culture shock chronicles, volume 1

Before I left Texas in March, I read up a little bit about culture shock. I’d also learned about it before in the study abroad prep class I took in the fall, too. I honestly didn’t think it would be a bit deal. I mean, I understand dealing with culture shock when traveling from the US to, say, a third-world country, or somewhere like Saudi Arabia or China where the traditional Western values to which we are so accustomed do not reign supreme.

But coming to Germany, I didn’t really think too much would be different. Sure, there’s the language barrier, but as far as cultural norms go (you know… values, styles of dress, social behavior, even food), I figured not too much would be different. Both Germany and the US are large, industrialized, Western countries with relatively-large immigrant populations. Plus, a lot of German culture has been fused into American culture because German immigrants make up a huge portion of the people who came to the US at the beginning of the last century. As for the little cultural idiosyncrasies, I’ve studied German culture for 6 years, so I’ve got a bit of an advantage there.

However. I have learned that there are things from your own culture that you just get used to and take for granted that they are “normal.” Things that you wouldn’t normally think would be a problem. Like the business hours of stores. Everything is open in the US all.the.time. All the time. Here, stuff closes! Restaurants, between meals! Stores, at 8 PM! And on Sundays! Now, I can understand that, to some extent. And I do appreciate that Sundays are treated differently here. But sometimes I just want to go to the store when I have to go to the store. Or eat lunch at 3 PM.

The worst encounter I’ve had along these lines is with the Rektorat at the University. That’s where I had to go to matriculate and it’s also where I’d go if I, as an international student, ever had any sort of question or problem. Their business hours are as follows: Monday-Thursday. 9-11:30 AM.

“Wait. I’m sorry. I think I misunderstood that,” you say. “You mean this very important office is only open 10 hours per week? That can’t possibly be right.”

Yes. Yes, that is absolutely correct. And if you walk in with, say, all your matriculation paperwork completed, requiring only a signature to become officially complete, at 11:32, you’re just out of luck. Because the nice man at the desk, although he is still, in fact, at his desk, will not sign it for you. Because he is off the clock. (See discussion of time below.)

It’s just freaking ridiculous.

There are some things about German culture that I anticipated that I’d really like. Perception of time, for instance. I am a very prompt person, and my idea of time mostly aligns with the German model: if something is supposed to begin at 5:00, I’d like for it to begin at 5:00. And if it is supposed to end promptly at 6, I think it should end at 6. If it drags until 6:05, I start to get antsy, because, for me, that activity has been over for 5 minutes. In the German culture, and apparently in my brain, it is rude to waste someone’s time by keeping them past the appropriate hour, whereas in other cultures (such as most Latin cultures, hence the ever-popular “Chilean time” on which SUW events run) time is much less rigid.

For the most part, this cultural norm has held true. Trains here are rarely late, and sometimes they are early. It’s wonderful. (I was in for a rude awakening when I went to Italy, where most of the time they don’t even bother to tell you when the next train is expected to arrive, probably because they know it’s going to be late anyway.)

However, there have been some glaring exceptions to the rule. I mentioned the other day that the Mündliche Übungen II instructor was 15 minutes late to the second class after outright missing the first class. Her excuse was that she wasn’t aware that she was supposed to be teaching the class until someone called her at the beginning of the hour. That really doesn’t make very much sense, but ok… I’ll chalk this occurrence, along with the insufficient number of instructors and the piss-poor level distribution, up to poor organization and the fact that this course is not technically offered by the university, but rather by the affiliated Sprachlehrinstitut.

But then, only two days later, I found myself sitting in yet another lecture hall, waiting on yet another tardy professor. And this was for a real lecture offered by the university! When the professor (who is really very sweet, I don’t want to paint an entirely negative picture here) arrived 18 minutes late, she then sat at the front fiddling with her computer for probably another 15 minutes because she couldn’t get the projector to work. Can I first point out the fact that a lecture hall full of 100 German students just sat for over 30 minutes waiting on the professor? I guess the fifteen minute rule doesn’t exist here. Anyway, once the lecture started, it really was very interesting (it’s an English lecture on bilingualism!), but I couldn’t help but wonder whether this is a regular occurrence.

The cultural difference that’s caused me the most stress, though, is the differences in university structures. This is something not many people probably think about. But EVERYTHING is different here. Degree plans. Majors. Time it takes to graduate. These things don’t matter to me so much since I’m only here for a semester, but when it comes to things like course selection, existence (or non-existence) of syllabi, types of classes, and how frequently they meet, I am quite immediately affected.

I am currently enrolled in 12 hours of foreign exchange credit at UT, and so I need to actually get 12 hours of credit. Also, several of my scholarships, my insurance, etc. are dependent on my being a full time student. So the 12 hour thing is quite important. I figured I could just sign up for 4 classes (the standard US 12-hour equivalent) and be good to go.

Not so simple, friends. Upon looking at the Vorlesungsverzeichnis (directory of lectures… love that German allows that to be encapsulated in one word), I quickly realized two things:

  1. Standard German lectures only meet once a week in 2-hour blocks
  2. There are 3,402,426 types of classes here, some of which only meet like 5 times per semester and some of which literally only meet once.

How in the world am I supposed to make any combination of these classes translate into an equivalent of 12 hours??!?!?!?! I figured I’d just stick with the “register for 4 classes” plan, so that’s what I did. I didn’t want to get too trigger-happy and get stuck with too many classes and too much work in German, because that’s just not good for anyone, especially my GPA.

But then, upon attending all of my classes and realizing that a) I’d have to be in too simple a level of German, b) two of my classes are going to be finished by July, and c) if I don’t get 12 hours somehow, life will not be very pleasant, I decided to ask my study abroad advisor, whose job it is to tell me such things. But then there were all these changes in the UT study abroad office and, the very next day, I was stuck with a brand new advisor. I am still planning on asking him at some point, but I figured I’d just go ahead and add another class.

