A Travellerspoint blog

Swede Times in Scandinavia

My weekend trip to Copenhagen, Denmark and southern Sweden

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Scandinavia / [scan-duh-ney-vee-uh] / noun / a place that I absolutely fell in love with and will not die before visiting again

Friday started off extremely early and after only about 2 hours of sleep. Let me tell ya... selecting a 7:00am flight seems fine and dandy until your alarm is going off at 3:00am screaming at you to wake up and get in the shower. My 3:00am wake up call left me an hour to get ready, and hour to get there and about 2 hours to get through security and find our gate. Dylan and I found our way to the airport rather easily and upon arrival, Drew met up with us outside the terminal before going through security. Next stop... Copenhagen, Denmark.

The flight was easy. Only being an hour long it would be hard to make it a difficult trek. As we landed I could see out the window that it was EXTREMELY foggy. So much so that I had no idea we were close to landing until I felt the bump of the wheels colliding with the tarmac. I felt an overwhelming sense of joy. Country number 15 was being checked off in this capital city.

My friend of many years that actually went with us to Milan as well, Hanna, lives in Sweden and so we all had planned a fun weekend on her home turf. She was to meet us at the airport and take us on her version of a city tour of Copenhagen before we crossed the border and spent the rest of the weekend in Sweden before returning to fly home to Berlin. After disembarking the plane, the three of us (Dylan, Drew and I) began to try to find our way around the airport to where we were supposed to meet up with Hanna. This airport was like a giant shopping mall with storefront after storefront going on for what seemed like miles. It was a giant labyrinth that created nothing but chaos and confusion. We finally found Hanna after figuring out where the baggage claim, and better yet, the exit, was. From there she began the weekend as our translator, instructing us on what to click on the ticket machine to purchase a train pass into the city center.


The rest of the day consisted on pretty much just wandering around point to point. In a major city with not an enormous amount of obvious touristy things to do, this was ideal. Much like Venice, getting lost was half the adventure.

After leaving the airport and getting to the city center we started looking for a good brunch place. We all had hankerings for a giant breakfast full of eggs, meat, toast and mimosas. We found something pretty close to perfect not after long. We walked in to Paludan Bogcafé with our mouths watering and our stomachs grumbling. We sat down, looked at the menu for half a second and then immediately got up to place our order at the counter. While standing in line, a man about my age approached me asking about the line. He must've heard me speaking English because he spoke to me without a fear in the world that I might not know English very well. Either that or I just gave off a non-local vibe😅 I got to talking to him for a bit and he was a Vancouver native studying abroad in Paris for the semester. Nice guy.

After ordering my massive amount of food, a hot chocolate, getting an orange juice for free and absolutely devouring my plate, we payed our bill and made our way over to Nyhavn, the colorful houses along the waterfront one thinks of when picturing Copenhagen. We hadn't been walking for long when all of a sudden we turned the corner and there they were. The houses were not as bright and saturated as the pictures on the internet portray them to be but they were still a very cool sight to see. The houses were much taller and compact then I imagined them to be and it being not peak tourist season, there were many historic boats/ships covered with tarps lining the canal. A very cool sight to see.

After taking in the surroundings for a bit we hopped on a ferry that took us around the many canals Denmark has to offer. It was a lot of fun being able to see the city from this perspective. On the ferry we made a rough plan for what the rest of the day was going to consist of.
First we would go to Freetown Christiania, an intentional community of roughly 1,000 residents where, until the beginnings of the 2010's, common Danish law did not apply. A former military barracks that was taken over by squatters, the area outlaws any pictures or videos taken in the area. This area was extremely interesting to me because EVERYONE was smoking weed or some kind of tobacco product. The place was like a safe haven for hippies and the outdoor stalls with weed strewn out on the podiums made it extremely apparent that there was no reason to hide the consumption or sale of the drug.
Second we would climb the Church of Our Saviour tower. The church, built in the early to mid 1700's, is a baroque church most famous for its external winding staircase that can be climbed by pedestrians. From 295 feet in the air, let me tell you that climbing to the top of that staircase, without any kind of harness and only a very small guardrail, it is enough to make you hold your belongings pretty tight. It was a gorgeous day though that offered absolutely amazing views of the city.

After climbing the church, we began our way back to the train station, where from there we would cross the border into Sweden and then drive to Hanna's hometown of Sölvesborg, roughly an hour and a half drive past the border city of Malmö, the third largest city in Sweden.


We arrived at her home in Sweden to the sight of her dad working the grill for us. We had been told that burgers were on the menu and so the three of us Americans on this trip were very excited. After settling down and moving in to her pool house for the night, we were led into the house for our Swedish/American dinner. My mouth was watering and the sight of beer and meat on the table once I turned the corner out of the kitchen did not help my case. We sat down and chowed down. Whether it was the fact that it was home cooked or that Hanna's Dad was just that good on the grill, it was unequivocally the best meal I had eaten since arriving in Europe just over a month prior. Long story short, I went to bed extremely satisfied that night.

