After a month back from the Student Exchange Program, Troy Weider reflects on his incredible semester abroad in Strasbourg, France. He shares some of the things that he already misses about leaving Europe, the return culture shock he felt coming back to the U.S., and his message to students considering (or on the fence) to go abroad.
Wow… I can hardly believe that it has already been a month since I arrived back to Perrysburg, Ohio, after four months of exploring some of the most beautiful places in Europe. I catch myself daydreaming about being back in the Alps, being back in a Parisian café, or being back in Strasbourg, surrounded by fairy-tale architecture, Christmas markets and all the new friends I so quickly had to leave behind.
Studying abroad was a life-changing experience, and I would recommend it to any college student who has ever had even the faintest interest. Ever since I was a little kid, the outside world, with its diverse people’s and cultures has always fascinated me. In elementary school, I would pour over children’s atlases and history books, dreaming of what it would be like to be in another country, exploring a corner of the world that was previously unknown to me. I finally got to know what that experience felt like in these last few months. Living in a place that’s very different, yet at the same time comfortable and unintimidating.
Things are very different now that I’m back at home. I no longer plan weekend trips to London or Slovenia, I’ve got a lot more schoolwork that I have to do, and for whatever reason, no one is speaking French! On a more serious note, it is great to be back again to see everyone who I was missing during this last semester, and after not really being in Columbus for the last eight months, it feels nice to be back on Ohio State’s campus again. Near the top of my list of things that I missed while in France, was being able to watch football (well at least so called “American football”, and luckily I arrived back just in time to watch the college football bowl season and the NFL playoffs! While at the game I was most looking forward to, did not really go as planned, it was nice to be back watching football with friends and family.
Despite all the bittersweet happiness of being back home, the first few weeks back showed me that reverse culture shock really does exist. I can remember just realizing how big everything really is here: from the portion sizes to the cars to the buildings. People speak much quieter in public in France than they do in the United States, and right when I started getting use to that back in Strasbourg, I left to come back. Something that I did not really miss though was that the air feels much cleaner in the United States without the constant smell of everyone smoking cigarettes. But one of the things that I was most excited about being back was being able to have large amounts of mediocre American coffee again! I’m a big coffee drinker, and while I love the French café culture, it’s hard to find cheap coffee that is anywhere near the same size as its American counterpart, instead it’s stronger and much smaller. There is a plethora of differences between France and the United States, but these differences are really what made my trip so exciting in the first place!
I love being able to reflect on my experiences during the last few months, so I figured I’d also give you all a brief recap of what’s been going on since my last blog post.
After starting classes near the end of September, I came into October with a full schedule of trips planned. My first one, and one of the highlights of my whole experience, was a trip with four of my friends to Slovenia. This is one of the most beautiful, but sadly overlooked countries of Europe. Slovenia had everything: beautiful Alps and lakes in the northwest, beautiful castles and villages, a very quaint yet cosmopolitan capital city, some of the largest caves in the whole world, and a small but beautiful Adriatic coastline. Slovenia was an amazing trip, and luckily the next weekend I got to go on a long weekend trip with my friend Julie, who happens to go to BGSU and was on the Slovenia trip as well. Julie and I spent three full days seeing the best of London! We saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and tons of free museums along the way. London is an incredible city with all its history and diversity, and I was very lucky to cross that one off my bucket list. Then the following week, the University of Strasbourg had its Fall Break and I got to go on the trip of a lifetime, a 10-day trip through Europe with my dad. While my dad and I had always loved to travel together, he had never been to Europe before, and this was a great opportunity to show him around my “temporary home”. We met up in Paris for a few days before taking the TGV high-speed train to Strasbourg. Once there I gave him a 36-hour “best of Strasbourg” tour, with stops at the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the European Parliament, Petite-France, the European Parliament, Orangerie Park, lots of sauerkraut and tarte flambées along the way. Then the next morning the two of us rented a little French car, a black Renault Twingo, and started a 6-day road trip through the heart of Europe. Starting first in Ribeauvillé, a small medieval town along the Alsatian Wine Route, we visited my French friend Hakim, who gave us a day-long tour of his hometown and the castles and villages that surrounded it. Hakim was one of my closest friends who I met in Strasbourg, and we luckily met during my first week in the city when I was lost trying to find the laundry room. I asked this random student in the main building where to do my laundry, and after showing me the way there, we ended up talking for an hour or so in both French and English, and then we started hanging out a few days later. Getting to see this region with a local made the experience much more unique, and since Hakim had several friends and family members working at the local wineries, we ended our day with a few tastings and cellar tours. From here, we spent the next day in the Swiss Alps, making a four-hour stop in my favorite Swiss city, Lucerne, before driving the high mountain Klausen Pass through the heart of the Alps. After several hours of the most breathtaking scenery, we made it to the micro-country of Liechtenstein, where we saw the main castle, got a “VIP tour” of the nation’s parliament, and ate at what seemed like Vaduz’s most happening restaurant. Then we left the Alps behind us and made it to Munich, where we spent the next day biking between parks and beer gardens past old reconstructed churches and palaces. Munich was amazing, but I was most excited about the final leg of our trip, the Czech Republic. I had made a lot of friends from this country during my time in Strasbourg, and Prague was always at the top of my bucket list of places to see. During our short two-day stay we drove to Plzen, where my friend Petra gave us a list of cool breweries and sites to visit in her hometown, then we visited the imposing Karlstejn castle en route to Prague in time to catch the sunset. Prague lived up to my expectations and was one of the most beautiful cities that I visited in Europe. Between the Prague Castle, the Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and all the local pubs, restaurants, and hidden spots that I was told to visit by my Czech friends, Prague proved to be a memorable stop. The last day of our trip, we drove back through the Czech Republic and Germany, before I sadly had to say goodbye to my dad the next morning, but while his European vacation was over, my adventure continued.
In the last half of my stay I went on several day trips with my “host family”, was interviewed by French radio about the American presidential elections, continued spending time with my new friends, and went on several more weekend trips to Colmar, the Alsatian Wine Route, Heidelberg and Nancy. The biggest trip of this last leg was a spontaneous trip to Amsterdam with a French club at the university, where we biked along the canals, ate tons of local delicacies, and took in the nightlife. Also one of the biggest highlights of the last month in Strasbourg was getting to see the cities world famous Christmas market. Over the last few years this 500-year market with 300+ stalls selling everything from hot wine and local foods to ornaments, has been named Europe’s best Christmas market. The city was beautiful festooned with lights and decorations, and during December more than a million tourists packed the city center and added a different energy to Strasbourg. After an extremely busy last few weeks of exams, traveling, and saying goodbye to friends, I left Strasbourg for Paris on December 18th. After a whirlwind 24-hour stay in Paris, which I now feel I know better than almost any other city after 5 trips there, I boarded my plane to head back to Chicago to once again see all my friends and family back home.
I know that was a very brief recap of months worth of adventures in Strasbourg, but it definitely helps to illustrate all the fun that you can have exploring a new country and culture. Besides the enjoyment of just being over there, my semester abroad gave me a greater appreciation of different cultures, an amazing opportunity to improve my French, and the ability to exchange beliefs and ideas with new friends from all over the world. I’m very grateful for my time spent in Strasbourg, and I’m already looking at opportunities to return there again.