Closing a Chapter?

As I prepare for my final exams here in my second semester in Braunschweig, my days are being split up in chapters. Today I finished summarizing 2 chapters of Computer Networks, or the Lecturer saying “Today we’re starting the new chapter on recursion”. Really my whole life as a student has been divided into chapters.

I have currently 15 days left in Germany, specifically Braunschweig(BS). Then this chapter of my life is closed. But I have to ask myself- When I close a chapter during studying, is it because I’m done with that material? Can I then forget that chapter and move on?

I certainly have been approaching this transition back home this way.

The goal and purpose of studying, of learning how the world works, is to apply that knowledge in my life later, and ultimately be prepared for whatever may lie ahead. This “chapter” of my life in BS has certainly contained a significant amount of content. As I look at the “Chapter Review” there are so many things that I will immediately be “tested” on upon returning stateside.

A few things:

  1. I’ve learned how to study. (Ich habe gelernt, wie ich lernen soll)
    German university classes have almost no homework, which means that students have to be committed to studying and preparing for exams. No, you don’t have to go to lecture, No alot of time you don’t even have to do the homework. You just have to pass the exam.
  2. I’ve learned “I am not my resumé”
    Before I came to Braunschweig, I had multiple jobs and was crazy busy. When people asked about hobbies, I would say “well, I don’t really have any”– I defined myself by what I did.
    Upon coming to BS, my jobs were gone; I had no one to answer to, and no one to be responsible for; I was really lost in the first few days. In the interest of this very public blog, I’ll just write that I now know that no matter what circumstances lay ahead, I will still be me; Greg;
  3. I’ve learned the importance of online privacy
    Germans are crazy about “Datenschutz”… Large companies like google knowing everything about you. My attitude when I first came was simply: If you don’t want people online to know about you, don’t put it up!
    I can’t say I’ve completely gone away from this opinion, but I have definitely had a few moments where I think… How does google know about this event coming up in my life; I haven’t sent any emails about it; haven’t done web searches;  haven’t put it in my calendar;  Huh?
  4. Lastly… I’ve learned that a more global perspective is possible
    One of my German friends said: “We’re not allowed to fight wars anymore here in Europe, so we play Football! (Soccer)” I have really appreciated that my outlook on the world has changed. That watching the news (from good sources) is normal, and that a more open mind is possible.

So as I “Close” this chapter in my life, I can’t wait to experience the events for which this chapter has prepared me for. The people I’ve met here; the things that I’ve done here. This may be the end of a chapter, but it is certainly not the end of a book. The climax of the plot is yet to come.



Living in Germany for a year, or taking a vacation for a year… where’s the line?

This week marks the first week of the Summer semester in Braunschweig (Brunswick, Germany). This means I’m actually more than half way done with my study abroad. I have learned so much, and hope to learn more in the coming months.

Because this past week was the first of the semester, I now reflect on my semester break. While quite a few of my friends and acquaintances traveled home for extended periods of time, I have mostly stayed in Braunschweig during this period. Sure, I took the train and explored for a weekend, and have taken a few day trips, but I still could have travelled more— After all, I had 6 weeks off. So, besides financial reasons, why did I not travel more in this free-time?

Well, I came to Germany to live in Braunschweig. I did not come to Germany to live on the rails. I firmly believe its better to go “a mile deep and an inch wide,” rather than “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

In our current age of Wikipedia, I can simply look up things about cities and buildings. Pictures are everywhere. Naturally, looking online is not as breathtaking as actually going and seeing these things. In all truth, though- I’m tired of looking at old buildings.

The things you can’t get on Wikipedia, is the culture. You can’t talk with Wikipedia. You can’t eat the food pictured on Wikipedia. You can’t experience the other persons point of view, as explained on Wikipedia. You can’t make cross-cultural friendships on Wikipedia.

Each of these things you don’t get on a vacation (Well, maybe the food, but even then, as food is seasonal).

I came to Braunschweig to live here. To make friendships, drink great beer (it is Germany, after all), to live as a German. To be in their shoes.

Once one lives in a city, one starts to understand the deeper intentions, the deeper history. Not just facts about old buildings, but rather why. Why were the buildings built, and why are they still maintained? Why is our castle also a shopping mall? These “Whys” are not simply the physical utilitarian purpose of the buildings at one certain time, but the cultural attitude toward them and their existence. One starts to look less at the building, and the culture defining it, and the people behind the culture.

People. That’s what’s missing on Wikipedia.

So vacation? Well, it’s nice for a week. But me? I would rather live somewhere. Not watch the people, but be apart of the crowd.

This is my “Goal” in Braunschweig. And everyday I think “I can’t believe this is actually happening”

Hello from Braunschweig, Germany!

I still can’t believe this is really happening. I’m studying computer science in the historic city of Braunschweig. I even get to live directly downtown, where I can nearly hear the noise from the nearby Christmas market.

When I first arrived, I was tired, shocked, and then it hit me… no amount of language courses could have prepared me to live abroad. I had applied for a peer student before I left, and she was (and still is) so welcoming. She and her friend picked me up by car from the train station, and took me to her place where I could stay the night, as I wasn’t able to get the keys for my apartment for the following 2 days.

I thought I was arriving early, about 15 days before classes started, but I discovered this was the perfect amount of time to get everything in order. The university system in Germany is completely different than in the US. This along with the language barrier made my first time in Braunschweig pretty stressful. I had to apply for health insurance, open a bank account, sign in at the University, get everything sorted with housing, sign in to the city, and get phone service all without getting lost. I only got lost a few times.

One thing was clear. My main focus was to be able to understand people when they talk., All my lectures are all held in German, and it is exciting for me to say that this past week I have reached the point of understanding most everything everyone is saying. I write this on the 15th of December- 2 months and 6 days and 20 hours after my arrival.

Lectures are all in German, but as I am studying computer science, many of the diagrams on the powerpoints, as well as the code, are all in English. This really helps my understanding. I have been taking classes, which all seem to be focused on algorithms currently. In addition, I am taking an English course titled “Scientific Writing.” Most of the students in this course are master students, and as I am a bachelor student, I feel the most under-qualified to take this course. This says a lot, as I am the only native speaker in this course (excluding the teacher, of course). For most of my classmates, this course is to help them learn english, but I have learned equally as much in this course from them.

One of the current tasks is to perform a piece of research in my field. I have chosen the same (or similar) topic as my capstone project, and it excites me that I get to explore a little in that area before I go home and perform the capstone project.

The German culture is really interesting. I have already mentioned the Christmas Market near my apartment. I have gone 3 times, and it has been amazing each time. It is dark, the square in front of city hall is wall-to-wall people. There are cookies, Gluehwein (Mulled Wine- the traditional Christmas market drink), Bratwurst in any form imaginable, many cabbage type food, fries, and many more tasty things! I definitely believe I will be gaining weight while abroad. I have also made some German friends here, and I spend a fair amount of time at their house. In this manner I have also experienced German cuisine. One thing that I’m told I really need to try is called a mettbrötchen. This is a roll with raw seasoned ground pork on top. I’ve heard it described as “German Sushi”

This week is the last week of classes before Christmas. I can’t wait to have 14 days off. I’m going to get to travel, see friends, and experience lots of new things. Thank you GLI for helping all this happen!

-Greg Arno