the first weeks of Advent with my students has been very enjoyable. The morning of December sixth was extremely memorable; it was Saint Nicholas Day. This day is a festival normally reserved for children in Germany and many other countries in Europe related to surviving legends of the saint.

When I told my host family that we didn’t celebrate Saint Nikolaus on December sixth, they were thoroughly surprised. They made sure that I experienced this culturally significant tradition. Normally, children must clean their shoes and boots and place them out for St. Nick so he can bring gifts. Although St. Nick didn’t visit my boots, I did wake up to a gift bag hanging on my door of traditional German gifts, including oranges, chocolate, Christmas CD, and a small Räucherman. My favorite includes the latter; a very traditional Christmas decoration and bringer of good luck. It is an incense smoker and looks as if the man is smoking from a pipe.

If you haven’t experienced a German Christmas market, I encourage you to put it on your bucket list. I compare it to my mom’s lit-up, miniature Christmas village that she puts on display each Christmas, come to life. Weinachtsmarkts all around are open from the end of November daily until Christmas Eve. One can find handmade crafts, seasonal food and drink, and general entertainment and good cheer. I have had the pleasure to visit a variety different German Christmas markets, located in Wittenberg, Freiburg, Moellensdorf, Berlin, and Oslo, Norway.
I had the opportunity to visit Norway last weekend. This was a very interesting experience, because I have fairly recent relatives that came from Norway. If you didn’t know it already, Oslo is the most expensive city in the world. We traveled there using Ryan Air for fairly cheap, and my friends and I rented an “apartment hotel” for the weekend. We packed food to eat while we were there. This was a good idea, because we found out it was pretty close to impossible for travelers on a budget to eat at a restaurant.

In all, however, the weekend was wonderful. We were able to tour the Nobel Peace Prize Center, the Parliament building, the Oslo Art Museum, the famous Ice Bar, and strolled around the Norwegian Christmas market. It snowed the entire time, which gave me the feeling that I was living in a life-sized snow globe. It was wonderful!! It was very interesting to visit the land of my ancestors (although Norwegian is only one aspect of my cultural heritage).
Although watching it snow through the kitchen window sipping one of the many special German holiday teas is dreamlike, not so magical about this winter wonderland is riding my bike in the softly falling snow. I have learned that it is sometimes best to walk in such weather.
As my time abroad comes to a close, I have much to reflect upon. People are people, no matter where you go. It is a blessing that I have had the opportunity to be immersed in a different language and culture. I would do it again in a heartbeat! I think that by bringing our different identities to the table- linguistic, social, cultural- we are able to really understand how much we all have in common.
Me? I’m going to weigh my suitcase one last time and go visit with my most wonderful host family one last time before I say farewell tomorrow.
If you have any questions about what my specific teaching experience was like, what to pack for a semester abroad (and what NOT to pack), tips for traveling, etc., do not hesitate to email me! I can always be reached by my CSP email account:
Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland. I will miss you!


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November in Deutschland

Where has the time gone? I can hardly believe I have only three and a half weeks left in Germany. As I am writing this, my family and friends are waking up in Minnesota, preparing for a day of giving thanks. I have spent my “Thanksgiving” preparing lessons for my classes next week. Not to fear- I have been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner at a German/American home. Although we won’t celebrate on the actual day, I think it will be a wonderful day of celebrating and giving thanks away from home. I am looking forward to it!

I am thankful for the community that has welcomed me here in Wittenberg, my family and friends at home, and technology that keeps us connected. I am truly enjoying my student teaching experience; it will be extremely hard to leave my students. I have enjoyed and learned a lot at  Evangelische Grundschule; I’m thankful I had the opportunity to study and teach in a different culture.

When I haven’t been utterly exhausted from my workdays (a good kind of exhausted), I have been able to travel some weekends. One weekend included a day trip to Berlin. I was able to see an English screening of Skyfall, the new James Bond film, before it was available in the United States. German cinemas are very similar to those in the States-popcorn, Icees, pop, nachos, comfy seats, you name it. Later that same day, I experienced my first German soccer match at the Olympia Stadiom- the stadium used for the 1936 Olympics. It was a humbling experience. Blending into the sea of BSC blue and learning the team chants was definitely a fun experience, even if there wasn’t a single point scored on either team!

A trip to Krakow, Poland, was one I’ll never forget. After an eleven hour train ride, two friends and I arrived hungry and tired on a Friday evening. Our first order of business was currency exchange. The Polish Zloty is used, and we were able to exchange money using an ATM (the fastest and most reliable method that I’ve found so far). After a quick bite to eat, we put our heads together to learn the public transportation system and find our way to the hotel. None of us knew a word of Polish, and our English came in more handy than our German! I really am beginning to understand English’s role as a developing lingua franca.