I found an English class (the aforementioned lecture on bilingualism) that just happened to meet the very next day! So I went, without registering. Because pre-registration for this class was not required. The mysteries of the universe just continue to pile up.

(For those of you keeping score at home, that puts me at three normal lectures and two weird seminar-type things. I’d say that puts me in a pretty good place, hours-wise.)

Everything about the German university system is just so different. One of the most annoying differences for me is the lack of the concept of “liberal arts” here. German education is very career-focused. If you’re going to be a lawyer, you study law. If you’re going to be a doctor, you study medicine. As an amorphous Plan II major (which, let’s be honest, most Americans don’t understand… scratch that, most Plan II majors don’t understand it either) it’s pretty tough to explain to a German what I’m studying. So I mostly just go with, “Well, here I’m studying German. Because as you can tell, my German sucks.”

I guess as far as culture shock goes, this is pretty mild. I’m not witness to extraordinary levels of poverty, I don’t have to haggle with merchants when I buy food, and I’m not required to wear a head scarf or anything. But I definitely did not anticipate this much change. I guess that’s because we get so used to our way of life and just assume that certain things are universal.

But one thing is fo sho: I will put up with confusing course schedules and weird business hours if it means I get to buy an ice cream cone every day without fear of judgement. Because that is one Freiburger cultural norm that I vote we bring back to the States. It’s awesome.

auf deutsch 1: endlich ein fahrrad!

(Note in English: the translation sounds REALLY WEIRD, but I promise that my German is, for the most part, normal, despite some unavoidably false adjective endings and the fact that the plural “you” form is not something I use very often, but must use for the sake of this post because I hope that there are more than one of you reading this!)

Hallo meine Freunden und Freundinnen! Ich hoffe, dass alles in Ordnung mit euch ist! Wayne Wang hat danach gefragt, so heute schreibe ich total auf Deutsch. Es ist gut, dass ich mein Schreiben üben, weil am Ende des Semesters muss ich ein paar Essays auch auf Deutsch schreiben. Wenn ihr kein Deutsch könnt, könnt ihr Google Translate benutzen, um mir besser zu verstehen!

Die Erzählung meiner Fahrradsuche ist eine lange Geschichte, die mit dem freigebigen Angebot einer netten Frau angefangen wurde, aber endlich, nach einem langen Monat, habe ich ein Fahrrad bekommen!!!!

Heute Morgen habe ich mit einer Freundin von mir in der Stadtmitte getroffen. Sie heißt Leonie, und ich habe ihr letzte Woche in der Katholische Hochschulgemeinde (KHG) kennengelernt. Sie ist sehr süß, und wann ich ihr gesagt hatte, dass ich nach ein Fahrrad gesucht habe, sie hat sofort ihre eigene Suche begonnen, um mir zu helfen! Endlich hat sie entschieden, dass wir zu einem Mann gehen sollen, der Leonies Rad oft repariert.

Zuerst sah es aus, dass er nicht zu Hause war, aber wir haben ihn gefunden, und er hat gesagt, dass er ein paar Damenfahrräder hatte! Sein Preis war ein bißchen höher, als ich wollte bezahlen, aber er und Leonie haben eine Weile geredet (er hat sehr schnell gesprochen!), und endlich es war gut um zu wissen, dass das Fahrrad mindestens im guten Zustand ist, und dass dieses Mann es billig reparieren werde, wenn es kaputt wird. (Aber hoffentlich nicht!)

Am Ende des Semesters werden Leonie und ich ein paar Blätter im Komputer machen, die um die Universität zu ankleben, um hoffentlich das Rad wieder zu verkaufen. Hoffentlich werde ich es für ungefähr vierzig Euro verkaufen, aber wenn das nicht geht, werde ich züruck zum Kaufmann gehen können, und er wird es für dreizig Euro züruck kaufen.

Jetzt kann ich ganz schneller um die Stadt gehen… es ist so befreiend! Kein Straßenbahn mehr!!!! Aber ich muss ein bißchen üben, weil ich mit keinem Fahrrad fahren habe, seit ich in viellecht die 9. Klasse war! Man sagt, dass niemand vergessen kann, ein Fahrrad um zu fahren… ich hoffe, dass dieses Sprichwort treu ist!

back to square one

Classes started last week. My schedule is a little bit wonky, because German classes are weird and mostly only meet once a week… also, one of my classes is a “block seminar,” which meets only four times, but for, like, six hours each time, so I’ll be finished with that class by June 10. But all of my classes seem pretty good, despite scheduling weirdness.

I wasn’t really sure if I was ready to start actually going to class again after a five month break. But, due to the aforementioned super-chill-ness of my schedule, it’s been a gradual transition. It also helped that my Monday class is speaking practice for exchange students, so it was pretty scaled-back.

One problem, though, was that there are three levels of this class, and in order to be placed into the correct level, I needed to take a placement test, which was, conveniently, scheduled during my trip to Italy. Therefore, until I could take the next scheduled test, I was just told to attend the Level I class on the first day.

This was perfectly fine with me. Even though I am 100% certain that this class is too simple for my level of German, I was perfectly content to be in there for the first class. (This ended up being good, because apparently the Level II teacher didn’t bother to show up.) The teacher is really great, and the other people in the class are nice. And when you get down to it, my speaking is really, really subpar, so I can use all the practice I can get. In the end, I decided that I would go where the test told me I belonged, but that I wouldn’t feel horrible if I ended up back in Level I.

Well, I took the test, and I was placed in Level II. Fine with me. It seems a little strange that that’s all I get after 6 years of German, but as Mark Twain said, “‘Also!’ If I had not shown that the German is a difficult language, I have at least intended to do so. I have heard of an American student who was asked how he was getting along with his German, and who answered promptly, ‘I am not getting along at all. I have worked at it hard for three months, and all I have got to show for it is one solitary German phrase… but I’ve got that solid.'” Yeah, that basically sums up my experience.