After dinner, Hanna had a few of her childhood friends over for a bit of a Sweden meet America get together. Being that there were three Americans and three Swedes, not including Hanna, and the fact that we were all males, we decided to let the testosterone get the best of us by having a quick game of beer pong to see which country really was the best 😎 Of course, us Americans did not let our country down. It was a close match but in the end we took the championship with moral raised high. We didn't have ping pong balls so we played with balled-up tin foil. Being that this situation created a huge mess rather quickly, we only played the one game. We, as the victors, were not too upset over this though 😅

The rest of the evening was spent having semi-drunken conversations with our Scandinavian counterparts about our own individual local and national political systems and environmental policies as well as the cultural and economic differences between our homes. Swedish beer, I found out, is not nearly as strong as the German beer back in Berlin, so while still fairly coherent, I found myself thinking about how the situation I was in was exactly why I chose to study abroad. For those kinds of conversations with individuals from different backgrounds than myself. I was very happy with life in that moment. The conversations that were being held and toward the end of the night, the heavy Swedish rock/metal music that was being blasted, made for a setting full of good times and plenty of laughter.

It had reached 3:00am... bed time.


The next day, Saturday, we woke up and immediately started getting ready for the day. Breakfast consisted of the typical Swedish meal of a kind of egg casserole of sorts. Filled with mushrooms, peppers and some other ingredients, it was very tasty. Afterwords, we walked around Hanna's home town for a bit and explored the area. Sölvesborg consists of a population of roughly 10,000 and Europe's second longest pedestrian footbridge not open to automobiles. We went inside an old church, walked across the bridge, and had some baked goods at a local bakery, where we actually ran into Hanna's mom and sister as well.

Following our exploration of Sölvesborg, we headed northwest toward Hanna's lake house about 45 minutes away on the island of Ivö. Ivö is surrounded by Ivösjön (Ivö Lake), which is the largest (55km squared/21 miles squared) and deepest (50 meters/180 feet) lake in that specific providence that we were in, Skåne. We got there and I immediately took the drone up as it was starting to get dark. The view was amazing from 350 feet in the air.


The lake house was an extremely cool place. It was recently renovated by Hanna's parents and so it was extremely clean and just decorated very well. We slept upstairs but the rest of the time we either were walking around the area, hiking in the quarry, or just relaxing either inside watching Netflix, playing games, or out on the dock. I beat Dylan in chess, made tacos, flew the drone and had tons of fun. My favorite part about the lake house was the fact that it was just so low-key. Vacations to me have always been so go go go and it was nice to be able to not worry about rushing around the city. The lake house was definitely a vibe.


Denmark, and more so Sweden, taught me so many things about myself in just the short amount of time I was there. Again, I primarily have the lake house on Ivö to thank for that. My favorite part of the trip was the time I had reflecting over my life on the dock down the hill from the house. The weather was perfect, cool with a slight breeze and partly cloudy, and the sounds of the natural world around me took me by absolute awe. I was reminded of my life back home and all the aspects I had grown to love by being in Europe for a month by that point. I found myself wishing that I could blend the freedom and lifestyle that Berlin has granted me with my friends and loved-ones back home. I am missing home because of the people there but I am still loving every aspect of what has become home away from home for now.

Midterms next week and a week from today I will be picking up my family and Meredith from the airport as well. I am so beyond excited to show them all that Berlin has shown me and I cannot wait for them to be here.

School is good, the friends and experiences I've made are even better, and life is grand.

Go check out my pictures from this trip at...

Posted by TravelingTom 04:00 Archived in Denmark Tagged landscapes bridges churches people sweden school canal denmark scandinavia study_abroad Comments (1)

Nothing to Wine about in Italy 😎

When in Ro... Milan and Venice 😅

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View Study Abroad: Berlin, Germany on TravelingTom's travel map.

  • Northern Italy is a place of immense beauty and this was extremely apparent from 35,000 feet up in the air. As we descended toward Milan-Malpensa airport, the snowcapped Italian Alps came into view from the underside of the clouds. Miles and miles of farmland stretched out into the horizon where your eyes just couldn't help but wander. This makes sense given the fact that the region (state) of Lombardy, where Milan is the capital of, agriculture is one of the main components of their GDP. I was extremely excited about this weekend with exploring Milan and Venice and my window seat did everything but contain my excitement. It was going to be a great weekend!