The city of Krakow was absolutely beautiful; the architecture was breathtaking. It was even more unforgettable with a fresh blanket of snow. The most memorable experience, however, came from a trip to the museum at Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration/death camp. I have no words for how deeply the experience affected me. It was a cold, rainy day; perfectly fitting for such a tour. I returned to Wittenberg with a different perspective and understanding of the holocaust that I didn’t have before I came here, as did the two friends I traveled with.
Next weekend I will be traveling to Freiburg, Germany, to visit a friend from MN who is studying abroad. I can’t wait! I’m starting to get into the Christmas spirit. I’m sure my last weekends will be filled with many a “Weinachtsmarkt” (outdoor Christmas markets that are located in the town squares, that run from the end of November to Christmas Eve in almost every major city in Germany) and Christmas cheer.

Bis dann,


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Final Week in Townsville Australia

As I approach the last week and finish up my finals I am extremely surprised at where the time has gone. I have immensely enjoyed my time here, and I have met so many incredible people! I have learned and grown in my confidence for tackling life no matter where it takes me. Another thing I have learned is patience. The patience to wait for a bus, the patience of meeting new people, the patience of a new schooling system. The idea of leaving is very bittersweet, but I am excited to come home and share my experiences with Minnesota.

I am going to miss the wallabies outside my window every morning :)  It’s getting really hot here, and so it is going to be a drastic change to fly home to snow!

Last week, a group of friends and I walked to a botanical garden and had a picnic. We sat around for hours just talking and enjoying each others company :) There was a colony of flying fox bats in some of the nearby trees, which is quite a site to be seen. Hundreds and hundreds of sleeping bats hung above us. This was super cool… until one of them pooped on my friend’s head :P It’s supposed to be good luck… or ‘Bat’ luck as we said. There was also numerous butterflies and bush turkeys everywhere. The wildlife here is so diverse and unique. They are all going to be missed dearly by me. Not going to lie though, I am excited to see my squirrels when I get home :D

I will forever cherish the memories of Australia, and what I have learned from my adventure here will forever be a presence in my life. There will be an adjustment period once I return home, but I look forward to sharing the boxes of tim-tams and endless stories from my time here in Oz.

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October sure came quickly! The city has been bustling in preparation for the big Reformation Day celebration (October 31st). On October 18th a new American-style shopping mall opened. It has been very busy; I still prefer the charm of the small shops down Collegienstrasse.

Phase two of my grand German adventure, my first clinical teaching placement, has ended. My last day teaching at Lucas Cranach Gymnasium was bittersweet; I was sad to leave my wonderful students and colleagues, but excited to begin my second placement. My last meeting with the headmaster at LCG confirmed that I will always have friends to visit when I return to Wittenberg.

Now begins phase three of my adventure; on Monday I will start my second clinical teaching placement at Evangelische Grundschule. I have moved back to my first host family (location, location, location), and look forward to the next nine weeks here in Lutherstadt Wittenberg.

I have had many opportunities to travel, most of which have been last minute (last minute trips are the best, in my opinion).  I spend a lot of time with my friend, Claudia. Originally from Italy, she is in Wittenberg on her European Voluntary Service. The EVS is a chance for students to gain valuable work experience before jumping into the “real world.” While it is unpaid, volunteers receive a stipend for living expenses. Many Europeans take advantage of this service, and for good reason!

The last weekend in September Claudia and I traveled to Prague, Czech Republic. What a beautiful city! We saw the famous Charles bridge, castle, and cathedral. Although it rained the entire day, we were able to enjoy our tour! Claudia has a friend who studies in Prague, and he gave us a “behind the scenes,” informal tour; a city is best explored in the company of a local!

I also traveled to Leipzig last weekend with some friends. The highlights of the trip included a tour of the Stasi Museum and dinner at Auerbachs Keller. The Stasi Museum,  is located in the original Staatssicherheit headquarters. There we were able to get an inside look at the former East German secret police. It’s amazing what lengths the police went to behind the Iron Curtain. Regarding Auerbachs Keller, legend has it Goethe once dined there…all I can say is that the food was Fantastic!

Although I sometimes still feel the pangs of homesickness, I have come to feel at home here in Wittenberg. My host family has become like a real family to me and I am comfortable here; I wave at familiar faces on the street, joke with my colleagues, smile at the groups of tourists coming to see Luther’s city…My German is still developing, but almost everyone I try to speak German with is willing to help me learn! I find myself asking my students “der? die? das?…” Student teaching in  a new culture has been as much of a learning experience for me as it is for my students!

One preconceived notion that has been challenged since I’ve been here is the directness of the German language and culture that I’d confused with impoliteness. I had an “aha” moment when my host father told me that sarcasm doesn’t exist in German. In MN, I have found that it’s very common to be circular and indirect in conversations. However, I’ve learned that the direct-nature of the German language is not impolite. In fact, politeness is almost demanded in cultural settings; for example, formal registers are strictly adhered to until participants in interactions agree to speak informally to one another (Sie vs. Du). Living with two different host families has been the source of my greatest learning experiences here.

I look forward to traveling to Poland next weekend, southern Germany in November, and all the other impromptu trips I am sure will come.

Bis bald,


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