While traveling, travel. This might sound like a nonsensical truism, but studying abroad opens up a wealth of opportunities for additional travel outside of one’s host city, and traveling outside of Freiburg has been one of my favorite experiences thus far.
As I write this column, I am on a trip with others from my program to Vienna and Prague.
I am in a unique position compared to most students abroad, because my program involves several field study trips throughout Europe. However, the program-organized trips have been highly structured and scheduled — perhaps even over-scheduled. We have had a variety of lectures in each city we have visited, which left minimal time for traveling and exploring these European cities independently.
Traveling autonomously has been a completely different experience. I have been able to set my own schedule and see the sites that interest me at my own pace and I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of the local culture and history of the places I was visiting.
This was an invaluable supplement to the classroom education and day-to-day experiences in Freiburg.
While wandering the streets of the old city of Prague while snacking on a local pastry, the old-world, Eastern European, post-Soviet culture and charm of the city was palpable. The city is filled with impressive historical architectural monuments, including a massive palace complex on a hill overlooking the entire city, but its narrow, crowded side streets, which fill with the scent of charcoal and cinnamon sugar from cooking pastries make it feel quaint and cozy. Every inch of the city projects a welcoming and friendly atmosphere.
By exploring historical sites and museums, sampling the food, and interacting with locals, I felt I gained a deeper appreciation of Prague, Europe, and my experience abroad in general.
Travel gave me the chance to relax and spend time with friends — which my hectic schedule in Freiburg gives me little time to do — experience more of Europe, and learn more about the places that I am studying and the diversity of cultures and traditions that interact within the EU.
Each of the seven EU countries I have visited so far has a distinct character, culture, and ‘flavor’ visible through architecture, food, museums, shops and local specialties, and the attitudes and behavior of the local people.
Being able to see these differences firsthand has been a fascinating supplement to my studies about the EU’s institutional structure. These regional differences are an integral element of the EU and regularly cause difficulties for it, making its success even more intriguing.
Europe is an especially prime location for traveling. There are so many fascinating cities with rich histories throughout the continent, situated in a more condensed space than many major U.S. cities, which reduces travel time.
Traveling is also generally more affordable in Europe than in the United States. Europe has a variety of low-cost airlines, highly affordable train tickets, and cheap — but good quality — hostels and hotels that make it ideal for students on a budget, although costs can still stack up.
The chance to travel so freely and easily is a unique and special experience, so any student abroad should take advantage of this chance while they have it. Even if students only have an opportunity to take a day trip to a neighboring city, they should take that opportunity to travel. Anyone who does won’t regret it.
Marc Rod is an international relations major at Pomona College, studying the European Union in Freiburg, Germany. Fittingly, he enjoys travel and journalism.