Well, Erich and I are off to Bilbao, Spain today. He's going for work, and I'm going because I can. I'm really looking forward to it, but I haven't done a lot to prepare. I plan on reading the guidebooks on the way there. This will be my fourth time in Europe, and it's starting to feel just slightly routine. Looking back, I'm really proud of my international travels, and I owe it all to my extremely generous and supportive parents. Thanks, Mom and Dad!
My first time overseas was two and a half weeks in France during my senior year of high school. I stayed with a family (their daughter had stayed with my family a few weeks before), and it was such a wonderful experience. I was in a suburb of Paris and my school group went in to the city at least six full days, I think, often with some free time for us to explore. It was my first time really getting to know a city, and I may still be able to say that I know Paris better than I know Chicago. During that trip, we also toured Chateau country. I lived the French life and had some wonderful, home-cooked French and Vietnamese food (my French mom was Vietnamese), and needless to say, my French language skills improved by leaps and bounds in those few weeks.
The exchange program got me totally hooked on Europe. I felt certain I would return in college. I knew Valpo had many overseas programs, and in the beginning I thought most seriously about the study center in Cambridge, England but gradually forgot about it. During my sophomore year, one of my friends mentioned going to Reutlingen, Germany and I immediately got very excited. I knew I had to go. Within a few weeks I applied and was accepted to spend the following fall semester in Reutlingen. For sixteen weeks, I had classes four days a week, traveled around the continent most weekends on a Eurail pass, took organ lessons at a school for church music in a neighboring town, and lived the college life...in Germany! The whole experience had its challenges, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.
The following spring semester, I was fortunate enough to travel to Germany again with my college choir, the VU Chorale. Not only did I get to return so soon to the country I had gotten to know and like, but I also got to sing with a phenomenal choir in some really significant and beautiful places, including Thomaskirche in Leipzig (the church of J.S. Bach), the Schlosskirche (a.k.a. Castle Church, a.k.a. place of Luther's 95 Theses) in Wittenberg, and the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedaechtniskirche in Berlin. And this really awesome and cute guy from Valpo in the Reutlingen program came up to hear us sing and I hung out with him. He, sadly, had a girlfriend, but I still ended up marrying him. :)
Yes, I have been very fortunate in my travels. I'm so happy to be going to Europe again. I've never been to Spain and I don't know any Spanish, and because of my past experiences, that doesn't make me nervous in the least. I can't wait to experience Bilbao and write all about it when I get back!