Although I was extremely eager for the weekend to start, it definitely started off pretty bumpy. The Thursday night before we left early Friday morning, I picked up my friend from the airport who I had not seen in roughly 4 years. I was very excited to see Hanna again and when I finally found her outside the terminal we made our way back to the train station to get back to my apartment. We would be back at Schönefeld Airport in roughly 8 hours. After a little bit of trouble finding our train we finally found it and got on. Unfortunately though, we had only thought we found it... since it didn't take me long to realize we were going the wrong way. If you are familiar with the Berlin area at all then it would be helpful to share that we were going toward Potsdam from Schönefeld when we needed to be heading back towards the center of the city. If you aren't familiar with the area though, then just find solace in knowing we were just going the wrong way. The stops were few and far between as well, so for a while we thought it would be better to just go to Potsdam and take a train back towards Berlin from there. Well, after a stop or two I realized that there may not be a train at that hour to go back to Berlin from Potsdam. It was approaching midnight and we got off at the next stop.

Bad idea! We got off at a station that looked like it was straight out of a horror movie. Extremely dark. Middle of nowhere. One street light that didn't illuminate much as it flickered sporadically. One random guy sitting on the bench at the stop. We looked up at the board and the next train going back the way we needed to go wasn't due to arrive until 4:45. Remember I said it was about midnight and we didn't have over four and a half hours to wait in the subfreezing temperatures for a train that may not have even been going the right way. I looked down at my phone, saw it had only six percent left and said a short little prayer. I opened the uber app and booked a car for us. A $55 ride was exactly what I was hoping I could spend my money on too... oh well. We arrived back at my apartment about 50 minutes later. It was roughly 2:00 am by this point. The flight was at 7:28am and we had planned to leave around 4:30 since it took about an hour to get back to the airport. I was looking at about an hour of sleep. I shut my eyes and hoped I wouldn't feel miserable the next day.


About an hour and a half later I woke up and luckily didn't feel absolutely atrocious. I only felt as if I just took a nap that wasn't long enough. I guess at that point that's exactly what I did though :/

We got to the airport fine and security was a breeze. We got to the gate at around 6:45. We began boarding and the gates closed soon thereafter.

On the plane I was fortunate enough to have fell asleep for a little bit. It has always been hard for me to fall asleep on planes so I was surprised I had accomplished such a task. We touched down and soon began attempting to figure out how to get into the city center. Like in San Francisco, Milan's airports are nowhere near the hub of the metropolitan area. We all eventually figured it out and found the train we needed to be on. The roughly hour train ride from the airport to the main train station in the heart of the city was not with a lot of patience. None of us had slept for longer than three hours the night before.

After getting into the city we all split up and some of us went to this Italian place across the street from the main station and for my first official Italian meal, I ordered a calzone. The calzone came out huge and stuffed with pepperoni, sausage and cheese. I cut into it and was actually slightly disappointed with the meal. It was not some eye opening experience where I realized I had never had a more amazing dish. And that is actually how most of the meals turned out that weekend. Every place we went to, with the exception of one place in Venice, was only just alright. It was mostly better than what you would find at home, don't get me wrong. It just wasn't as exceptional as I expected it to be.

After lunch we all met back up again at our airbnb. The place was really cool. Since there were so many of us we needed a rather large place and actually found a listing that had two separate apartments right next door to each other with a private hallway separating the two. Each room was equipped with a kitchen, a private bathroom.....


Ok so I just spent an hour typing and my computer crashed but because I don't want to just give up I am going to explain the rest in bullet points. I'm sorry but one of my biggest annoyances is retyping things :/

  • Headed to the Duomo (Catholic cathedral in center of Milan) after checking in.
  • Had AMAZING gelato before dinner.
  • Liquor store run before beginning the night.
  • Went to a club called Alcatraz (very cool but really expensive to get into).
  • Got back home and went to bed.
  • Woke up early and took a train to Venice.
  • Spent most of the day just exploring and getting lost with the canals.
  • Before heading back to Milan we enjoyed some wine on the Grand Canal and were able to take it all in. (Really was aware that Meredith wasn't with me to enjoy it all :( )
  • Got back to Milan and went to sleep. A very tiring day and the 30,000 steps didn't help.
  • Woke up and checked out of the airbnb.
  • Missed our train to Lake Como so we decided to go to Parco Sempione instead.
  • We threw the frisbee at the park and had an easy going last few hours in Italy... or so I thought.
  • I got a call saying that my friend from Sweden, Hanna, had fallen and really hurt her ankle.
  • Met her at the hospital and waited with her for three hours.
  • The hospital staff were moving extremely slow and I was extremely worried that we weren't going to make our flight.
  • After stressing for a long time, having a conversation with one of the nurses via Google Translate, and stressing some more, the nurse finally called a cab for us.
  • We got to the airport just in time and on our flight home I PASSED OUT! Never have I had a more stressful day.


Go check out my pictures on Smugmug where you can see all of the pictures I have taken on my study abroad trip so far!
The password is "thomasabroad"


Again, I'm sorry about not being able to go into detail about my trip to Italy but hopefully you can understand. I am going to write about my trip to Poland tomorrow and things will be back to normal!


Posted by TravelingTom 12:00 Archived in Italy Tagged bridges churches night trains venice travel italy canal milan study_abroad Comments (1)

Too Long Is Just Wrong

I know, I know. It's been a while since I've updated. I'm sorry!

