2018 was a big year filled with new friends and new experiences. I spent roughly 4 months from this year in Australia, and the other 8 months were spent travelling abroad.
At the end of January, I left Australia to fulfil my long term goal of going on a university exchange. Ever since returning from a 12 month exchange in Germany at the age of 17, I knew I wanted to return for another significant period of time. This was one of my main reasons for choosing further study, and it has been my best university experience so far. I chose to study at the University of Konstanz in southern Germany for six months. My first stop, however, was Klagenfurt, Austria where I visited my Austrian host sister, Alex for the first time since she had left Australia.
Little did I know, that the region am Wöthersee and a little mountain called Techelsberg would become so important to me. Alex’s family welcomed me with open arms and I had never experienced living anywhere surrounded by so much natural beauty before. I don’t believe I understood what real mountains were until I saw the breath-taking alps at her doorstep, not to mention the view out onto the bright blue lake laying at their feet. Walking the dog through the picturesque woods soon became part of my daily routine. Following that first two week visit, I would made a further two trips to my new mountain home throughout my six months abroad.
Next stop: Flensburg, my host city throughout my Rotary Youth Exchange in 2014. This was my third trip back to Flensburg and northern Germany and I am so lucky to have maintained a good relationship with several of my host families. In February, I stayed another two weeks in Flensburg with my third host family during which I also visited the cities of Lübeck and Berlin.
I stayed in Lübeck with a friend from the USA whom I met during my exchange in Flensburg. We spent a few days together travelling locally and catching up on the four years which had passed since we’d last seen each other.
I also had the opportunity to travel to Berlin with my host Mum who was attending a conference. She kindly let me stay with her in her hotel room and I had a whole day to explore the city by myself. The maximum temperature turned out to be -5 degrees, so while I did plenty of walking, I also tried to keep warm by several museums.
By the end of February, it was finally time to discover what awaited me at university in Konstanz.
Konstanz is a border city, located on the Swiss-German border. It is situated on Lake Constance (Bodensee), which shares its shores with Austria and Switzerland. For this reason, it was an ideal location for me to explore more of the German-speaking world. The university in Konstanz is relatively young, being founded in the 1960s, and students make up a significant amount of the city population. Konstanz is also located in one of the most sunny regions in Germany, and therefore is home to many tourists during summer who enjoy activities such as swimming and sailing.
My first month in Konstanz was spent completing a German language course before the semester began. This allowed me to brush up on some German as well as meet other international students and participate in a variety of excursions to neighbouring regions. This month was particularly important in helping find my bearings and get to know the city. Through excursions such as this I also met some of my new closest friends.
From the walking through the snow in winter, to living in a sought after holiday destination in summer, Konstanz is beautiful throughout every season. I lived in an apartment located on banks of the river Rhine, just before it flows into Lake Constance itself. This location could not have been more convenient, being only a 20 minute bus ride to the university and a 15 minute walk to the old city centre or the lake’s shores and only 5 mins away from 3 big supermarkets.
After the completion of the language course at the end of March, I had two weeks of holidays at the beginning of April. I used this opportunity to visit my brother, Campbell, who was also on exchange in the Netherlands. We spent a week together living with one of his host families, and explored a new dutch city together everyday. Suddenly, my little brother was all grown up and I had to rely on him to show me around! The highlight of our time together was seeing our favourite band, The Wombats, play live.
During the second week of the April holidays, I returned to Austria and experienced the magic of living on my favourite mountain in spring. Klagenfurt is situated in a region where three countries meet, and Alex’s family and I even took a day trip to Italy and Slovenia.
In June, I was provided with the perfect opportunity to visit Switzerland. The conductor of the choir I am a member of in Australia and his wife were on holiday there for eight weeks and invited me to come and stay. Again, we lived on a farm in an alpine village nearby the city of Thun, and had a grand time exploring the region together. I especially exploring the mountainous regions and our journey up to a Ski village nestled among the highest Swiss peaks.
Summer, however, is when the city of Konstanz truly comes alive. On a sunny day throughout June/July, the lake was full of sail boats and people swimming. Even people in swimsuits sun baking all along the banks of the Rhine, despite there not being a grain of sand in sight . The city was also full of tourists eating ice cream and looking for souvenirs. The number of bikes riding through the streets doubled and pedestrians had to take care.
In July, towards the end of my semester, I was privileged enough to have Campbell, Alex and my boyfriend, Jimmy, come and visit me in Konstanz for two weeks around my birthday. I knew so many people by this point that it was no problem finding a place for everyone to stay, and only one night did we have to all pack into my tiny student apartment. They were some of the best weeks of my exchange, as the sun was shining and I had spent enough time in Konstanz to show everyone around like a local. The highlight of the month was spending my birthday with all my visitors and new friends. I celebrated with an afternoon picnic on the edge of the lake where we could all hang out and swim together.
At the end of July, it was time to return to Australia and commence my second semester of university for the year. Studying in Konstanz helped me to realise where my true academic interests lie, and I decided to stop doing a double degree and instead focus on my language studies. Finally everything clicked for me, I enjoyed every one of my subjects and it turned out to be my best semester academically so far.
Studying in Konstanz also helped me to learn some valuable life skills, namely through living independently in my own student apartment. For the first time, I was responsible for budgeting my own money, buying all my groceries and being a contributing member of a share house. Achieving this level of independence while abroad was one of my most proud achievements and returning to live with my parents was definitely an adjustment. However, it has given me the confidence that I will also be capable of living independently in Australia in the near future.
It was then not long before I was to head off on my second trip overseas for the year, this time with the rest of my family. We left at the end of November, and our main goals were to visit Campbell in the Netherlands and then spend Christmas in Austria with my host sister, Alex. We were on the road for six weeks in total, starting in London and then making our way to Klagenfurt. I had to learn to travel as part of a group again and get used to making group decisions, but am definitely very fortunate to have had the opportunity to return to Europe so soon after I had left. I was even able to travel independently from Paris to Nantes and Bordeaux, to visit a dear German friend of mine, Lucia, whom I originally met at university in Konstanz. She was completing her semester on exchange there.
Celebrating Christmas in Austria was indeed very special. In almost every city we visited there was a Christmas market, where handmade decorations and mulled wine were abundant. As the days got progressively darker and colder, I definitely enjoyed the warm and cosy atmosphere which accompanies a European Christmas, and celebrating along with my Austrian family this year was a memory I will treasure.
My parents and sister flew back to Australia at the end of December, while after a short trip to the USA (more on that later), I chose to spend the remainder of my university break with Alex and her family at my little mountain home. I am forever grateful to Alex, who over this year has become like a sister to me, and her father and sister for allowing me to stay with them for so long. Leaving this time will be difficult, as there are no fixed plans for when we will see each other again (Please come back to Australia!).
While this year of travel has been incredible and I am eternally grateful for it, strangely, I am looking forward to returning to a more normal pace of life back home. Next year, I am excited to complete my undergraduate degree and start work, as well move out of home and put into practice some of those life skills I have learnt. Furthermore, although I have finished my formal education for the foreseeable future, I am even more excited to continue learning for the joy of it. I am excited to find out what new lessons this year will bring and I’ve already got a long list of books to read, goals to fulfil and craft projects in the works.