Grapes, Ochre, and Villages in the Provence Countryside

After many months of being completely distracted by… well, life, I’m finally going through my travel journals and converting scribbles into coherent stories that actually make sense to other humans. Seems that where I left off was my trip to France in the summer of 2016.

During my time abroad in Northern Ireland, I made friends with some German students as well as some French students. Two years on, some of my German friends decided we should road trip to France to meet up with our French friends. This is how I ended up in the back seat of a rather large rental vehicle surrounded by three German men and drinking a bit of wine to cope with the insanity of the situation.

It was a good thing that I drank early and slept well, because in the wee hours of the morning it fell to the American, the only one with significant experience on long-distance driving overnight, to take us the last couple of the hours to our destination. Turns out those years of driving between Missouri and Virginia in one straight shot really paid off!

Anyway, the three Musketeers and I arrived at the home of one of our friends somewhere between 4am and 5am. Our French friends kindly let us in and helped us get settled before we all passed out for a few hours. I probably should have drank more wine after that to help me sleep, because I only managed to sleep an additional two to three hours before I was up and running around. After everyone woke and had breakfast, we had our first adventure in the August sun of Southern France.

Avignon: A Pope’s Home Away from Rome

I was only just getting my whits about me when we pulled into a parking space in Avignon. We pasty white people slapped on some sun screen before heading into the heart of the town.

Exterior Papal Palace

After a light lunch, we started exploring. The first place we stopped by was the Palais des Papes, or the Papal Palace. Construction of the palace began in 1252 CE, but it wasn’t until 1309 that it became the residence of the popes and seat of Western Christianity. Avignon remained the papal home until 1364.

The Papal Palace is actually quite a massive thing. We walked to the chapel entrance, and decided to go inside for a few minutes. I was so glad we did, as the August heat was getting to be quite intense around mid-day, and the chapel was incredibly cool and relaxing. Pro tip: Always go in the church if it’s summer and you’re in a hot place. The cool stones keep the heat out. And yes, it took me going to Southern France in August to figure this out!

Interior Papal Palace

Interior Papal Palace

After we left the chapel, we wandered the streets, stopped for ice cream which was very hard to order since I don’t speak a lick of French, and eventually meandered towards the river.



At the the Rhône, we found Pont Saint-Bénézet. This bridge was originally constructed in the late 1100s. The bridge was later destroyed in war, rebuilt, and destroyed some more when the floods came. Eventually they decided to give up on the bridge, so now only half a bridge stands across the river. Talk about infrastructure problems…

Half-Bridge in Avignon

Now, this useless bit of stones serves as a tourist attraction for people like me and the Germans. I can only imagine how annoying it must be for the poor locals to have half a bridge that everyone who visits is so amazed by for some reason. After we walked around on the bridge, we decided to buy some groceries and call it a day.

Two French Villages: Roussillon & Gordes

Our next day’s adventure was to the village nearest to us: Roussillon. We walked through the fields of grape vines under the incredibly hot French summer sun before making the march up the hill into the village.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but the whole place seemed to me to be a quintessential French village of southern France. Stone shops and houses, grape vines growing on buildings, local artists, wine cellars, and of course, bakeries.

French Vinyards


Although the village itself is cute, our first stop in the village was more… geological. Right at the edge of the village you can pay a small fee to enter onto the ochre trail. Ochre is an orange-ish pigment found in the clay deposits of the soil there. In the past, the village people made their living mining the pigment and processing it to be used in a variety of industries. Today, you can take a short walk through the mine area and feel like you’re on Mars.

Les Ochres in Roussillon

Les Ochres in Roussillon

After that we filled our water bottles and headed off to explore the village some more. We wandered through an antiquated cemetery, bought a bottle of local wine, watched an artist at work, and stole moments in the shade of the grape vines and sparse trees.

Later in the afternoon we ventured back to our little vacation home and took a nap to escape the summer heat. Very necessary.

We roused ourselves in the evening so that we could make it to another village in time for the sunset. Gordes is a quite popular village in the area, and with good reason. I have heard it argued that Gordes is one of the most beautiful places to visit in southern France. Sitting on a rocky outcrop facing the village is one of the best ways to enjoy the golden light of a sunset, and walking through the narrow cobble-stone streets is a bit like stepping into a French fairy-tale land.