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Ok! So... I have been extremely busy these last two weeks and that is why I haven't updated y'all with anything new with what I've been doing while abroad in Deutschland.

Before I proceed however, I'm going to explain how these next few posts are going to be structured. I have three maybe four things specifically to write about from these past 14 days and instead of doing one really long post about all of them, I'm going to instead break them up and post one each day for the next few days. That way instead of spending an extended amount of time reading... and for me, writing, we can both do our independent tasks for a shorter amount of time over an extended amount of time. Sound good? Great! Well continue reading to find out about my first rather exciting story about my experience baking apple strudel in a small kitchen with about 15 other people. It's a story full of learning, tasting and above all, plenty of smiles!

On Tuesday, February 12th, a few of us met at a train station in North Berlin and made our way to a recently closed, very quaint restaurant in the neighborhood of Wedding. The owner recently has become pregnant and has decided to close up shop to instead focus on family. The people I spoke to about this said that the closure has a lot of people sad to see the timely place go.

The evening started off with all of us being seated and handed paper brochures that described the recipe of what we were about to prepare... except there was a catch. It was all written in German, so while our host continued to prepare the kitchen for us, Nele, our resident director and go-to person here in Berlin, helped us translate the recipe cards so that when we went home and decided to make some strudels for our friends and families we would have at least an idea on where to start. It was a lot of fun having Nele ask us what we thought different words meant and it was exciting for us when we guessed correctly.
(Some words were easy while some were hard... Zucker and Apfel mean sugar and apple respectively but Essig does not mean eggs it means vinegar. So it was really touch and go for a few of us to say the least :) )

After working as translators for a bit the kitchen was finally ready for us! As the ingredients were put into different bowls for us and we divided ourselves into working pairs, mulled wine was served to us individually. If you aren't aware, mulled wine is a hot wine that is a combination of different spices, red wine, citrus fruits and sugar. My mouth is still drooling from it if you were at all curious.

Our host showed us the process of making a delicious apple strudel as we sipped on our wine and then when she was done explaining she tested us on how well we listened and told us it was our time to shine.

We began by rolling out the dough and making sure there weren't any air pockets in our pieces. To do this, we pounded, beat, slammed and threw our balls of dough for about 15 minutes even though it felt as if it were an eternity. By the end of the whole process many of us were complaining about the amount of work that was being exerted. As exhausting as it was, I thought it fun to see who could make the loudest noise when their dough collided with the metal table.

After eliminating the air pockets, we began chopping our apples and adding our spices to the mix. The taste of apple slices with vinegar, cinnamon, sugar and lemon juice among a few other things is one of the best things I have ever tasted. I am not one for tart foods but the vinegar mixes with the cinnamon like chocolate mixes with milk and it is a beautiful combination. After the breadcrumbs were roasted we began to roll out our dough to add the ingredients before putting them in the ovens to bake.

Creating the strudels were a lot of fun and I got to talk to more people in my program that I had not talked to a lot beforehand. I even have become really close friends with one of the people there that night! Between learning and laughing there was a lot of fun memories of that night and I'm really glad I went and explored something I probably would not have done at home necessarily.

While we waited for the strudels to bake we sat back out in the sitting area where we were translators just a few hours before and we sipped on hot chocolate and coffee. I ordered a hot chocolate of course and added some sugar from one of the many options on the platter. The host had a serving tray with what had to be 20 little dishes all containing different types and forms of sugars. Brown, course, granulated, and a few different cubes were among the types on the serving tray. It was really cool and just another reason I could further understand that this place was going to be seriously missed.

The oven went off and we prepared the strudels for digestion by cutting them up individually and absolutely dousing powdered sugar over them. The strudels were very tart and the amount of sugar put on made them amazingly mouth watering. I bit into mine and immediately felt pure satisfaction. They were warm and tasted of those amazing apple slices I mentioned earlier and paired with my hot chocolate I could not imagine a better place that I'd rather be in that moment.

Surrounded by new friends, new foods and new experiences, I was extremely contempt.


Tomorrow I will talk about my weekend trip to Milan and Venice. Stay tuned for that!

Posted by TravelingTom 14:00 Archived in Germany Tagged me people travel germany berlin university school dessert study_abroad apple_strudel Comments (0)

A concert, a medieval village and the government

A recap of my previous weekend in Germany

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Busy, lazy, busy, busy describes my past four days in Berlin and in another region of Germany as well.


On Thursday, my second day of classes were held and I was introduced to my Europe in the Global Economy class as well as day two of German language. Another interesting day but it was really how the night ended that seriously put a start to the fun of the weekend.