Look! I graduated from high school with German honors! Good ol' Rustin.

So today, being Monday, was set to be my first day in Mündliche Übungen II. I got there, and the last-week-absent teacher (there’s some German construction for ya) was, this week, about 20 minutes late. And basically as soon as she got there, the woman who teaches the third level class came in and told us how too many people had signed up for the class (all three levels) and that they needed 8 people to move down to the first level. Well by golly. I intended to go nowhere, but upon considering the crowded classroom with too few chairs and the perennially-absent-or-tardy teacher, I hedged my bets and left, heading back to Level I. At first, it just seemed like the right thing to do. The Level I environment really is better, and it’s going to be be my first legitimate experience in a German classroom being one of the better speakers.

My compatriots and I, en route to the Level I classroom, seethed about the unjust German bureaucracy. Because that side of the story makes far less sense than my logic about the classroom environments. I registered for this class. I took the placement test. They placed me in the appropriate level. And then they don’t have room for me there? It makes absolutely no sense. I just hope that my choice to move down doesn’t effect the credit I receive on the UT end, because that would suck. But really, German credit is German credit, so hopefully it won’t be too bad…?

Luckily, when we signed up for our Referate (oral presentations… they’re a big deal in German higher education), I got paired up with one of the other de-graders, who has been studying here for a semester already. So if nothing else, I’ll get to improve my speaking by working with her, because she’s had so much more experience already.

It’s funny because, for the past week or so, I have been praying a lot with the Litany of Humility. It’s one of my favorite prayers, and it always seems to “find” me at the most appropriate times. While I was in Rome, it came back into my life, so to speak, and just in time. I need to not worry so much about being esteemed, honored, extolled, or preferred. I’m here to learn German, and that’s what I’m doing by taking this class, as well as by stepping up to the plate to take some of the more challenging lectures and seminars in which I’m also enrolled. So, the label? Probably not so important.

But yeah. Overall, first week of class? Success. Nothing I’ve worried about thus far has turned out to be a big deal, so I hope that these new worries follow that same pattern. The thing I’m most excited about is that for two of my classes, I get to go on a bunch of little day trips and excursions around the Baden-Württemburg/tri-country region. It’s going to be so fantastic!

(Oh also, I was just notified about 30 minutes ago that I have a new study abroad advisor at UT. Perfect timing!!!! Hopefully everything works out!)

“That others be chosen and I set aside, that others be praised and I unnoticed, that others others be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.”

mother’s day weekend

First of all, Happy Mother’s Day to my mom! Today is the first Mother’s Day for which I have ever been out of the country, and the second for which I haven’t been home with my momma.

But that’s ok, partly because I got to spend a few minutes on Skype (with a really slow Internet connection…) with my Mom, but mostly because I spent the whole weekend with my Momma Mary! Melissa and I had the chance to go to the original Schönstatt shrine in Vallendar, Germany. What a perfect way to spend Mother’s Day weekend!

If you are reading this and thinking “What the heck is Schönstatt?”, allow me to explain.

Schönstatt is a Christocentric, Marian movement of the Catholic Church that was founded in 1914 in Vallendar, Germany, by a priest named Joseph Kentenich while he was the spiritual director of a group of young seminarians. The Schönstatt spirituality has three parts: Covenant Spirituality (in which one “exchanges hearts” with Mary through the Covenant of Love), Instrument Spirituality (through which one strives to become an instrument of the Triune God the same way that Mary was used by Him), and Everyday Sanctity (through which one tries to sanctify everyday tasks, making ordinary activities and actions extraordinary). There is a lot more to Schönstatt than just this, but there is so much more that I could write a whole post on it instead of telling you about my trip at all! I’d encourage you to look up more information about it if you’re interested, or ask me sometime!

A main source of grace in Schönstatt is the Shrine, a small Marian chapel containing a tabernacle, the Mother Thrice Admirable image of Mary and Jesus, and several other important symbols. There are now hundreds of Shrines around the world, including two in Texas (hopefully soon to be three… we’re trying our hardest to build one in Austin!), but the original one is a special place of grace and we were privileged enough to be able to visit it and the surrounding land this weekend.

I was introduced to Schönstatt because there is a very young, lively Schönstatt community in Austin, including two branches at UT. I have made some of my best friends in college through SUW and SUM, and one really special thing about Melissa’s and my trip to Schönstatt this weekend is that six (**edit** eight or nine) of our best friends made their Covenants of Love in San Antonio on Saturday! It was awesome to be united with them in the Shrine!

(These pictures really add nothing of substance to this entry, but I have not uploaded my Schönstatt pictures yet. Plus, I think some of these pictures just deserve to be on here. See my Facebook for pictures in the next few days!)

Michael Noriega is a firework

You may know me, Mike, and John as the smash hit indie folk band 3 Birds & Bangs. Be on the lookout for our forthcoming album.

Will was my battle buddy/p-partner in crime during my fake-mester

Harry enjoys foam sword fights. This picture says so much and yet so little

Me and Io: so pretentious, so Plan II

It was a really special feeling to be at the starting place of something that I and so many of my friends value so much, on a weekend that was so important for so many of my (very attractive and photogenic) friends. One thing that my SUM buds will probably be proud to hear is that, when we met the Schönstatt sister who showed us around the different Shrines and the Father Kentenich House, and she asked us how two girls from Texas knew about Schönstatt, her first reaction to hearing that we were from Austin was, “You don’t need to say any more. I’ve heard so much about the amazing young movement in Austin!” Exhibit A: our awesome University Men in action!