Now that I’ve done a bit of research into the village, I see that there is quite a bit of history in the small place, although we mostly just enjoyed wandering around and made a quick stop into a historic-looking church.


If you’re in the area, I would definitely recommend stopping by here.


Germany Thus Far: One Year

One year is a long time to be abroad; however, it does not feel like it has been so long. Thinking back over this past year, I’ve done a lot. I’ve climbed mountains, literally and figuratively, since I first arrived.

First Alps

Let’s break down some of this year’s events:

  • I navigated German bureaucracy (eek!) and received my residence permit.
  • I traveled to Ulm, Kempten, and around other parts of southern Germany.
  • I explored Prague, Czech Republic and southern France.
  • I saw the Alps for the first time. Then I climbed them. Oh, how I loved that.
  • I continually got to know my new home city of Konstanz. I have to admit it’s pretty cute for a German college town.
  • I celebrated holidays with traditions that baffled me. (See Christmas…).
  • I went sledding “for real.” Yes, there is a proper way to do it.
  • I attended the international wedding of two amazing friends I met in Belfast. *Insert warm fuzzies here.*
  • I started learning German and have made some considerable progress for someone who did not speak it upon arrival. Although, I have to say that my Denglish is much better.
  • I have become fairly used to life in Germany. That is, I’m not as awkward about Bretzeln, the Autobahn, interacting with Germans, or any of that other typical German stuff. Note that I said “not as awkward.”
  • Last but not least, I survived my first year of graduate school in Germany. Hurrah!

First Hike View

Somewhere in between residence permit paperwork and looking at the Alps across the Bodensee, I finally started to integrate. Going to the grocery store isn’t scary now. I watch some shows on ZDF alongside Netflix. I even got used addicted to the sparkling water that the Germans love so much. Seriously you guys, I cannot get enough of it.

I realize that as time goes on, most people I interact with are German, as opposed to my previous study abroad experiences where I mostly interacted with other international students. At the same time, I talk less and less to most friends in the States. To be honest, I’m okay with that.


You see, moving to Germany and making it so far was not just a transition from the States to Germany. It was a transition in lifestyles and goals. Therefore, it is natural that some friendships fade and others blossom. I never felt that American, and I especially felt increasingly disconnected after my two previous experiences abroad. I feel really disconnected from most American now, geographically and ideologically.

Don’t understand? I am from Missouri, a red state, yet I am extremely far-left. I’d say I’m further left than most Americans on most, but not all, issues. So not only am I half-way around the world, but I also find it hard to agree with my fellow citizens on policy. Most of these ideas have been shaped by what I have experienced during my travels to several countries, in addition to my studies. I think I speak for many millennial expats when I say that we simply don’t know why the US doesn’t learn from other countries. Still, I digress…

As time goes on, I wonder how I got certain ideas into my head. For instance, my career goals are entirely different now. I thought that I wanted to work for an organization like the World Bank or International Monetary Fund. I still support a lot of their development initiatives, but I know that working in that type of environment would leave me incredibly unhappy. The sticky bit is that I am still trying to figure out what exactly I will do after I get my degree, but that’s okay. One step at a time.

Finally at the Astronomical Clock!

The funny thing is that since I have been here, my time horizon has shortened dramatically. I focus on one semester at a time, or the duration of one residence permit at most. There is no way to tell how long I will be here, although I hope it will be for much longer than my current residence permit.

Since I am not worrying about time so much, it has been easier to relax. I think a lot of stress in my undergrad career came from thinking about “life after college.” That is such a stressful way to think about a college career. Now my stress comes from “life through these end-of-semester exams.”

Cows in the Mountains

As I’ve stated several times before, this is my third study abroad experience. It’s also the longest time I have ever been away from Missouri and my family. Going home eventually will be nice, but it will only be for a visit. (Sorry, guys!)

I was hooked on travel before I came, and now one might say that I am hooked on living abroad. Here’s to my first year in Germany and many more years of living abroad.

Kosntanz Seenachsfest 2016

Prost and cheers!

