Just when I thought my first-year adventures were finished, I was proven wrong. Instead, the sense of wonder and naiveté of first year continued with me on my six-week study abroad experience in Stuttgart, Germany this spring. As with any academic semester, I uncovered and tested my capabilities but I also had the opportunity to slow down and better notice my surroundings – a factor that was absent in my first eight months. During this introspective period, I realized that both my surroundings and my courses exhibited a few powerful juxtapositions.
The well-established Stuttgart automotive industry nestled in the verdant hills of Southern Germany is the first contrast that can be noticed. Nicknamed “the cradle of the automobile,” Stuttgart is simultaneously a leading advocate for environmental sustainability. In my classes I was able to analyze case studies and visit automotive giants such as Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Bosch. Looking back at my journal entries, I recall that I shuttered from awe after hearing the routine pounding of robots that stamped out metal pieces in the press shop. Previously not a car fanatic, I gained a newfound appreciation after viewing the maximized efficiency in the assembly lines. The backdrop of this industrial clockwork is composed of the lush, vineyard-lined, rolling hills of the Stuttgart Valley. The area is unique in that it is a transition region between the Rhine Valley and the Alps. The extensive network of public parks scattered around the city reminded me of my hometown, Vancouver, the only other green city I have lived in. The emphasis on recycling, biodegradable detergents, and sorting of garbage also reminded me of the Earth Friendly movement in Canada.
The second juxtaposition is more personal and was apparent in my selection of courses. On one hand, I was immersing myself in the local culture by taking an introductory German class and living with a homestay family. With a focused lens, I narrowed in on my daily German interactions: greeting the bus driver, purchasing pastries at the local bakery, and asking for menu recommendations. Meanwhile, on the other hand, I was learning about the international economy and worldwide trade in my International Business class. Alongside fifteen other students that came from Mexico, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the USA, I discussed topics such as the state of the European Union, the complexity of Supply Chains, the impact of Foreign Acquisitions, and the value of Economies of Scale. Needless to say, it was interesting to immerse in both the microscopic cultural learning and the macroscopic international business topics concurrently.
Somehow, these two juxtapositions coalesced seamlessly to form my study abroad experience. Although I thought the magic of my first year of university was over, this exchange proved that a change of lifestyle and an adjustment to pace of living can enable a more evocative experience.