Ever since I was a little girl, I have had a world map on my wall. I have stared at it, in awe, counting countries, making travel plans, and saying, “I want to go there,” for as long as I can remember. I made that little girl’s dreams a reality this past semester by studying abroad in Luneburg, Germany, a picturesque, storybook Hanseatic town located about 30 minutes by train southeast of Hamburg, Germany. This town remained untouched in the world wars allowing it to maintain its historical architectural integrity. The cobblestone streets and the red roofs made it feel like a dream even just going grocery shopping. Although it was not my first choice in location, due to covid, this was my next best option. Even though covid has wreaked havoc on every facet of my life, I think this was one of the positives to come out of it. If I had it to do over, I would not change my study location for anything.
I studied abroad through USAC. Just through researching different programs, it seemed to have the most affordable price but still all of the amenities all other slightly more expensive providers had. The price point in addition to the friendliness of the advisors and overwhelmingly positive reviews, it seemed like a no-brainer to use them. Their website is also very user friendly, and their advisors are always available to answer any questions even before arrival, making the leap across the pond less daunting. After arrival, the on-site staff lived up to their expectations in their positive reviews. My Resident Director, Steffi, was always available, even after hours to field questions or concerns, and the professors are accessible, beyond kind, and accommodating. They truly care about their students, your understanding of the material, and your inevitable success.
One of the advantages of studying in Luneburg is that the city is very young and lively. Despite covid restrictions, I was able to experience the nightlife that this small town has to offer. I was able to interact with lots of locals and other students and make meaningful connections in the least likely of locations. Additionally, with my student ID, I was able to freely travel on all buses within the greater Luneburg area, and all regional trains within greater Lower Saxony state, the state that Luneburg is in. This makes the Baltic Sea, North Sea, Hamburg, Bremen, Hannover, and other nearby cities accessible via train at no cost. There were many days my friends and I would get out of class and take a train to Hamburg to eat dinner and explore, just because we could. Even though I didn’t have a car, that did not prohibit me from seeing nearby towns and cities. Germany’s highly sophisticated and punctual (most of the time) public transportation system is a staple of German culture, especially in regards to their sustainable and eco-conscious outlook. Trains are one of the things I miss the most about Germany.
I had the privilege of living with a host family. They were the most caring and kind people I had ever met – a husband, wife, and two daughters (16 and 14). They made it feel like my home away from home. By the end of it, I was calling them my “family,” not my “host family.” The cultural and language exchange I experienced with them was a highlight of the trip. They took me to the places where they grew up. They showed me German traditions, especially around the holidays. They fed me authentic German food, all of which was delicious. They let me practice my German and encouraged me every time I tried (even when I butchered the pronunciations). They created a warm, welcoming atmosphere, even on my birthday, which I was nervous about spending away from my real family. If you have the opportunity to live with a host family while abroad, DO IT!
While there, I was able to travel to 7 different countries – The Netherlands, The U.K., Austria, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Vatican City. I was able to spend full weekends in Berlin, Amsterdam, Rome, Interlaken, Paris, Munich, and Cologne. By either train or plane, I was able to see so much of Europe and just how drastically different each culture is in just a couple hour train ride away. I honestly cannot choose just one of my weekend getaways as my favorite – they were all distinctly marked by differing architecture, sights, culture, language, weather, people, etc. The one that stood out the most, though, was Interlaken, Switzerland. Although most of my travel within Europe consisted of sightseeing in larger cities and capitals of countries, Interlaken was an exception. Nestled between two crystal clear lakes and swallowed by the snow-capped Swiss Alps, this small Swiss town was a dream. Just to give some background, North Germany, where I was primarily staying, was very flat. One of the reasons why I chose Chattanooga as the city to do my undergraduate degree was the mountains and endless hiking opportunities. Although the mountains in Switzerland are exponentially larger compared to Chattanooga, Interlaken made me feel at home. I was able to hike on top of these mountains just as I do in Chattanooga. I went as soon as the Christmas markets started opening up. The Christmas charm juxtaposed with the looming mountains, made me feel like I was on the set of a Hallmark movie.
My time abroad has been the highlight of my life. I was able to see and experience so many new things that I couldn’t possibly tell you all about. I have grown as a person. I am more independent. I am more confident in unfamiliar situations. I unlocked a part of my brain that I never knew existed when I started learning the German language (I took two semesters in just one semester). I have made meaningful connections and relationships that will last a lifetime. It has made me realize how much more there is in the world around me than just Tennessee and the southeast United States, which I have been primarily confined to my entire childhood. I have discovered new passions. I have learned how to embrace a culture. I have opened the doors for so many different opportunities in the future, like going to graduate school in Germany, for example. Studying abroad has made me a better version of myself.
Mallory Anderson (BS Biology, Pre-Professional) spent Fall 2021 studying abroad in Lüneburg, Germany with USAC. Mallory had the following to say about studying abroad, “My time abroad was a truly life changing experience. I am counting down the days until I am back there. Germany will undoubtedly be a large part of my life in the future – that is how much it and this experience means to me.”
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