I Finally Went to Prague: Part I

Back in May I finally took a long-awaited trip to Praha (Prague), and now I am finally writing about it. I have already talked on this blog about how I have wanted to go to Prague since I was a tiny student in high school, so I will not explain again why this trip was exciting. Instead, I’ll just show you how amazing my trip to Prague was. Since there was a lot packed into this weekend, I will be writing three posts to avoid one super-long blog post.

Prague Clocktower
Prague Clocktower

After arriving and finally finding our hostel, we set out to explore the city. The first thing I wanted to see, and arguably the reason that I have wanted to go to Prague for so long, was the Astronomical Clock.

Astronomical Clock in Prague
The Astronomical Clock in Prague

This clock dates back to the 1400s and consists of the astronomical dial (the top one), a dial with the calendar on it (the bottom one), two windows at the top from which wooden figures appear and other figures on either side of the dials.

Every hour the clock chimes and wooden figures of apostales come out of the doors. Several of the statues by the dials move, my favorite being the skeleton meant to represent death. Don’t ask what that says about me as a person! Oh, and the golden bird at the top flaps its wings. If you want to get a better idea of all the moving parts, you can find a lot of examples on, where else, Youtube.

Finally at the Astronomical Clock!

Anyway, one of the main reasons for this trip to happen on the particular weekend that it did was because there were students from my undergraduate univerisity spending a May Term in Prague. One of those students is a very good friend of mine who I had not seen since my own graduation day in 2015. Meeting up with her for dinner and hearing all the gossip news from my alma mater was entertaining and refreshing.

So on to the next day! Right down to exploring, as usual. You know I could not resist Charles Bridge right away. The river was calming to be near, and I didn’t feel so claustrophobic like I did in the narrow streets and alleys of Old Town.

Prague Bridges

The medieval-looking bridge on the left is KarlMánesův Most (Mánes Brige). I used both bridges more than once to cross the Vltava River. No idea how any of it is pronounced as I only ever used maps and signs to figure out where I was, and I don’t speak Czech.

While we’re talking about language, you should know that it was no problem getting by in Prague. Just about everyone spoke quite understandable English. However, I will say that while this is the case for many international cities like Prague, it is not the same in villages or smaller cities. I’m looking at you particular Americans who think that everyone in the world (except for Mexicans apparently?) should and does speak English in addition to their native language.

Stereotypes aside, let us continue across the bridge. Over the river you can find more jaw-dropping architecture, touristy shops, and delightful foods. One of those delightful foods that can be found throughout Prague is trdelník.


Trdelník is essentially pastry dough wrapped on thick rods, covered in sugar or cinnamon sugar, and toasted to perfection. Then, the baker slides them off the end and serves them up. Both street vendors and shops made them for take-away. Some places even shoveled fresh fruit or ice cream into the middle. My favorite was to get it with melted chocolate coating the inside. I may have eaten more than one trdelník to savor its many varieties.

Now that I have your mouth watering, I’ll leave you with these happy thoughts of astronomical clocks, bridges and pastries from Prague. Stay tuned for parts II and III.



Germany Thus Far: Half a Year In…

That’s right. Half a year. Six months. In honor of that stunning amount of time, I wanted to write an extended “Germany Thus Far” post. Just to warn you, this post is more reflective than it is story-telling.

*  *  *

Sitting on the ferry a few days ago, I looked out at the mountains. They’re still snow-covered even though daffodils and an assortment of other flowers are popping up all over Konstanz. I was listening to a podcast discuss reactions to the recent terrorism in Brussels. A sound clip of Obama’s reaction played.

“I understand, when we see the sight of these kinds of attacks, our hearts bleed because we know that could be our children.  That could be our family members or our friends or our coworkers who travel to a place like Brussels.  And it scares the American people.  And it horrifies me.  I’ve got two young daughters who are growing up a little too fast, and I want them to have the freedom to move and to travel around the world without the possibility that they’d be killed.”

Barack Obama, 23 March 2016

For some reason, I had a knee-jerk reaction to his comments. I immediately wanted to respond to him, to tell him that the “possibility” of which he speaks doesn’t matter. I have a grandmother who especially worries a lot. However, no matter how much she, or the rest of my family, or my friends, or anyone else worries, I’m not going to go back to the States.