One funny thing is that, when Melissa and I first started walking around the Schönstatt land in search of the famed Original Shrine, we passed it about 3 times without realizing it. We were pretty embarrassed… how could that happen? But when we sheepishly told that to our sister-guide, she smiled and nodded and told us, “That’s what’s so beautiful about the Shrine! It’s just like our Blessed Mother… even though it is very holy, it is also humble and quiet and unassuming.” It’s true: nothing about the Shrine is especially impressive. It’s a relatively small, white building; it doesn’t look like anything special. But the moment you step inside, you can just sense that it is a special place. It feels like home. Divine Providence was definitely on our side this weekend… two of the times we decided to go pray in the Original Shrine, just because we were passing, there just happened to be Adoration going on at the time. It was beautiful.

It turns out that there are actually about 10 Shrines in the general vicinity of the Original Shrine, so we got to visit several during our stay. Besides the Original Shrine, we also spent some time in the Kanaan Patris Heiligtum (a Shrine of the Schoenstatt Fathers with a special devotion to God the Father), the Haus Mariengart (a Shrine of Schoenstatt lay women that especially honors the Holy Spirit and contains a relic of St. Therese of Lisieux, one of my favorites and the patroness of my Awakening staff!), and the Heiligtum der Familien (the Family Shrine, which has a net of pictures of the families’ home shrines and an awesome statue of the Holy Family). Even though all Shrines have identical dimensions and most of the symbols they contain are the same, each one has a special, distinct feeling to it. It’s really incredible. Just being able to spend time praying in each one was wonderful.

Our weekend also included two trips up to the top of Mount Schönstatt, which includes a few more Shrines (we didn’t go into any of them, though), the Adoration Church and Chapel where Fr. Kentenich died and is now buried, and the Father Kentenich House, a museum about the life of the Founder and about the movement as a whole. Even though it was closed on Saturday, our sister-guide (can you tell I don’t remember her name? I’m horrible) took us on a guided tour of the museum part of the house! It was awesome to see the history of the movement in such a real way. Even though I had learned so much about Fr. Kentenich’s life and the founding of Schönstatt in the past two years, getting to actually see the original Founding Document and hear such passionate descriptions of the lives of the original Sodalists completely transformed the history for me.

Learning about the original Sodalists, the seminarians with whom Fr. Kentenich worked in the early years, whose spirituality shaped the movement, and whose apostolic zeal spread the movement during the war, was probably one of my favorite parts of the weekend. Two of the Sodalists, Max Brunner and Hans Wormer, are actually buried behind the Original Shrine, and Josef Engling, who died during WWI and whose body was never found, is commemorated there as well. Hearing their stories, normal people like us who lived very holy lives, seeing the seminary where they once studied, and walking the streets of Vallendar where they once walked, was really cool. There is a little memorial at the edge of the Schönstatt land, where Fr. Kentenich would walk with the boys (“his soldiers”) on their way to the train station, at the spot where he would bless them and their travels and then send them on their way. We walked past it every time we went to dinner in Vallendar, and it was a good reminder of the history of the land.

Overall, I am so glad that I got to visit this place of incredible grace this weekend. I don’t know what the future holds in terms of my relationship with Schönstatt, but I have learned and grown so much in the past year and a half, and this trip to Vallendar was an excellent way to experience more of this beautiful movement.

Other notable things from the weekend:

Several firsts occurred this weekend. After one month in Germany (during asparagus season, no less), I have finally tasted spargel (German white asparagus). And after six years as a student of German culture, I have finally had my first Spaghetti-Eis (delicious vanilla ice cream pressed to look like spaghetti, topped with strawberry “tomato” sauce and shaved white chocolate “cheese”). Also, I finally saw Tangled. Best. Movie. Ever.

The beds in our room at Schönstatt were SUPER comfortable… so comfortable that the weekend may or may not have included several naps and 10 hours of sleep per night. Heaven.

Eurail passes are awesome, but one downside is that they do not reserve you a specific seat on the train. Hence why, for half of my journey back to Freiburg today, I had to sit on the floor in the little section between cars. I kind of felt like a hobo.

My German language acquisition has reached new levels! I can now read and understand card game instructions in German! Never mind that I already basically know how to play UNO… I’d say that puts me at “almost fluent.”

~       *      ~       *         ~       *      ~       *         ~       *      ~       *         ~

Some of my favorite Schönstatt prayers:


My Queen, my Mother,
I give myself entirely to you,
And to show my devotion to you,
I consecrate to you this day
My eyes, my ears, my mouth, my heart,
My entire self without reserve.
As I am your own, my good Mother,
Guard me and defend me
As your property and possession.

Divine Providence Prayer

You know the way for me, you know the time.
Into your hands I trustingly place mine.
You plan is perfect, born of perfect love;
You know the way for me, that is enough

Holy Spirit Prayer

Holy Spirit, You are the soul of my soul.
I humbly adore you.
Enlighten me, strengthen me, guide me, comfort me.
Reveal you wishes to me
As far as this is in accordance with the will of the Eternal Father.
Show me what Eternal Love wants of me.
Show me what I should do.
Show me what I should suffer.
Show me what I should humbly and thoughtfully accept, bear, and endure.
Holy Spirit, show me your will and the will of the Father,
For I want my whole life to be nothing else
Than a continuous, and everlasting yes
To the wishes, to the will of God, the Eternal Father.

be not afraid! : the beatification of pope john paul ii

*On Saturday, we visited the Vatican Museum and 2 of the 4 Papal Basilicas. But because the Beatification was such a huge event of such monumental importance to the Church and to the world, I really just want to write about that*

“Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Open wide the doors for Christ!” ~JPII

My journey to Rome began in January, when the Vatican announced that Pope John Paul II was to be beatified in May. I am Facebook friends with a very large number of very, very Catholic people. (I am real-life friends with all of them as well, but the Facebook friendships are what really matter to this anecdote.) So, naturally, half of my newsfeed was filled with links to EWTN and Catholic news sites and the Vatican’s website within the hour of the announcement. I thought it was awesome, but I wasn’t in Europe mode yet, so the thought of actually attending the beatification didn’t occur to me until my friend Megan, who is, I’ll admit, far cooler and more adventurous than I am, texted me: “You should go to Rome!!!” The moment that thought crossed my mind, I couldn’t not go.

