By Jennifer Salvatore ’18
Coming home from freshman year of college on a Sunday in May, I was ready to see my old high school friends, ready to go to my favorite pizza shop and ready to sleep in my own bed. I was ready to relax and go back to everything I was familiar with. But just two days later I left to travel halfway across the world to an unknown country, where I had no friends, where the local cuisine was sausage and where I would be staying for six weeks in a host family’s house. I took a jump into another world, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Funny. Caring. Maternal. And Crazy…just a few of the words I’d use to describe my “Gastmama”, my host mother. From the moment I walked into my home in Kapellenweg, I was immediately welcomed into the Werth Family. Given a round of hugs upon walking through the door, the some eleven hours worth of traveling left me like a zombie to unpack my room. I was surprised with traditional German candies and a welcome note waiting on my dresser. I came into the kitchen around dinnertime to be greeted by smiling faces and a three-course meal. Already immersing into the country and language, the family included me in their dinner conversation, entirely in German!
Claudia, my host mother, took me for a walk along the Rhine River with her dog, Molly, where she showed me the trail I could run in the morning to continue my training for Lafayette’s Cross Country Team. I went to bed that first night knowing that I was matched with the best fitting family, and that I was about to start six weeks that would change my life.
Advanced German is not the most common course among Lafayette College students. That being said, the class was very intimate. Actually taught in a bar lounge, three boys and I took on German History and Civilization. Taught by Professor Lamb-Faffelberger, we knew we were in for a treat. We covered over one thousand years, read pieces of literature, learned history, worked with new vocabulary and practiced both writing and speaking aloud. We learned a lot from signs on the street that we passed by every day and the half-day and full day excursions were very supplemental to help our learning.
Of the excursions organized by the program, my favorite was our trip to Köln. The city had been bombed, but despite being hit dozens of times, the cathedral survived. We not only toured an art museum and explored the city, but we also took a tour to the top of the Kölner Dom. Breathtaking, eye opening, and conquering my fears to get there, the view from the top was incredible.
I was lucky to make some very good friends while abroad. Such good friends, that we even planned a weekend trip to Amsterdam. After a little mix-up with the trains, we made it to one of the most talked about cities in the world. To save money as young college students, we crammed six of us into a single hotel room. Taking a canal boat ride, a tour of the Heineken Museum, and indulging in the local cuisine, I felt much like a tourist. We took a night trip to the Red Light District that is a story in itself, but to say the least, Amsterdam was an incredible weekend of bonding, laughing and creating memories.
Professor Lamb-Faffelberger was born and raised in Austria and she took us into her world to show us yet another country in Europe. Vienna, Austria is as glamorous as walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City, and as full as Washington D.C. in monuments and historical landmarks. Zanoni Zanoni was the gelato store that made the best ice cream shop in my town my SECOND favorite dessert place. Biscotti and Raspberry, how could you top that?
And when we went to Pöggstall, a small village with no Internet access, our group was forced to leave the outside world and focus on ourselves. What a relief it is to drop the phone, forget about Instagram and Snapchat, and to hike the land, hang out in fields and bike thirty kilometers in a breathtaking landscape.
And what trip to Germany would be complete without going to Berlin? Having just taken our final exam, and celebrating my nineteenth birthday that Claudia made me a cake for and my professor took our group out to dinner for, we took off for our cross-country trip from Bonn, Germany up to Berlin. Passing through other historic and famous cities including Erfurt and Dresden, the excursions continued. When we finally arrived in Berlin, the city did not disappoint. The Brandenburger Tor, the old borders of the Berlin Wall, a bike ride through the city and engaging in the nightlife only starts to explain Berlin.
One of the best parts of the trip was the progress I made in a language that I am very interested in. My writing skills have improved immensely and I can understand most written and spoken conversation. It is still hard to speak German, but that’s what I look forward to learning in the next three years as I continue my major at Lafayette College.