Guest post by Kourtney Kirton, a Foster senior studying Marketing and Information Systems. Kourtney completed an exchange at WHU in Vallendar, Germany. She is a recipient of the GBC Study Abroad Scholarship, thanks to the generosity of Dr. Dufey.
I arrived in the small town of Vallendar on January 4th, not really knowing what to expect. The town was completely shut down for the holidays, and I was immediately second-guessing my decision to come to this tiny town for five months. Everything was in German! My one-year of the German language at UW was helpful, but was not going to be helpful for understanding the dialect of the region.
Thankfully, that fear did not last very long. The international relations team met with all of the exchange students the next day to go over everything we would be doing in the next couple weeks before classes began. We had a packed schedule! We would be exploring the region, having socials with the German students, and doing activities to get to know the other exchange students better. And it didn’t take long for me to find my group of friends who I still talk to today. The students came from all over – Asia, Europe, South America, Canada, and tons of different universities in the States. We almost immediately started making plans for trips to various places throughout the semester.
Over the five months that I was there, I had the privilege of traveling to various cities across Europe. The list includes: Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Budapest, Prague, Dublin, Munich, Salzburg, Halstatt, and my favorite city, Berlin. I saw hundreds of churches, walked miles and miles exploring beautiful landscapes, but my favorite story comes from that small town of Vallendar. Vallendar is located directly on the Rhine River, and it seems more like a village, having only about 7,000 people living there (5,000 during the summer when school is not in session). I would say that the main attractions would have to be the university and the river.
At the end of the semester, the German students put together a boat cruise down the Rhine to celebrate the end of the school year and give everyone a chance to be together for the last time before we all went our separate ways for summer. Being exchange students, we knew this would probably be the last time we saw many of our classmates and friends. That night was the best night of my entire study abroad trip. I realized that I had made so many connections with people at WHU that it was going to be incredibly difficult for me to return to Seattle and go back to normal life at UW. As we cruised down the river, we watched the sunset over the castles on the hills, and danced with each other like no one was watching. It was a bittersweet end to my semester, and I truly believe that it was thanks to WHU, the friends I saw every day for five months, and the memories we made that this was hands down the best time of my life.