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Life abroad offers student new outlook on life

By Terri Rorke
Contributing writer

With our daily demands of routine, life can become ordinary and familiar. It is only when we are forced to live outside of our comfort zones that we begin to appreciate familiarity.

While spending four months studying abroad at the University of Ludwigsburg in Germany last summer, I was forced to become familiar with a completely different set of rules.

Moving to a different continent kind of felt like being a kid all over again. I was constantly asking questions: “Who? What? When? Where? Why?” I had to learn everyday tasks all over again.

As I was becoming intimate with the land of beer, chocolate and sausage, I learned how different America is compared to Germany.

I come from a country that specializes in convenience.

We drive our cars to work, which is down the block, and order our family’s dinner at a pick-up window on our way home. Our gigantic, one-stop-shop stores are open until midnight seven days a week, so we can purchase things we never knew we needed for rock-bottom prices.

Our restaurants cater to our unsatisfied feeling that we are not filled up yet on free drink refills or all-you-can-eat buffet servings.

In our country, we can drive 3,000 miles from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast and ask for directions in our monolingual language when we get lost. Germans were quite shocked when I talked to them about ordinary American life.

Compared to Americans, Germans are not in a rush. There is not a huge demand on “here and now,” which means that customers tend to not be number one like they are in America.

Countless times I had to walk to the grocery store and buy only as much as I could carry back. I often discovered that the banks were closed during two-hour lunch breaks.

Many times I was about to buy something and remembered that all of the shops shut down at 6 p.m.

It was very difficult to get used to these parts of German culture. But when I stepped back to really understand why they do these things, I learned that maybe convenience is not the best answer.

After a while, I realized that taking the long way home actually gives you more time to appreciate life. If you are buying a limited number of groceries, you are not buying unnecessary items and saving money.

If shops close at 6 p.m., this allows more time to make dinner from fresh foods to enjoy with your family.

Unlike in America, I rarely saw stressed out Europeans scrambling to take care of errands. But I did often spot students lying out in the sun on blankets and enjoying afternoon barbecues.

Frequently, I saw whole families walking through the park, bikers exploring the many country-side trails and people shaded under umbrellas at local cafes.

Maybe their culture facilitates their relaxed outlook on life.

Seeing Germans appreciate life allowed me to realize how much I take life for granted in America.

Prior to this experience, I couldn’t wait for the end of days, weeks and months. I was actually wishing my life away and not focusing on the present, which is all that I really possess.

In Germany, I learned to embrace each moment of fragile life because every day was so fascinating. Admittedly, it was difficult to get used to slow-paced German life.

As I look back, I appreciate the cultural challenges and am truly humbled by the experience. Now that I am back in the States, I hope that I remember what I learned and continue cherishing life.

I’ve also become a strong advocate for study abroad programs. My advice to interested students is for them to ask the study abroad office about the many opportunities available.

It is important to go as soon as possible to find a program that will earn transfer credits for their degree program.

Students should also inquire about financial assistance programs that will help make their dreams come true. Maybe they will be able to see life through a different set of lenses.



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The University of North Carolina at Pembroke The print edition of The Pine Needle
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Updated: Wednesday, November 28, 2007
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