Pope John Paul II was the only Pope I knew for the first 14 years of my life. It’s still kind of weird to me that there have been 4 or 5 Popes in my parents’ lifetimes; JPII’s presence and ministry was just such an immortal thing to me. I still remember, the Sunday after he died and before Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as his successor, being shocked at Mass when the priest did not say “…with John Paul, our Pope, Joseph, our Bishop, and all the clergy.” It was just foreign to me. And the first time it transitioned to “…with Benedict, our Pope…” it was almost too bizarre.

Of course, the fact that my mom’s family is Polish also increased my connection to JPII. I have always identified myself as Polish, and I grew up with very Polish Catholic traditions… singing Silent Night in Polish on Christmas, breaking wafer for the new year, butter shaped like lambs on Easter, lots of pierogies and kielbasa. And JPII. One story that solidifies my family’s loyalty to and admiration for John Paul took place when he was still Karol Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Krakow. He was coming to Washington, D.C., and the Archdiocese needed someone who spoke Polish to pick him up from the airport. My great-aunt and -uncle were somehow chosen for this task. They didn’t sell that car for years.

Last winter, my grandparents came into Houston for a few weeks after Christmas. There just happened to be a JPII exhibit at the Houston Holocaust Museum at that time, so my mom and I took them to see it. First of all, the ecumenical advances made during JPII’s papacy were incredible… learning about his relationships with those of other faiths, especially with the Jews, was enlightening. The Jewish people were re-inserted into the Great Petitions of Good Friday during his time as Pope! And his first private audience was with his (Jewish) childhood best friend and his family.

But what I really remember from that day was my grandfather turning to us and saying, “You know, I will always love the Church, and our current Pope is great. But when John Paul was Pope, I just felt connected in a way I never had before.” I think that’s true of a lot of us, and that’s what makes John Paul II so special.

On Saturday night, we attended a prayer vigil for the beatification in Circus Maximus. There were so many people there, from so many different countries, and the excitement was tangible. The whole night was spent in celebration of JPII’s life… his earthly life, as his former secretary and confidant recalled the great man that he was during his time in this world, and his eternal life, as we heard Sr. Marie-Simon-Pierre, the French sister who was healed of her Parkinson’s through his intercession, talk about his role in her healing. To close the night, we prayed a rosary–the Luminous Mysteries, which JPII instated and which include my favorite of all the Mysteries, the Wedding at Cana–with literally the whole world. One decade was led in Poland, one in Mexico, one in Portugal, one in Tanzania, and one in Lebanon. It was so beautiful to see how John Paul II had touched each of those communities during his visits.

The next morning, we walked to the Vatican in time for the opening of St. Peter’s Square at 5:30. As we joined the mob in the march to St. Peter’s we befriended Lucy, a woman from Mexico by way of Jerusalem. She was so incredibly sweet–I had the good fortune of being able to talk to her about her ministry in the Holy Land, which was eye-opening for me. She told me how much a true Christian presence is needed there, but that the hostile environment is chasing Christians away. We also prayed a rosary together as we waited… others around us were praying it, but in Spanish, so Lucy prayed with me in English. It was such a blessing for us to have met her, and I think it was special divine intervention for me, because St. Lucy is my confirmation saint and patroness.

When all was said and done and we had spent about 5 hours being pushed and prodded and nearly trampled, we ended up in the Colonnade. It wasn’t ideal and I definitely couldn’t see a thing of what was happening, but we were there, and that’s what was important. Mass was in Latin, so naturally I couldn’t understand much, but we had a radio with an English translation for the important parts: the biography of JPII during the Beatification Rite, and Pope Benedict’s homily, which was a work of true genius.

There are two moments I hope I’ll always remember. First, during JPII’s biography, at the point in the story when Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, the whole crowd just went nuts. It was incredible. And then, after the recounting of JPII’s life and Pope Benedict recited the prayer of beatification, which I certainly couldn’t understand, he began the sign of the cross… “In nomine Patris, et Filli, et Spiritus Sancti…” That part I definitely understood, and I understood that it was official… John Paul II was now Blessed John Paul II! And apparently everyone else understood too, because the joy that exploded in that moment made my heart absolutely sing. It was beautiful.

I had to leave Mass early to catch my flight, which absolutely broke my heart. I left right after the presentation of the gifts, which meant that I was passing the remote screens in Vatican City about when the Eucharistic Prayer was happening. So I acknowledged the presence of Christ as I walked, but then continued on my way, outside the realm of the screens and speakers, still pretty sad. Then, right as I was approaching Circus Maximus, where there was another huge group of people watching the Mass, I could hear the broadcast once again: “The Mass has ended, go in peace. Alleluia! Thanks be to God, Alleluia!” I thought it was pretty cool that, even though I couldn’t stay for the whole thing, I still got to close the Mass with everyone else.

The moment I got onto the train to the airport, the whole thing ceased to feel real. It was really odd. But now that I’ve had some time to process the whole thing, I am beyond thankful and awed that I got to be in Rome for this monumental event. It was fantastic and God was working so much in that place. It’s definitely something I’ll remember forever.

big, old, and important: perugia and rome

Hello friends! Before I start this post telling you about my trip to Italy, I’d like to begin with some random facts so that you can be informed about my current life status as well.

First, this morning on the way to class, I had what I think is my favorite pastry I’ve tried since I’ve gotten to Europe. This is a monumental event… I’ve spent money on some real dud pastries, but this one was DELICIOUS! Strawberry and rhubarb in the lightest, most flaky pastry ever. Yum.

Second, yesterday I went to the bookstore and bought “Everything is Illuminated.” I know I’m like 8 years late, and I’m only one chapter in, but OH EM GEE is it good!

Third, I am currently listening to Train’s latest album. Again, I know I am quite behind with this one, but I am convinced that they really can do no wrong. Love it.