I am not typically a concert going kind of guy as listening to my favorite artists on my phone is good enough. If I ever want to seriously spoil myself I'll usually just end up opening youtube to watch the music video instead of just simply listening to the song but a little while back I bought this ticket to this concert because I was more or less talked into it. Some other friends of mine were going and I realized that maybe I should seize the opportunity to do something a little different or a little out of my comfort zone. After all, that's what studying abroad is all about right? Figuring out who you are, on a deeper level than what just going away for college can teach you. And besides... tickets were only like $25 bucks. So I went for it and man am I glad that I hit purchase. The venue was cool, the artist was great, and the memories/stories that were made were beyond amazing.

Jack showed me this artist named Quinn XCII (92) probably about a year ago and while I never absolutely fell for his stuff I always really enjoyed hearing it when I did. And as the concert date got nearer and nearer I started listening to his stuff more and I started enjoying it even more than I had in the past. The event was at PRIVATCLUB Berlin in the neighborhood of Kreuzberg, which is just a neighborhood over from my own, Schöneberg.

Quinn sounded amazing in this smaller hole in the wall type place and I was so glad to be there having an amazing time with some of my friends that I've met here.


The next day was Friday and I didn't do anything but recover from staying out super late the previous night and do some homework.


Saturday, however, was a really long day that consisted of a 6 hour bus ride round trip, a pair of really old churches, a castle, and a lot of UNESCO half-timbered houses built in and around the turn of the 9th century (over 1000 years ago). We made our way to Quedlinburg early Saturday morning and had an amazing time walking around the city, through churches and consuming more beer and meat than I ever could have hoped for :) I was tempted to fly my drone at one point but eventually decided against it due to the 25 mph winds. I was going to do it too until I realized it just wasn't worth the risk. Because I am no expert by any means but found the whole trip extremely interesting... I am going to post a link directly below this paragraph to a website that can explain better than I can, the history of the medieval town. Before you go to that website though, something I found particularly interesting is that Quedlinburg is the site of where King Heinrich I was crowned king of Germany. In 919 A.D, this was the first time anyone had ruled Germany as a single nation.

Click here for the history of Quedlinburg!


To put a close to the weekend, a bunch of us went and toured The Reichstag building! The Reichstag can be compared to the United States' Capitol Building. The German parliamentary body offices and meets here and this is where a majority of the nation's politics are hashed out. The building is full of history and the roof is even open to tourists. We were able to do this as well as get a tiny glimpse of how the German legislative system works. It is very different from the American way, for example, where the United States has two main parties, Germany has seven or so. As a group we were able to see where all of these different parties meet individually to discuss how they are going to vote and so on before they go out into the main Bundestag (literally translated to old Latin as 'to sit in conference all day'). I thought it especially interesting that the equivalent to the Speaker of the House in America, the main president of the Bundestag has the sole power to shut off a person's microphone or even call the police if a member of the parliament starts to get off topic or takes too long with his/her speech, whereas at home there is such a thing as filibusters. Nope! Not with the famed German efficiency I guess :)


This past weekend has been a lot of fun and I am so excited for next weekend! First my second week of classes then it's off to the airport for three days in Italy! If I do anything before then I'll update you all here, but until then... Ciao!


And as always don't forget to check out all my pictures at smugmug at tinyurl.com/tomstelmarabroad
There's plenty of Quedlinburg and of me at the Reichstag! Even some videos of Quinn XCII live!

Posted by TravelingTom 09:00 Archived in Germany Tagged churches buildings people parties night trains travel germany berlin school parliament reichstag study_abroad quedlinburg Comments (0)

Who slipped study into 'Study Abroad'?

Totally forgot this wasn't just one giant vacation...

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So after a week of "acclimating" to the diet of cheese, meat, bread and beer and doing nothing but traversing the city with nothing else but time, Monday morning decided to rear his ugly head and remind all of us that there are two words in the phrase 'study abroad' and that one of those words is a bit of a prerequisite for the other... Unfortunately.

Let me start with Sunday night. Super Bowl Sunday was this past weekend and being the American that I am, well of course I had to watch it. There was just one little thing. Time zones are a thing and so that meant that while everyone back home was enjoying Super Bowl Sunday on their 70 inch plasma's, I was struggling to remain awake just long enough to forget that I had class early the following morning. All of this while huddling around a laptop screen as we streamed the game in the kitchen. I affectionately began calling it Super Bowl Extremely Early Monday Morning instead of using the traditional holiday name that we all are so fond of. Long story short... I went to bed around 3:00am with plans to meet up in the morning at 8:10am (five short hours later) before we all left for campus on our journey as now commuter students.

The next morning I woke up at 7:00 as my alarm screamed at me to get up and get in the shower. So I rolled over and then... well then I woke up at 8:05. I had five minutes to leave. Did I have time for a shower? No. Is it really? Yes ok I have five minutes. Where are my pants? Jacket? Shoes? Out the door. Wait my keys! Checking my pockets I deduced that I had everything and we got to the train station down the street at approximately 8:25. We boarded the train and began our journey to the Lankwitz campus of Freie Universität. It was a 30 minute adventure via a train and one bus. I had 35 minutes to get there and Dylan had 25. One of us was going to be late if not both.