If we allow ourselves to live in fear of the “possibilities,” then we will never experience the world. I for one would not feel fulfilled if I were not where I am today. This fear that leads us to restrict ourselves, to be isolationists, is exactly what the terrorists want us to feel. By giving in, they win. If anything, I will stay here in Europe just to stubbornly defy the wishes of terrorists.

This fear that people have about terrorist attacks, Syrian refugees, Muslims in general… It’s ridiculous. Statistically speaking, since 9/11 only three refugees in the United States have been arrested on terrorism charges, and no refugees have been successful with terrorist plots. Want more statistics? I am more likely to be killed in a car accident back in Missouri than I am to be killed by terrorists here in Europe.

My point is this: Fear cannot control our actions. I have not let it control my choice to move to and stay in Germany. I didn’t let fear hold me back from studying in Northern Ireland. I didn’t let fear hold me back from spending May Term in Mexico.

Going back even further, my 18-year-old self didn’t let fear hold me back from moving half-way across the country for college, to a state where I knew no one. When I think back over all of my accomplishments and challenges in life, I realize that while I may have been worried or even terrified, I never chose not to do something because of fear.

That’s when it hit me.

*  *  *

Ever since I came to Germany I have been stressed about one thing or another. How am I going to manage this presentation? Will these student loans ever defer? Will I ever understand German? Will I get the money I need for my second year’s residence permit? Why am I not understanding x political theory? What happens if I fail? What happens if I decide this isn’t for me?

So many questions and not enough answers. I worry all the time that something will not work out. I do not want to have to go back to the United States, and I do not want to look like a failure. When I was thinking about how stupid it is to be afraid to travel based on the rare chance one might be killed in a terrorist attack, I realized how much of a hypocrite I am.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter what happens with graduate school. Yes, there are consequences and outcomes to my actions, but in the end, life goes on.

So what if I get sent back to the States? It’s not a death sentence. I could just work three jobs at the same time again (or one higher-paying job), and then return to finish the program, albeit late. Sure, I might be pretty unhappy about having to leave, but I’d have the possibility to return.

So what if I decide graduate school isn’t for me? I have my days, but so far I am sticking with it. A lot of the reason is I feel like I’m not good enough to be here. It takes daily reminders to myself to remember that I’m here mainly because I worked hard to be here, not because I was lucky (though I’m sure luck and white privilege were also factors). I did get accepted, not rejected, into the program after all.

So what if I fail? While wonderful friends can reassure me as often as they want that I will not fail, I very well could. I could keep letting impostor syndrome tell me that I will never understand these theories. It could be the case that I bit off more than I can chew with this particular educational path. But so what? Graduate school is hard. People fail sometimes. At the end of the day, I still have a Bachelor’s degree and a set of passions that I could apply to earn a living.

I have been so busy worrying about all the “what if’s” in my life that I’ve managed to allow myself to have, hands down, the worst semester of my academic career. If I were to apply the same fearless approach I have towards living abroad to the other parts of my life here in Germany, then I’d be a lot better off.

*  *  *

If you’ve been following along on this blog, you’ll recall that I counted ordering what I wanted at the bakery as a victory. There are a lot of little things here that are more difficult because there’s a different language, or a different set of residence laws, or a different education system. Even the things I find easy in Missouri become difficult when I try to do them in Germany. If the easy things are hard, try imagining how much more difficult the hard things are.

Still, as I think back over these first six months, I know that things wouldn’t be nearly as difficult if I were to just overcome my hesitation. I need to use the same bravery that I have walking up to the edge of a cliff to start chucking out some (most definitely horrible) German sentences.

To be honest, whether I fail graduate school or not, I think that my most critical concern with being in Germany is whether or not I can learn the language and get along in everyday life.

So far I’ve managed to get along at bakeries, grocery stores, public transportation, restaurants, etc. I also found a part-time job to help with the financial worries. I have even managed to do alright with socializing while at a table full of Germans. I think I have the basics all together, I just need to start applying speaking German to all of these situations.

I know it takes time, but I’m so impatient. I just want to be able to speak German, you know, effortlessly and without hard work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Instead, I’m stuck reminding myself that I have to stop being afraid to speak horrible German. To begin, let’s see how many times I can confuse der, die, and das in one day….