OK, now on to bigger, older, and more important things. Like my trip to Italy!

When I planned my Rome trip a few months ago, I was just planning on going alone (which, in hindsight, would have been awful), so the dates of my trip didn’t match up with the dates of my travel buddies’. So instead of staying in Rome the first night, I took the train to Perugia, about 3 hours north of Rome, to stay with Melissa.

Perugia is a little city on a hill in the region of Umbria, about 30 minutes from Assisi. The views are incredible because, you know, it’s on a hill, and this region of Italy is especially breathtaking… cute houses built into the hillsides, rolling landscapes, blue skies… gorgeous. Melissa took me on a little tour around the city to the different viewpoints, and also pointed out two of the churches in Perugia, both of which are on the list of “ugliest churches in Italy.” The Dom looked like a barn. Too funny.

Since it was Melissa’s and her roommates’ last night in Perugia, they had planned on going to a restaurant that none of them had ever been to, but which is apparently quite renowned within the city. Its name is literally “the room of lost time,” and it consists of probably 5 tables and one old Italian woman who hand-makes all of the food. A meal there takes about 2 hours, if you’re lucky and it’s not crowded. Fortunately, we were the only people there when we first arrived, so our meal wasn’t extremely time-consuming; rather, it was relaxed and leisurely and so fun. We shared wine and ate bruschetta and delicious pasta and I listened to the girls reminisce about their semester. It was really interesting to catch them at the very end of their study abroad experience, when I’m just beginning mine.

Continuing with the “last night in Perugia” theme, everyone planned on going out to the street of bars in the city center later that night. That was quite an experience… it was basically a whole bunch of American students cramming into a tiny little bar buying drinks and then heading out into the street (because of the lack of open container law! Again… weird!). This was apparently one of the tamer nights in Perugia, because everyone was saying good-bye to each other and “wanted to actually remember it.” Haha. The best thing about Perugia nightlife, I have to say, is the amazing marketing strategy of one of the local bakeries. This place starts baking pastries at 1:30 AM, so it opens up shop for all the students coming from the bars to buy croissants or donuts for a Euro. Apparently this is somewhat frowned-upon by the authorities, so the American students call them “secret pastries.” I must say, they were delicious and a good way to end the night.

A night on the town in Perugia... craaayzay. Also--check out my purple shirt! My best friend and I each have one, and we both agreed to wear it that day even though we're on different continents. I know, cute.

The next morning, we watched the Royal Wedding while Melissa finished packing up her stuff to head to Rome. After a small mishap with our tickets (don’t worry, we ended up finding them!) we just barely made our train and were off! One thing I’ve noticed on my train travels is that each country has characteristic colors to its landscape… Germany, or at least the area through which I’ve traveled, is green, yellow, and blue. Italy is much more brown: the greens and yellows of the trees and grass are browner, and all the houses are brown, too. And there are red wildflowers! Beautiful. (I like colors, ok? I’m weird.)

The Rome Metro was a shock at first, because of how dirty/crowded/big-city it is. We barely fit on the train with our luggage… I think I almost smothered a baby with my ginormous backpack. But once we were out of the Metro, I was able to take in the true beauty of the city. It was an absolutely perfect day. We sat outside and ate some bruschetta, because we had missed lunch due to the aforementioned ticket debacle and it wasn’t late enough for dinner, and enjoyed the amazing weather.

We then attempted to walk to the Trevi Fountain, considering that we had gotten off the Metro at the Trevi Fountain stop, but apparently it was “too complicated” for our waiter to give Melissa directions to get there (what?!), so instead we followed some signs to the Spanish Steps. I wasn’t expecting much from the Steps, because let’s be honest… it’s a staircase. But it really was beautiful! The whole thing was decked out with pink and purple flowers, the sky was sapphire blue, and there were people milling about everywhere… it was charming.

The view FROM the Spanish Steps... I know, I decided to shake it up a bit. Check out those beautiful flowers and the huge crowd! Love it!

At that point, we went to meet Monica near the Colosseum so we could check into our apartment and finally get rid of our luggage. It was really something to step out of the Coliseo Metro stop and immediately see the huge Colosseum. Only in Rome, man. We got to see even more crazy ancient Roman sights en route to our apartment, which was really closer to Circus Maximus than it was to the Colosseum. Not only was it surreal to just casually walk past the ruins of Circus Maximus, but we were all reminded of the reason why we were in Rome on this specific weekend when we passed this huge group of nuns, walking almost procession-style. Crazy and AWESOME.

Check out all those sistas!

It was really cool to see priests and religious all over the place all weekend. One of the best instances was when, after a 10 minute conversation about the Milanese Rite versus the Roman Rite while walking through Rome, we turned around and discovered that a priest had been walking behind us. I wish he had joined in the conversation and/or told us how wrong all of our facts are, but he just wished us a good day and kept on walking.

After stopping at the ATM and dumping all our luggage at the apartment, our quest to find delicious pasta began. It didn’t take long, this is Rome, remember? We ate near the Trevi Fountain, and it was delicious. I am kind of thankful that I am not studying in Rome because I would weigh 500 pounds by August if I were. Then we did the obligatory touristy “throw the coin in over your shoulder” thing at the Trevi Fountain and had to fend off some awkward creepsters who wanted to take a picture with us, but then brushed off our rejection by pretending that they really wanted us to take a picture OF them. Yeah, right.

In this picture, I'm not actually throwing a coin... I used up the coin for the first picture, which didn't come out very well. And no way was I throwing away another .01 Euros!