We got to campus at 8:58 and I sat down in my German language class at 8:59. I was going to be on campus for the next 10 hours. With an hour and a half break for lunch, within ten hours I was going to sit in only three separate classes. German language was three hours long from 9:00-12:00, lunch from 12:00-1:30, Themes and Issues in Transatlantic Relations was from 1:30-4:00 and European Business Cultures was from 4:30-7:00.

My German language class was fun and it seems like I am going to learn a lot. The professor is a little crazy but he seems cool nonetheless. Daniel is his name and he taught us some basic introductions such as how to say your name, where you are from, and where you were born as well as how to have a conversation with these topics. I am not usually one to talk in class as I retain information more usually through just listening to the conversations happening but I was happy to see that I was one of the only ones in class answering the professors questions.

Lunch was right outside the classroom building in a separate building known as the Mensa (like a cafeteria). The Mensa is really cool because you pay per item instead of by amount. So if I buy two potatoes it would cost the same as eight potatoes. I got an extremely large plate of potatoes and then two pieces of a roast. A bunch of us sat with Nele and Janine (the resident director and assistant resident director respectively) and we just had conversations about how we were settling in and some events that would be coming up soon.

After lunch I headed off to my Themes and Issues in Transatlantic Relations class and prepared for a two and a half hour long class. I hadn't gotten a great nights sleep the night before so I was very tired and so I found it increasingly hard to keep my eyes open during the class. Professor Rolf Schnelle is an older professor who is definitely qualified to be teaching this class. He is a German native who lived and worked in the states during the Reagan administration, he has worked in numerous foreign affairs offices around Europe and America, and he even drove from Seattle to New York City in a Volkswagen bug :) But above all what is coolest about him is that he is one of the original 68 students who founded the university way back in 1948.

For some more information on the background of Freie Universität, click on the following link...

For a video on the university as well, click on the following link...

The Free University of Berlin has such an interesting history and the link above is not very long. I implore you to give it a read (or watch the 11 minute video). I am so beyond fortunate to be able to study at such an esteemed and enriched university.

It was now 4:30 and I was exhausted. The sun was setting and I still had one more 2.5 hour class left. The last class of the day was European Business Cultures and my professor is a lady originally from Bulgaria. This class for sure is going to be interesting as there is a field trip to Sanofi, a French-German success merger, scheduled for the end of this month. Sanofi is the world's third largest pharmaceutical company by turnover rate in the global industry and so I am excited to listen to the VP of Public Affairs share his insight into the particular marketing challenges in different European countries. This class seemed like it took forever but there are plenty of my newfound friends in this class so I'm sure it won't be unbearable by any means.

Class ended and I made my way home before heading off to bed. I have a two day weekend in Tuesday and Wednesday so i didn't go off to bed until around 2:00am early Tuesday morning.


A really cool part about attending a university in Germany is that in Europe, schools do not force their students to buy $500 even up to $700 in some instances in textbooks each semester, to sometimes not even use them. Instead, European professors put together their own compilation of different readings from different books and then they print out their own sort of custom textbook for each student. And the actual books the professors want students to have only cost about $30 or $40. Not anywhere near the $100's that we as students are used to at home.


While the studying part of studying abroad hit me harder than a train full of bricks, I still am excited nonetheless. My classes so far seem intriguing and the conversations that are being held in the classrooms are even more so. I still have one class that has yet to have been held but I am excited to see what is in store for me on Thursday in 'Europe in the Global Economy'. I will report back then but for now I will just continue to try to enjoy my weekend in the middle of the week.

Until then! Auf Wiedersehen!

Posted by TravelingTom 09:00 Archived in Germany Tagged me travel germany berlin university books school study_abroad Comments (0)

Willkommen in Berlin!

A review of my first week in Berlin and in Germany

rain 35 °F

I am becoming increasingly aware with every passing day of how imperative it is to travel and to experience other cultures outside of your own. If you know me personally at all, then you understand just how important experiencing the world around us is to me. And then you also might be aware of the fact that I am living my absolute best life right now. I mean, 16 weeks in Europe? Give me a break this is amazing and there's no way you'll be able to convince me otherwise.

Here's what I am going to do here. First, I am going to explain what I'm doing here in Berlin and why I will be calling Germany and Europe my home for the next four months. Then, I am going to dive in to what I have been up to since I left my girlfriend and family behind at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and I'll also try to go into depth of the experiences that have already widened my eyes to a world that is so much larger than Rockwall or Stillwater back home. And finally that will allow me to finish off with my plan for this blog. What I hope to accomplish with it and what I dream I can communicate with it.

