Study abroad gets less exciting, but that’s a good thing

Graphic by Meghan Joyce

Studying abroad is hectic and crazy. Every day, there are surprises and new experiences, unexpected twists and turns to contend with, new challenges to tackle … until there aren’t.

I have now been in Germany for more than a month and a half. For the first few weeks, I faced new obstacles and discoveries — both exciting and daunting.

I faced challenges large and small daily, from confusion with Freiburg’s culture and my difficulties adjusting to a new teaching style, to more mundane changes. These included my 20-minute commute via tram to and from class, the need to buy groceries and cook dinner for myself, and the daily struggle not to buy gelato on the way back from class.

Every day seemed exciting and novel. I was enthusiastic about each discovery I made in Germany about the local culture, EU politics, and more. This could also become exhausting. I often found myself completely worn down by the end of each day and was frequently confused and uncomfortable moving throughout Freiburg.

Life in Germany was utterly different from life at the 5Cs and even from living on my own in Washington, D.C. this past summer.

Gradually, without my noticing it, I began to settle into Freiburg. I only realized how accustomed to my surroundings I was during a field trip to Brussels and Paris last week, which interrupted my usual routine, and it took me by surprise.

My previous experiences abroad were, at most, about a month long. Each time, I did not have enough time to fully settle in; I remained on my toes and was constantly amazed by everything I encountered.

When I realized that I had become more accustomed to Freiburg, I began to doubt myself and reanalyze my experiences. Was I jaded? Was I not doing enough to appreciate my surroundings and environment? Was I not doing enough to find new experiences within Freiburg?

However, looking back, I realized I had a similar experience in my first semester at Pomona College. The first few weeks, I was surprised, excited, and challenged by everything I encountered, but over time, I settled into a routine, and began to become more comfortable in my surroundings.

Through reflection, I decided that acclimating to Freiburg was not a bad thing. I still learn more about EU politics daily. Classes remain challenging in ways I detailed previously, but are educational as well. I am still keenly aware that I am living in a foreign country with a unique and different culture.

Having a routine and being comfortable in Freiburg provides me with a steadier base from which to learn about and explore Germany. I am not so exhausted at the end of every day, and I find myself much more comfortable in my day-to-day life.

I am thankful to have established some sense of stability in Freiburg. The electrifying atmosphere of my first few days in Freiburg was highly enjoyable and enriching, but also not sustainable.

Each day is much less of a rollercoaster, which I do not consider a bad thing. Now, I can take in and learn about Freiburg, Germany, and Europe at a more moderate pace, which I greatly appreciate.

This adjustment period is something anyone studying abroad might experience. Hopefully, this may serve as a reminder for others to explore as much as possible in their first few weeks abroad, but also as a reassurance that the semester will become less hectic.

I am glad I went to great lengths to learn as much about my surroundings as I could in my first weeks here, and to have realized that studying abroad, like most other experiences in life, requires balance. I am happy to have found my balance between routine and novelty in Freiburg.

Marc Rod is an international relations major at Pomona College, studying the European Union in Freiburg, Germany. Fittingly, he enjoys travel and journalism.

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