Where in the World is Miami Wednesday: Germany

Martin and classmates pose in a snowy mountain range with a snowman

By Nicole Richards

Editor's Note: Although Spring 2020 programs were recalled due to the pandemic, this week's "Where in the World is Miami Wednesday" offers a look at a program while it was in progress, as well as a postscript after it ended.

If you are an international student or a student who has a study abroad/away experience to share, look for the link at the bottom of this page!

In this week's, Where in the World is Miami Wednesday, we meet Martin Ganev, a Botany & Sustainability major with a German minor studying Environmental Studies and Sustainability in Germany during Spring 2020 semester. At Miami, Martin is a writing consultant at the Howe Writing Center.

Buildings in Germany

What are you studying with your current program?

On my program, I am studying methods for environmental science, local ecology, and sustainable food, design, and social practices in Freiburg, Germany.

Why did you choose your study abroad program?

Considering my Sustainability co-major and German minor, this program seemed like the perfect fit for me. Freiberg is the 'Green Capital' of Germany, so it's amazing to get to live in a place with such values and sustainable practices. The location of Freiburg is also ideal; right on the edge of the Black Forest, and not too far from the Swiss Alps. The opportunities for hiking and other eco-tourism are very accessible to me here!

Mountain scenery in Germany

What are the coolest places you have visited on your program?

I've only been here for a couple of weeks, but the short hike up the Schlossberg mountain, right outside Freiburg, has stunning views.

What is your favorite part of your program?

The city of Freiburg and the people who live here have made Germany already feel like home. I think it is the perfect city for a program like this!

Multistory buildings in Germany

How has the study abroad experience changed you so far?

The most challenging part of my experience so far has been living with German roommates. This, however, taught me to be more outgoing and try to connect with people who are very different from myself, and it has paid off! I've made new friends while also improving my language skills.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

While six people in the city of Freiburg have been diagnosed with the Coronavirus, I find it surprising how calm and swift the response has been. Hopefully it remains under control in Germany, and all of Europe.

September 2020

Our program program got cancelled exactly two weeks in. There had been rumors going around, but we didn't take them as seriously as we should have. When IES made the decision, most students had only five days to leave the country and get home to the US!

I was fortunate that my parents were working in neighboring Austria for the year. Given that I had no living arrangements in the U.S. and this shut-down was going to last indefinitely, I resolved to join them. My EU citizenship also made remaining in Europe possible.

So, on Saturday, March 14th, I bought a direct flight from Frankfurt to Vienna. It got cancelled and I was re-routed for two days later, March 16, the same day that Austria, Germany, and Switzerland closed their borders to all outsiders. Despite being worried about getting stuck at a border, I carried on with my plans.

Early Monday morning, I took a train from Freiburg to Basel, Switzerland. I took a bus from Basel to the airport, located on the other side of the French border. After a long wait in a creepily empty airport, I boarded a flight for Munich. It was weird, but I was back in Germany for a couple hours. Finally, by about 11pm I landed in Vienna, Austria.

Having crossed four international borders in the midst of an accelerating pandemic, I was more than relieved to meet my dad at the airport, who took me back to my parents' tiny three room rented apartment for a spaghetti dinner and a long deep sleep. It wasn't until the next day that I learned that I had been on the last scheduled flights, and they would not resume for a long time.

The first couple of weeks in Vienna were rough. In the span of only two weeks in Germany, I had met my American peers who all cared deeply (as I did) about sustainability and the environment. I had become close with my German roommates, who took me in and introduced me to a wide range of German-speaking friends. I feared I was never going to see these people again.

It took a while, but my isolated life in Vienna started to grow on me. I reconnected with my parents and we got along surprisingly well, considering we were in a cramped apartment. My brother had also gotten stuck in Vienna, purely by coincidence. He and I would go for long bike rides along the Danube river. I gave myself a mission to visit every park in the city, leading myself to neighborhoods (or Bezierks as they call them) that I never would have seen as a tourist.

We lived in a working class immigrant neighborhood, where the faces on the street quickly grew familiar and after one short conversation, you'd be greeted with "Habibi". I got a sense of how tight-knit the community around us was, and it translated into a serious and responsible reaction to the pandemic. People socially distanced and wore masks with concern for their neighbors, family, and community. There was an understanding that the sooner COVID-19 was under control, the sooner life as normal could resume.

After two months, the new cases basically dropped to zero and things began re-opening. I got to visit Vienna's renowned museums and meet new people face-to-face.

I returned to the U.S. in early June with mixed emotions. I was excited to resume my 'normal' life, but living abroad had offered me new clarity and conviction. I think back to my unplanned hiatus in Vienna fondly as a period of solitary reflection and novel experiences.

Catch us next week as we continue to travel around the world to feature the amazing opportunities that Miami students are taking and the experiences our alumni have had since graduating!

Would you or someone you know want to be featured in a future Where in the World is Miami Wednesday story?

Submit a Story