*  *  *

In reflecting on these past six months, I’ve done a lot of really cool things. I went sledding down a mountain. I climbed to the top of a really tall church. I went hiking in the Alps. I adjusted to living in a city older than my home country’s government. I celebrated holidays new to me, and different to me. If ten years ago someone would have told me I would be doing these things, I’d have laughed.


While all these things are great (and I mean epic!), I have to think back about why I originally decided to come here. I came for the education, of course. I also came to Germany because I want to actively live the globally-oriented life I was fostering at my undergraduate college for four years. Professionally, I wanted to gain experience living abroad and grow a network in Europe. These are compelling reasons, but there’s something deeper when I really think about my motivation.

I didn’t want to take the safe, steady route after I graduated. I didn’t want to just settle for a “real job” in the States. I didn’t want to make myself work at a secure job with retirement benefits just to pay off my student loans and have the promise of “someday I’ll travel.”

Instead, I chose to seize the moment. I put all of my energy into graduate school applications and never even looked at a job ad. When I found out I was accepted, I put all my time into working summer jobs to finance my time here. At the end of the summer, I put all of my financial resources into the big move. In other words, I went all in.

Along with the guidance and unwavering support of friends and family, I’ve managed to move abroad successfully. Regardless of what happens, I’ll always have some great experiences to remember and stories to share for the rest of my life. I’ll always know that I broke down some pretty daunting barriers to make “the German graduate school dream” happen.

*  *  *

It was winter last year, when sitting on my bed I looked over some program requirements. “This is it,” I thought. The University of Konstanz. For a moment, my breath caught and the world stood still. This one felt right.

I checked the admission requirements, and I fit them all. I looked the city up on a map. Approving of the location, I went to the two professors I most trusted and asked their opinions on the program. Hearing that they both thought it seemed to be a good fit for me, I started my application.

I can pinpoint several pivotal moments in my life. At the time, none of those moments seemed particularly special. I simply made decisions, not knowing how life-altering they would be. The moment that I decided to come to Germany I had an inkling that I may be off my rocker, but I seized the moment and went for it anyway.

To my Baldwin sisters who are graduating in less than two months, I hope you find your own moments. To all of the other wonderful people in my life who are undergoing incredible changes, stand by your moment. Go all in. It’s worth it.


Germany Thus Far

Before I dig into the substance of this post, I need to give a shout out to my incredibly determined Aunt Kara. Kara decided to go back to school and recently passed her TEAS Test. Now she has been admitted into a nursing school program that she’s been working towards for a little over a year now. Congratulations!

Now, I’ll celebrate a little bit more because today is the one month mark of my time in Germany! I’ve survived! To note the milestones and adventures I have living here, I’ve decided to write one post every month summing up what it is that I’ve been doing.


I arrived at the Munich airport before doing a bit of travel around southern Germany. I’ve climbed the tallest church in the world at Ulm. I’ve been exploring all over the city of Konstanz, my new home. I’ve also traveled to Kempten, and south from there towards the Austrian border.

For the most part, I’ve been staying put as I’m adjusting to my new life here in Germany. As the Christmas Market season kicks off, you can bet I’ll be heading back to Ulm for the biggest Christmas Market in the south, as well as visiting others around the south of Germany, and perhaps even beyond Germany.

Ulmer Münster


I completed orientation this month and started my Master’s degree in Political Economy at Konstanz Universität. I’m taking four classes for my program, and two German classes. I’ve also, as of this morning, conquered my first presentation and paper for a graduate course.


Alongside my uni studies, I’m learning German. The status update on my language skills is that they are still basically nonexistent. I’m working at learning German bit by bit every day. I am happy to report that after running into a lot of doors, I’ve finally learned that drücken means “push,” and ziehen means “pull.” I’m counting this as progress. I suppose it is also progress that I successfully asked the pharmacist to get me some cold medicine last week, and I also have ordered at a bakery all by myself twice now!


On top of all these things I’ve done and accomplished this month, I was able to attend the graduation of some of my friends this past Friday. So, congratulations to my German friends for graduating from Hochschule Kempten (Kempten University of Applied Sciences). It’s strange to think that a year ago we were all studying in Northern Ireland together.