To Travel or Not to Travel?

Guten tag, from what is still the coolest city I have ever been to (in case you are wondering)! :)

Not all of Berlin is beautiful in the traditional sense of the word, but that's part of what makes it interesting.

Not all of Berlin is beautiful, in the traditional sense of the word, but that’s part of what makes it interesting.

I enjoyed spending the whole of last month right here in Berlin. November in the northern hemisphere, as we well know, is not the most “beautiful” time of the year, by any stretch of the imagination. It has progressively grown darker (we’re talking 4:15 p.m. sunsets), colder, and rainier as the weeks have passed. Slightly inconvenient, yes. However, with this city at my fingertips, it’s easy to take advantage of the myriad things to see and do and to make the most of every moment left of this semester.

For exchange students from far away, it’s a real treat to be able to spend a good chunk of time in Europe and roam around the continent. There are so, so many places to see here, after all! During my undergraduate degree, I was lucky enough to participate in a semester abroad in Budapest, Hungary, and in my 5 months there, that is exactly what I did. Among the neighbouring (or at least nearby) countries I visited were Austria, Slovakia, Poland and Croatia. I somehow managed to venture even further as well, all the way to Spain, Ireland, England and even Turkey! Looking back, I can’t believe how much I squeezed into such a short period of time. I remember a couple fellow students in Budapest sometimes telling me, “You’re never around.”

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The funky colored seats in Berlin’s underground metro system.

Perhaps as you gain experience — or maybe just as you get a little older, I’m not sure — it seems more appealing to really try to get to know a place, instead of checking it off of a list. In the majority of the countries I visited during my Budapest exchange, I only spent 2 or 3 days and saw just one city (not that I’m complaining). Since then I have asked myself, did it count as getting the real experience? Because although there is something undeniably “European” about every country in Europe that I can’t quite put my finger on, each country still has its own personality. A day or two of rapid, efficient sight-seeing in one particular city might begin to scratch the surface of that personality, but in no way, shape or form does it reveal the true heart of a place or its people to you. You probably will not come to relate to the culture, understand how and why it is the way it is, or discover the minutiae of everyday life that make it unique from the rest of the Europe.

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A rare glimpse of the sun on a beautiful mid-November’s day on a boulevard called Mehringdamm.

For this reason, I am happy that I spent every moment of November in Berlin soaking up its rhythm, the pace of life, and the little everyday things that make it the special place that it is (I won’t even realize what those things are until I am back home). I admit there are a few important museums and other sites I have yet to see — it’s so easy to put them off to another day when you can do it anytime — but I can rest easy knowing that even if I don’t get to them, at least I spent real, actual time here.

To be fair, it is completely understandable to want to travel and see as much as possible while in Europe. Time and financial constraints make it impractical for most of us to fly across an ocean every time we want to check out a different European country. This is especially true for students! As a huge fan of traveling, exploring, and adventuring, I am of the opinion that even a few days in a place is better than none, and I would commend those who do those kinds of trips on at least having the enthusiasm, spirit, curiosity and courage (yes, courage!) to save up some money, pack a bag, and go.

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It’s Christmastime in Kolding!

Now, having made the case for both types of Euro-adventuring, I can justify my 3-day visit to Denmark this past weekend. It did not include Copenhagen (perhaps another time). Instead I spent a relaxing weekend in a small Danish seaport called Kolding visiting my sister, who is on an exchange semester at the Designskolen. Kolding is a lovely little city; it felt very “human-sized,” compared to Berlin, anyway. Small streets, short buildings and nearly everything within walking distance. It was really nice being able to hop on a bus for a few hours and end up in a whole new country. And although I definitely did not come back an expert in Danish culture, customs, history, cuisine, or architecture, I hope I at least scratched the surface a little bit.

As always, thanks for reading and see you next time! Tschüß!

Mari

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