Then the real fun began.  After buying some gelato for the road, we headed out on our nighttime exploration of the ruins. We just kind of bopped around the city… heading off in whatever direction seemed right, and especially heading towards buildings that looked “big, old, or important.” The whole tour was littered with embarrassing conversations which mostly consisted of none of us knowing what any of the buildings were, despite two of us receiving excellent educations from the esteemed University of Texas College of Liberal Arts. Luckily, the business student among us was resourceful with her knowledge and served as our tour guide, blessing us with wisdom like “Those are some really old Roman columns. And that big one is like the parent column of all the baby columns.” Thanks Melissa, couldn’t have done it without you! 😉

I was convinced that this was the Pantheon, but that is completely and totally incorrect. How embarrassing, hopefully Plan II will take me back in August

At first, I was a little bummed that I hadn’t gotten to see any of the ruins in the daylight, but it really was very cool at night. Everything was lit up, and the darkness and lack of crowds made it seem like we had just kind of stumbled upon all these cool old ruins… it didn’t seem like we were the 10,000th people this week to look at them. Which was kind of nice. I really did love seeing Rome spontaneously, without the help of a guidebook or anything like that, and with people who really made it fun. Even if my feet did hurt something fierce afterwards.

We finished up our serious and scholarly tour of all the sights of this old, important city by doing the only logical thing: attempting to drink out of the fountains. It did not end well.

Being that we were all exhausted, we headed back to the apartment and went to bed, knowing that the next day would be JAM PACKED with fun Vatican stuff. It was so jam-packed that I actually have to cut this post off here. I will report back, probably later today, with my account of our Vatican City adventures and the celebration of Pope Blessed John Paul II’s beatification!

And just because the title of this post reminds me of this song, and because I enjoy intertextuality and Ben Folds: here!

halb deutsch: munich

Because my flight to Rome was out of the Munich airport, I decided to go a few days early so I could actually travel before classes started and also see a bit of Munich. It was my first time ever legitimately traveling alone, and I was kind of worried that it would be depressing or boring, but it really wasn’t. Since I was by myself, I got to do exactly what I wanted, when I wanted, without worrying about compromising with other people. That’s kind of nice sometimes.

The trip started off auspiciously… I got all these cute little notebooks from my Aunt Mary Beth, and I’d been collecting trip information in one of them… train times, flight information, names of hotels, phone numbers, and so on. But somehow, on my way to the train station, I dropped it. So I was delayed for an hour since I had to go back to my dorm, get all the information again, and take the next train to Munich. Luckily, that was the biggest thing I’ve lost yet since I got to Europe. Knowing me, that’s pretty fortunate.

I really love taking trains. I think they’re so much better than planes… much more comfortable, although they take a lot longer. It’s a good opportunity to listen to music and relax and just let my mind wander. The journey to Munich takes a little over 4 hours, so by the time I got there, I was SUPER hungry, even though it was a little early for dinner.

I walked over to the Frauenkirche, Munich’s cathedral, because I had picked out a biergarten very close to the church. The food was really good–it was actually my first time trying schnitzel, and it was delicious. And of course I am always a fan of potato salad. But what I really remember about that meal, unfortunately, is that my waiter was really rude. He refused to speak to me in German, and when it came time to pay him, he gave me 50 cents less change than he owed me. When I asked him about it, he responded that it was just the tip. If it had been more than 50 cents, I probably would have told him that no, I am not a stupid tourist, and yes, I do know that tips don’t exist in Germany. Anyway. The food was good, the service was not.

Then, I went on a (self-guided) walking tour all around Munich. I spent some time praying in the Frauenkirche and then walked over to the Marienplatz, the crossing of 4 major streets. The Marienplatz is pretty intense… there are really big, important, old buildings every way you turn, lots of street vendors, and lots of traffic (of both the vehicle and people varieties). From there, I went to the Viktualenmarkt, a big market with everything from sausage and sandwich vendors to legit butchers to merchants selling little nicknacks.

Here's a view from Marienplatz! If you pay close attention, you'll notice the lack of the open container law in Germany. It's kind of funny to see people just walking around drinking beer.

From there, I continued on to see the (outsides of ) the New Synagogue, Jewish History Museum, and Munich City Museum. I enjoyed reading the quotes on the outside of the Jewish History Museum. I thought they did a good job with the selection and assortment… they ranged from interviews with Holocaust survivors to light-hearted anecdotes about being Jewish in Germany to stories of the immense pain and suffering that have taken place in the last century.

The rest of my walking tour included lots of luxury… first, this really fancy Rococo-style church that was built by Munich architects more as a business card than a place of worship: they included every possible Rococo decoration to showcase their skills to clients who might want to hire them. That was really interesting.

Then I made my way to the Residenz area of the city. The Residenz is the old palace of the Wittelsbachs, the elector-duke’s family/dynasty who ruled in Bavaria for several hundreds of years until the 19th century. They were really extravagant people… that area of the city included the huge Residenz palace, which is right next to the city theater (which I didn’t go into, but I hear it’s super plush inside) and a bunch of other Wittelsbach buildings… their family church, several monuments to members of their family and military heroes, and the extravagant Hofgarten that’s behind the Residenz. This area of the city really reminded me of Paris. Which makes sense, because the Wittelsbachs planned the city based on models such as Hapsbourg Vienna and Napoleonic Paris. One really interesting thing about this section of the city (and all of Munich in general) is that these buildings aren’t the originals. The whole city was more or less destroyed during the war and these are all restorations.

By this point, I was dead tired, so I made my way back to my hotel (on the way buying special edition SETTLERS OF CATAN Rittersport chocolate. Be still, my nerdy heart) and watched a CNN report of the Royal Wedding. It was the only channel I could find in English, don’t judge.

I got up nice and early the next morning and headed back over to the Residenz, planning on spending a few hours in the Residenz Museum. In the museum, they basically showcase the palace of the Wittelsbachs, their possessions, restored rooms, and assorted period furniture and such to give you a picture of how they lived. It was really interesting. Honestly, a lot of the time I was walking through the museum, I was debating with myself about whether I should change my major and seriously thinking about which periods of history I could see myself studying and researching. I didn’t decide anything, but it kind of gave me a unique lens through which to see the whole museum! I like looking at things critically. (Cue hysterical laughter from my family.)

