My experiences in Munich were nothing short of amazing! As I take time to reflect on the past month, I recognize that, prior to departure, I did not truly understand how much I would learn and grow from my study abroad experience. I went into the program with broad goals, and, though these goals were important, the experiences that were most meaningful and significant to me were the small, unexpected ones. Yes, this experience was about gaining knowledge, but it was also about being flexible, learning from those around us, and embracing whatever comes our way. It is safe to say that both the memories and skills acquired while abroad will stay with me for the rest of my life.
This past month has offered some of the best experiences of my life; however, that’s not to say that it didn’t come without challenges. One of the most significant obstacles I faced was upon arrival. I did not sleep much on the plane, so I was very tired when we landed. The first day in Munich was relatively busy, as we had to learn how to navigate the trains, go grocery shopping, and adjust to the new environment. Though I had previously discussed some of these topics in my classes, navigating them felt entirely different and, at times, incredibly overwhelming (yes, German supermarkets are that chaotic). I remember walking into the crowded store (only a few hours after landing in Munich) trying to decide what I wanted to buy and standing nervously in line to pay. Once I walked up to the register, I had to quickly bag my own items while answering the cashier’s fast German remarks. I remember blankly staring when I didn’t understand. In German supermarkets, you are expected to move as fast as possible, and there I stood, rummaging around for the right amount of change, speaking in broken German to the employees around me. Fortunately, after this experience, I was able to better prepare myself for future shopping trips. They seemed much more manageable, and, throughout the month, my German significantly improved, so I was able to better communicate with those around me.
After a few nights of good sleep and some time spent exploring the city, it was relatively easy to acclimate to overall life in Germany. It helped being surrounded by other Pitt students, so I spent time with others experiencing similar feelings. Overall, I learned the best way to deal with problems while abroad is to be patient, flexible, and willing to ask for help.
As alluded to in the prior paragraph, the positive experiences from the Pitt in Munich program are too plentiful to name. As part of our culture class, we visited and toured various museums, historic sites, and other popular locations, each of which offered a unique perspective on the city. Though I thoroughly enjoyed exploring all the castles (it’s hard to believe that even after my entire month, I didn’t even get to see all of them), one of my favorite class excursions came where I least expected. We attended Coppélia, a ballet performed at the Bavarian State Theater. I have little knowledge when it comes to the arts, so I had few expectations going into the performance. However, very quickly I found myself fascinated by the ballerinas leaping across the stage. Later in the week, for a separate excursion, our class took a guided tour of the theater. During this tour, we learned more about the history of the theater, explored backstage, and even caught a glimpse of a rehearsal! Learning more information about the theater made me appreciate the performance even more. In fact, this was a consistent theme throughout the month; I found myself enjoying all the excursions because of the time spent discussing the history surrounding them during our class time.
Additionally, I really enjoyed taking time to explore the city on my own. Though our program did not afford a lot of free time, being in Munich for an entire month granted me some time to explore different and exciting things. I really enjoyed connecting what I was seeing in Munich with my experiences in the United States. For example, Munich has two popular universities: Ludwig Maximillian University (LMU) and Technical University of Munich (TUM). After spending some time on these campuses, I was shocked as to how similar they felt when compared to US universities! During my free time, I also spent time doing things I never would have thought, whether this be traveling to Austria for a daytrip or impulsively going to a Harry Styles concert (which I would definitely recommend seeing one of his shows if given the opportunity)!
If I had to pick my favorite aspect of being abroad, it would be learning to navigate a different culture. It was rewarding experiencing things we already discussed in our German classes, but it was even better facing things that we didn’t talk about. It was very surprising how even the small things could be so different! For example, did you know that there are no public restrooms in Munich? You normally have to pay 1 Euro to go to the bathroom. I found the time spent learning and embracing the small things to be one of the most valuable experiences.
Overall, my month in Munich was very rewarding and pushed me to grow in ways I never thought to be possible. The experiences and opportunities while abroad are some of my favorites and have encouraged me to continue my German studies. Perhaps I’ll even find a way to incorporate German into my professional goals!