The GoGlobal Blog

Spring Break

Spring Break

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the Spring Break of champions. Over the past week, my roommate and I spent our Spring Break traveling through 4 countries and 6 cities, give or take a few extra pit stops along with way. Many told us it would be impossible and few imagined how we could possibly manage to do it all in one trip, but we persevered and managed to learn something about ourselves, and our study abroad experience, along the way.


We began in the Czech Republic, taking a morning flight into Prague and public transport toward a hillside park next to the city. We enjoyed a walk down the sloping pathways, taking in the gorgeous view of Prague below us before making our way to St. Charles Bridge. We picked up some mulled wine before crossing (think the hot, pumpkin spice-esque cousin to the red wine your parents let you try that one time at dinner) and stopped several times along the way to just take in the view of the river and the city. We tried those now-infamous (thanks to Buzzfeed) donut ice cream cones and spent the afternoon exploring the city before hitting up a local restaurant for some traditional Czech food. Overall, our visit to the beautiful city was a nice post-midterms repose, as well as a peaceful preparation for our next city.

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We came to Krakow for the same reasons as many others: to see a charming small Polish city and to make a pilgrimage to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Our tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau left our hotel early in the morning, and we were driven to the site of Auschwitz I first, spending about an hour and a half there, before we spent another hour at the death camp, Auschwitz II-Birkenau.


I won’t get to into the details in a blog post concerning Spring Break and Study Abroad, as the camp not only deserves to be treated separately from such frivolities but needs its own post and then some, but I will say that visiting Auschwitz is an experience everyone should participate in. It is not so much about trying to mourn for the people lost there, though that is definitely a factor, but about witnessing the place where so many horrors happened so that we accept our faults as a human race and take responsibility for them in the form of proactive movements for a peaceful future. Reading and learning about the atrocities that happened there is one thing, but being in the presence and seeing with your own eyes the hair and belongings of those murdered, the ovens their bodies were burned in, and the places where they were hoarded together like animals, is an unforgettable and awful experience that reminds one of the importance of respect for all people, lest we let ourselves fall into the trap of persecution again.

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As we expected, it seemed out of place for us to do anything truly enjoyable after spending the majority of the day in Auschwitz, but we did our best to still go out and be present in Krakow while we could. We were glad we did so, because the area really is quite endearing. The little town square as a market that runs through the center of it, and there we found all manner of trinkets and goods. We ate some pirogies and a classic polish stew for dinner, followed by chocolates from a local chocolatier. All were delicious and enjoyable, but we still ended our evening a bit early so that we could reflect on the days events and process everything that we saw.


From Krakow we went on to Warsaw, the “Phoenix City” that rebuilt itself from the ashes. This could be seen plainly, as the typical European old-towns and quaint squares were in a rather confined area, with more modern and new buildings taking up a lot of space. This was both a little off-putting and refreshing, as we had yet to encounter anything like it in Europe. The highlight of Warsaw was the Chopin museum. Neither I nor my traveling companion particularly favor classical music or any specific composers, nor do we consider ourselves frequent museum visitors, but the Chopin museum was truly the best. It was high tech, interactive, and very informative! We ended up spending a good few hours wandering around and listening to Chopin’s famous works, and that experience made our time in his home country much better!


We traveled next to Berlin, Germany. We arrived late, following a mishap with our bus (we didn’t miss it, it never showed up), and were starting to get a little tired from our travels. We therefore sucked up our “travelers, not tourists” pride and succumbed to the 24 hour hop on/hop off double-decker bus tour. The guided tour was pretty cheesy, but it ended up being a great time! We got to relax and see everything we wanted to see while getting around the city fairly easily, which ended up leaving us with more time to explore on our own and get the feel of the city itself. Sometimes doing the tourist thing isn’t so bad.


We were back on our own when we went to Hamburg. This visit was an odd one. I had been pretty set on getting a hamburger in Hamburg, much to the chagrin of my roommate, and so that was one of my main goals for the trip, besides wandering around the city. Though our day did culminate in my long-awaited burger, which was honestly one of the best I’ve had in my life, we were surprised to find a random hidden gem near the river. Miniatur Wunderland, a huge indoor train and diorama, was one of the strangest and coolest things I’ve ever gone to see. An entire floor of a building was set aside for the expansive dioramas, which included Las Vegas, Hamburg, a fully functioning mini-airport, and much more! We felt like little kids running around and seeing all the little details put into the large models, which made for a pretty awesome afternoon.

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Following Hamburg, we made our final stop of our epic Spring Break in Geneva, Switzerland. I’m not going to lie, we came to Switzerland for the chocolate and Switzerland was happy to deliver. We walked around to several different shops and tried at least one piece of chocolate at each. Along the way, we stopped to see the Jet D’eau (a giant stream of water that seems like a dumb attraction until it goes off and you realize how large it actually is and it suddenly becomes really cool), the Opera House, and the United Nations Office. We also took a spur of the moment train to Montreux, about an hour away and on the other side of Lake Geneva. Montreux was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and that’s really all I can say about it. It was simply stunning.


Though it was a bit sad to leave the fun and the incredible sights along our trip, we were happy to make it back to Rome. Nine days of travel is tiring. I love my roommate and she is one of my closest friends, but being away from the JFRC and only having her to talk to could be a little frustrating – not because we ever had difficulty continuing conversation, but because she was literally the only person I had to talk to for 9 days who shared my nationality and mother tongue. This doesn’t sound like much of an issue, but even in a short time it can be a very strange situation.

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We also managed to pull through some tough situations. I spent a night and a nap at a corner table in a McDonald’s of the Warsaw train station (remember that bus that didn’t show up?) and slept on the floor of the Geneva airport along with other travelers who had early flights. We dealt with barriers with four different languages. We had to figure out public transport in three foreign countries for four different cities. We used four separate currencies, and had to adapt quickly as we moved rather frequently from place to place. All of this in just nine days was a lot to handle, but even while away from Rome it highlighted something important about our abroad experience: it is not all fun and games.

Studying abroad is an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding experience, but it’s also extremely challenging. Picking yourself out of one culture/city/country/continent and putting yourself into another for an extended period is hard. Language barriers, cultural differences, and homesickness are all roadblocks to be encountered. Interacting with new people, places, and circumstances is, more often than not, awkward and frustrating. However, the feeling of tackling these obstacles and learning to find yourself and your place in a new environment is unlike anything else. The happiness we felt upon successfully making our return to Rome, having completed an intense nine days of travel and enjoyed every second of it regardless of any minor mishap or confusion or awkward situation, was unparalleled. The bumps in the road have made me a stronger, more prepared person, and ultimately, I think that’s the entire reason why one should study abroad in the first place: to get lost amidst new places and find yourself along the way.

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If you want to watch a video of our travels, click here.

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