We have all heard of studying abroad. It's that thing that college students do when they decide they want to start having a new profile picture every other day and when skipping class in your home country just isn't cutting it anymore. Well those are some of the things that have led me to this point in my life. A point where I thought it would be very consequential if I did not experience the opportunities that studying abroad could gift me with. I chose Germany, and even further, Berlin, because roughly four years ago when my mother and I went on a trip to Europe, I absolutely fell in love with the culture. We started in Switzerland and meandered our way through places like Innsbruck, Munich, Dresden and Prague before spending a couple of days in the very capital of Deutschland. I knew then just as much as it's happening now that I would be back and that the next time I would be fortunate enough to return, it would be for a more extended period. And so, a few months back, I decided that I had waited long enough to return and that four months here in Berlin was exactly what a more extended period looked like. So, I busted my butt to make it happen. Through countless forms, emails, meetings and appointments I pushed on toward an experience I had waited my whole life for. It was time to make goals and dreams nothing but reality and eventually, in time, I was finally able to book that one way ticket to Europe. The adventure had begun!


Ok so here it goes. I became airborne and left DFW airport at 3:45pm on Sunday, January 27th. Because I'm covering an entire week here... I'm just gonna describe the past 8 days in bullet points. So... lets start 8 days ago, at 3:00pm, just before I said goodbye to everyone and walked through a very small TSA line.

JANUARY 27th - DAY 1
• Said goodbye to Meredith and my family. Leaving my girlfriend of almost 11 months was not easy. March 7th, the day we celebrate a year together, is going to be extremely hard for me given the fact that I will be 5000 miles away from her but I know for a fact that when I get to see her at that airport when I get back, that it will be one of the happiest moments of my life.

• Boarded my plane and took off toward London Heathrow Airport roughly 15 minutes before 4:00pm. It was an 8 hour and 55 minute flight that covered 7 different time zones. We landed in the United Kingdom at 6:39am local time (12:39am Dallas time). Oh and I forgot to mention... no one sat next to me for the entire flight so my window seat was one of the better flights I have ever been on.

JANUARY 28th - DAY 2
• We had about 2 hours to get from our terminal to the next and when we arrived at the gate with about 20 minutes to spare, you can imagine my frustration when I was told that the plane had already been boarded and even had already left. I won't go into it but I was not happy. Luckily, getting on the next flight was not very complicated at all and it was only about another hour until that plane boarded. So I sent an email to Nele (the resident director of AIFS) that Griffin and I would be arriving later than planned and we waited for British Airways flight 982 to begin boarding.

• Since our luggage was able to make the original flight without us, our stuff got there about two hours before us. So when we landed in Berlin at Berlin Tegel airport at 1:08pm, our bags had been getting cozy in an office somewhere and let me tell you when I say it was an adventure to get these bags back it was an adventure. I instantly became aware that I was somewhere that did not speak my language, and it was going to be interesting to get directions to where I needed to go. Nonetheless, we eventually secured our bags and immediately got into a cab heading toward the hotel.

• Got to the Ibis Berlin Hotel and settled in. A very cool place right next to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station). I was running on 3 hours of nonconsecutive sleep over a 36 hour period so I dropped my stuff next to my bed and fell asleep before I got into the shower and got ready for our group dinner that night.

• Dinner was an authentic German meal filled with plenty of carbs and protein. I made a comment to some of the guys that the next four months is going to consist of bread, cheese, meat and beer. None of us were too upset about that fact. Welcome to Germany!

• After dinner, a group of us went out to a bar for our first night of drinking in Germany. If you had told me this was going to be practically every night for the next week, I might have turned around and booked my ticket home. On our way home we got slightly lost and it was fun trying to find our way back to the hotel.

JANUARY 29th - DAY 3
• The next morning we all gathered in the lobby downstairs, some of us still holding our heads from the night before, and we began to load onto a bus that would take us to our campus.

• We get to the Lankwitz campus of Freie Universität and we begin our formal check in process before a brief orientation meeting with AIFS (our provider), headed by Nele and Janine, the resident director and assistant resident director respectively.

• After our orientation meetings for that day and checking in, at about 5:00pm we loaded our stuff back on to another bus and headed towards our apartment building, while the homestay kids began to be picked up by their host families.

• We got to the apartment complex and we all dumped our stuff. Nele showed us how to work the oven, heaters and washing machine before she left us to our own devices.

• We all then went to IKEA after settling down for a little bit and tried to further understand the realm of intercity transit.

• The IKEA trip can be summarized as so. If you still have questions afterwards just text me and I'll explain further then.
--- Got lost, was humiliated, lost someone, was told to f-off, wasted some time, was hungry, my feet hurt. Hope that is enough :)

• That night, after IKEA, Griffin and I went and found an ATM and I went and got a frozen pizza at Penny, the grocery store across the street. I was so ready to devour this pizza but unfortunately I burnt it and I was very disappointed. I did still eat it though.

• At 8:45 we all met Janine at the train station and she showed us how to get from our apartment to the university campus. We got to the Lankwitz campus and had another short orientation meeting before we were given a tour of both campuses.

