Alarm clocks, bike rides with no brakes, and a note of thanksFreiburg, Spring 2012

My trip to Switzerland with IES almost didn’t happen.

As part of our first class, we made multiple field excursions to sites of ecological importance. These included the Kaiserstuhl region and the Feldberg; the highest mountain in the Black Forest. The culminating trip was to be an extended one into the Rhone River Valley near the village of Leuk. The plan, according to our IES coordinator, Alex, was to meet at 8 in the morning at the Main Station and drive via bus across the border into der Schweiz. “Don’t be late,” Alex cautioned. “The train ticket will be expensive if you miss the bus!”

On that fateful Monday morning, I managed to sleep through not one, but two alarms, set for 6:30 and 7:00 respectively. I woke up in my room in Vauban at 7:50; ten minutes before our scheduled departure. The realization sent chills of panic down my spine and I broke out in a cold sweat. Somewhere inside my head, a little voice screamed MOVE and the adrenaline kicked into my skull with a rush that would have made the biggest extreme sports junkie balk. I was out the door with my fully packed bag and pedaling towards the Hauptbahnhof before I was fully conscious. I dodged vans, trucks, motorcycles, fellow cyclists, and old ladies with walkers while I tore towards the train station on a bicycle with severely malfunctioning brakes. I have never ridden so fast in my life. Please don’t tell my mother (MOM: if you’re reading this – I’m sorry). After locking the bike to a guard rail with shaking hands, I leapt onto the bus, gushing apologies to Alex and our instructor, Michael. I had screwed up. I had overslept and I knew it was my fault, I was so sorry, and that it would never happen again. Alex just smiled and told me to calm down.

“Not a problem, Evan,” he said reassuringly. “I believe the same has happened to me as well.” My teacher Michael, just laughed and helped me stow my bag in the back.

At this time I’d like to make a quick observation about the people at the IES center here: They are the best at what they do. On the first of March, when I climbed the staircase with that suitcase, Joanna welcomed me with a tall glass of orange juice and a plastic envelope crammed with everything from my room keys, to my classmates’ contact information, to five maps of the city and public transit schedules. Joanna, Alex, Katie, Achim, and others ensured that our acclimation to social and academic life as students in a German institution went as seamlessly as possible. I’d say they succeeded.

The staff here are empowering, and Erbprinzenstraße 12 has become a rally point and resource. It’s my “home base.” There are computers and printers, an extensive library and video collection, and comfy leather couches that make for a great mid-day nap. They have provided us everything we need to cook a stir-fry, write an essay on Goethe, or plan a weekend in Rome. That being said, they don’t dote on us; they expect us to be responsible and safe in everything that we do and with the exception of that terrifying bike ride, I’ve managed to respect that.

When considering a study abroad experience, there’s much to consider. The location, the institution at which you’d study, are all things to compare and contrast. However, the staff and resources they provide are all things to keep in mind as well. Here in Freiburg, we’re lucky to have such a reliable and friendly staff with the resources and connections necessary to make our time here both memorable and rewarding. They’ve played a large role in making my experience what it has been thus far.

You should meet ‘em sometime.

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