My favorite room was definitely the Antiquarium, this huge banquet hall (that is still sometimes used for banquets!) that includes the Wittelsbach family’s collections of Roman busts and expensive porcelain AND some of the only frescoes that survived WWII: old depictions of the towns of Bavaria from the middle ages. They survived since they are painted in the arches of the windows. It was really interesting to see how Munich would have looked hundreds of years ago, as well as other towns, like Dachau. That one was pretty striking. The whole time I was in the Antiquarium, I really wanted to leap and dance around the room singing “Once Upon a December” from Anastasia, since it really looked like the hall that Anastasia visits in St. Petersburg that sparks memories of her royal past. I know it’s not historically accurate, but it would have been awesome.

Dancing bears, painted wings, things I almost remember...

By the end of the museum, I was seriously a mess. My feet hurt something fierce, and I really only visited the second half of the museum (the Treasury, which actually ended up being pretty cool) because I had already paid for it. But I desperately needed something to eat. So I trudged my aching feet across town to the Viktualsmarkt and bought a bratwurst and some ice cream and rested before I headed into the Munich City Museum, the next item on my agenda. I know, I know, so many museums, but it basically rained all day, so it ended up being a stellar plan.

Honestly, I was kind of miserable in the City Museum. Don’t get me wrong… I thought it was so interesting. I wish I had been a better sport about it. But in my defense, my feet really did hurt, I was wet and cold, and everything was in German… which, you know, takes a bit more brain power. But nevertheless, I did enjoy myself.

The main exhibit, “Typisch München,” is 5 floors detailing the history of Munich, from its founding by monks (hence its name!) about 1000 years ago, about which there are very few facts but many legends, until the Olympics in the 70’s and beyond. It was kind of awesome… through telling the story of Munich, they addressed so many of the stereotypes–the “beer hall beauties,” the reputation of Munich as the capital of art and beer (which was actually the official motto of Munich for quite some time), and the role of the city in Hitler’s Nazi regime–most of which are very firmly rooted in fact. One thing I’d say, though, if you’ve never been to Germany, is don’t let these stereotypes inform your perception of Germany as a whole. They are very Bavarian and especially specific to Munich.

The other exhibit I visited was the history of National Socialism. I kind of gave up on reading any of the German and just looked… it was really striking and alarming to see Nazi uniforms standing in the glass cases. Learning about the rise of Hitler’s regime during my fakemester at UT really drove home how gradually and securely evil men can seize power from rational people (and almost legally, too!). Seeing this exhibit made that all real. The fear, blind patriotism, and pack mentality of Nazi-era Germany is so frightening. It can and should never happen again, but it is more possible and realistic than we’d like to admit sometimes. (Don’t worry, I’ll talk a little later on current events related to this issue.)

I had planned on going for dinner at a beer garden a little bit outside of the city center, but it was raining so I didn’t think that sounded very appealing anymore. I instead headed to a restaurant in a really old building that served typical Bavarian cuisine and local beer. It was delicious (and warm… I did not pack very appropriately for this trip so I was cold most of my time in Munich)… I chickened out on the local cuisine and got Wiener Würstle (Vienna sausages) which are basically like hot dogs… but like ten thousand times better! Plus they came with potato salad. Always a plus. (Anyone reading this who doesn’t know me is going to think I’m a blimp. Nope, I just love potatoes like no other.) The beer was really good, too! This time, the waitress didn’t con me out of money or talk down to me.

When I was done with dinner, it was still relatively early, but I didn’t really have anything else planned, so I kind of dawdled in the little shops surrounding the restaurant because I didn’t want to go back to my hotel so early. This is when probably the most interesting event of my trip occurred. As I looked at travel books in a book store, a little old man came up and asked if I needed help with anything. I said no, that I was just looking. He noticed that I was American and asked me what I was doing in Germany. We got to talking about my studies, how I liked Munich compared to Freiburg, and so on, and he said that he was going to walk around in the city and asked if I wanted to come. I said sure! I didn’t have anything else planned, after all. (Quick note to those concerned for my safety: don’t worry, I was very vigilant!)

So Sigi and I (I learned that his name was Sigi, short for Sigmund, after we passed a statue of a Munich journalist named Sigmund and he pointed it out to me) walked through the city center of Munich, seeing everything I had already seen on my walking tour and throughout the day, but this time I had a real live Munich resident to tell me about the buildings. He pointed out some of the details of the New Rathaus, which I really hadn’t looked too closely at… for instance, on the inside wall, all of the partner cities of Munich are listed and their city seals displayed. The American partner city is Cincinnati. Sigi was very excited to point that out to me, but then I informed him that Ohio isn’t all that great. Also at the New Rathaus there are a bunch of really random animals on columns… one of which is a Pfau, or peacock. (This was really the only major communication issue we had. I didn’t know the German word and he didn’t know the English word, so we had to talk our way around it.)

This is where the royal guards used to stand. Also, notice the Olympic rings in the background... Munich is hoping to get the bid for 2018!

I really enjoyed having a buddy to see the city with! We walked through the Hofbräuhaus, which I had seen the day before on my walking tour, but it’s really lame to walk through such a cheesy, happy place by yourself. Sigi pointed out all the dumb tourist things to me and even took a picture of me in front of the polka band! It’s thanks to him that there is actual photographic proof that I went on this trip. Overall, it was a really nice surprise to be able to experience the city with my new friend. He gave me his business card, so if I’m ever in Munich again, I’ll have to give him a call!

Overall, I really did like Munich. Some of it reminded me of a combination of Lucerne and Paris, but something about Munich is unique. One blessing, I think, is that I came away from this part of my trip completely affirmed in my choice of Freiburg for the semester. As much as I liked Munich, Freiburg is cleaner, cheaper, smaller, and less touristy.

Stay tuned for further details of my trip. Up next: Perugia!