• After we toured both campuses, at around 2:00pm a bus was there for us for a 4 hour bus tour. Janine took us to Tempelhof Airport, where she told us a bit about the old Nazi airport while we waited for our tour guide. After he got there we began the tour.

• After the tour we all went out again before calling it a night. But before going out I needed some food. Döner is a type of sandwich with garlic spread across the bread and very thinly sliced lamb meat is stuffed inside the type of bowl that the bread makes. It is the best thing on this planet and there is a döner place right down the street from my apartment.

JANUARY 31st - DAY 5
• Day 5 started with a 9:00am orientation meeting for FU-BEST, which lasted a good chunk of the day. By this point all of the orientation meetings were primarily AIFS only so FU-BEST needed there own orientation as well. AIFS stands for American Institute for Foreign Study and it is a provider for study abroad programs. FU-BEST is the study abroad program at Freie Universität (FU) in Berlin. I am attending the FU-BEST program by ways of AIFS.

• During our extended lunch break, we walked around the neighborhood the university is nestled in. I learned that one of the buildings on campus used to be the old allied powers headquarters and another building is where German scientists discovered that the atom could be split.

• After the orientation ended around 4:00, a half hour before sunset (not a fan), we went back to the apartment and I bought a döner for dinner before turning in for the night. I was starting to not feel great so I figured it would be best if I didn't go out with everyone else that night.

• I woke up with roughly 12 hours of sleep behind me and I felt AMAZING. Around 2pm I met up with Dylan (Kansas), Samantha (Rhode Island) and Sophia (Southern California) and we stopped at a small breakfast cafe before heading to the bunker tour.

• We got to the platform we were all supposed to meet at for this tour and we all walked toward the museum together. The Berlin Story Bunker Tour is an old bunker that housed post-war food stuffs and supplies from the Berlin Airlift during the Berlin Blockade in 1948 and 1949 when the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' railway, road, and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control. It was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. The airlift refers to the movement of planes from the Western nations to provide the free "West Berlin" with supplies. During this time, an allied supply plane took off or landed in West Berlin every 30 seconds. This movement also predates such common technology as radar.

• After the bunker tour, a group of us met up with some more of us at the Brandenburg Gate. I had been in Berlin for five days by this point and I still had not seen the gate. So we decided to go as the sun set.

• Afterwards a small group of us went out to eat at this really good Italian place called Evin Pizza and Pasta. I ate an entire pizza myself and regret absolutely nothing.

• After we got back to the apartments we all hung out in Meghan's (South Carolina) apartment and casually drank and socialized before going out again. We went to this place called the Omega Bar and it was extremely crowded and smokey. Not a fan. Where we eded up afterwards though, I loved! It's called the Monkey Bar and it has an outside rooftop patio with a pretty cool view. Drew (Indiana) and I ended up spending the night talking to these guys from Syria, Egypt and California. We had pretty intelligent conversations about politics, economies and current events given each of our three country's current situations.

• I woke up with nothing to do and the idea that I was going to be antisocial and just hangout with myself. I was wrong. We all decided we were hungry so we took a train and a bus to get to this brunch place known as Zimt and Mehl Manufaktur. When we finally got there it was closed but luckily we found a place just as good just on the other side of the park.

•After brunch we went back to the apartments and I went into the grocery store again to buy some orange juice. Later that night Dylan and I went to a camera shop to buy an SD card and a card reader. On our way back I grabbed another döner and we went to the grocery store again to buy a case of beer. A case of 20 beers here is only around 8 dollars so I have a strong feeling that won't be the last time Penny sees our business.

• That night a bunch of people came over and we all hung out a bit.

• The morning started with heading to the Brandenburg Gate for a walking tour of the city. After hearing about the history of the city for several hours, at about 1:00pm a majority of us decided to duck out and finish the tour ourselves. We all took the bus to a restaurant known as Maximilians and then after our meal the girls went back to the apartment while Drew, Dylan and I made our way to the Holocaust Memorial.

• After the memorial we all went back to our individual apartments and homestay with plans to meet up for the Super Bowl tonight at 12:30 tomorrow morning.

• Long story short, I came home, fell asleep and now here I am, writing and waiting for the Super Bowl to start.


As I said before, I have always been an advocate for the culture that differs from my own. Being here, in a country, let alone city, that has seen so much history and that commands so much respect in the way that it has changed over time. Through this blog I hope to document my journey both within Berlin, Germany and wherever else I decide to go over these next four months. By documenting and writing about what I'm up to, it allows for people back home to keep up with me. I also upload pictures on a gallery I have created on smugmug.com and on my Instagram as well. Feel free to check out my pictures and keep reading here to see what I'm up to. It's going to be an amazing semester and I am so ready to have the time of my life.

Auf Wiedersehen!!

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Posted by TravelingTom 04:00 Archived in Germany Tagged travel germany berlin university school study_abroad Comments (1)

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