Back from Europe…and then some

So it’s been a few weeks since we returned from Europe! Jet lag is completely gone, and everyone has hit the ground running with spring semester. I would have loved to post some pictures, but unfortunately when I tried to upload them, it said that they were too large of files, and while there might a way to remedy this, I am not computer savvy enough to do so. :( But here are some of my final thoughts and reflections:1) WATER! I found both this time and the last time I was in Europe that one of the things I craved the most was a tall glass of ice water. Sounds pretty simple, but it seems almost unheard of in Europe. First, no one put ice in their drinks. Second, any time I would specifically ask for tap water instead of carbonated water, people would look at me like I was crazy. It’s like it doesn’t even occur to them that tap water is drinkable, which I still don’t understand. I drank plenty of it, and it never made me sick.2) The French! Despite how short our time in France was, I am so glad we got to be there for a couple of days. I am never going to believe anyone who says all French are rude again. These were some of the sweetest people I met on this trip! It didn’t fit the usual American perception of the French at all. When I asked one of my host families why we always hear that the French don’t like Americans, they said that it is more that the French don’t like the idea of America as a big superpower, not that they don’t like Americans themselves.3) To kind of piggyback on the last one…languages! On this trip I really discovered just how much I love languages. I was always excited to use my German and French, and I loved the feeling of success I got every time I was able to communicate with someone in another language. It really makes me want to keep learning and working toward becoming fluent.4) The environment! I didn’t realize just how environmentally-conscious Europeans are. Every toilet I used had two buttons for flushing–one for more water and one for less water–and people seemed to be a lot more concerned about recycling. There are a lot more recycling receptacles around and not as many trash cans. Bicycles are also more prevalent, especially in Amsterdam. This is great, but I will say it got a little obnoxious–the bicyclists in Amsterdam show no mercy for anyone or anything in their way–they just fly by!5) Feeling at home! Despite being in five foreign countries for several weeks, I can’t say I ever felt like I was in a completely foreign place. Sometimes language was a barrier–especially in Poland–but it almost felt just like any other vacation in the U.S.: everything looks different, yet somehow I feel the same as I would anywhere else. I never felt too far out of my element or strongly displaced from my own culture. It probably helped that I was traveling with 40+ other Americans, but I’m still surprised at how much I felt at home.I could go on, but those are the highlights. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I will be going back to Europe in April to study abroad in Wuppertal, Germany. So unlike my peers, I am actually not taking classes right now. I will be in Germany until the end of July, so my “summer break” will be during February and March this year. I’ve been filling my days with substitute teaching (not every day–just when I get jobs) and evening with opera rehearsal for “Die Fledermaus.” The opera has been a new challenge for me, as I play a Russian prince (yes, that’s right–a man who sings mezzo-soprano!). But more on that later!