The Netherlands and Germany: Horses, castles, and pizza edition

I spent 9 days in Germany and The Netherlands learning about culture, history, and most importantly the different types of equine management systems. Throughout the entire trip, there were a few things that stood out to me: the importance of family, history, and expectance of differences.

From my overall experience abroad I realized that experience leads the example. By that I mean that as well as America does a lot of things, there is always something that can be improved. The main focus of our trip was on equine management and the differences between America and Europe.  However, I learned so much more. Everything is loaded with history. From their roads, to the forests, and even the buildings that house modern stores. With history came stories and every story I heard about why a farmer did this, or why a business man moved his company; they all related back to his or her family. Comparing to our American way, we prioritize so many valueless events, clubs, sports, and even work over family. It has become such an ‘epidemic’, family has lost it’s value to us. Looking at it now, to them, family is their history. It is the basis of so many small reasons why things are the way they are today. Everything has a history and that was represented in each facility we visited.  We visited facilities that ranged from a commercial sport horse production to an equine dairy to the state riding school of Germany. The variety in the facilities gave everyone on the trip a new perspective on the simplest of things.

As far as assumptions go, I went abroad for the first time the summer before I began at Ohio State University (OSU). At that time I had no idea what to expect before going abroad. I kept an open mind so I could experience everything. This trip was more of a touristy type than an education abroad. We were blessed to be in cities that had signs in multiple languages as well as many of the places we visited had guides that spoke English. This led me to assume that everywhere would be like this when I went abroad my second time. I did not even consider the thought that most people did not speak English. When I realized this, I was also equally as surprised by how determined everyone was to communicate with us regardless of the language barrier. We arrived late in Warendorf, Germany one night and had to find a place to eat before everything closed. After locating a pizza place nearby we headed there to grab food since we were stuck in traffic for longer than hoped. Upon walking in we realized the place was packed, and not a soul spoke English. At first part of my group was going to leave since there was no seating. Then before we could get out the door a family in the corner pulled one of  their tables away and gave us chairs, forcing them to squeeze into the booth. We tried to object, but they would not have it. I was used to waiting long times, or even leaving restaurants if the place was packed, but this family gave up seating so we could sit together. It was one of the nicest gestures I have ever received from a stranger. While we were ordering we had to be creative. Without speaking German we were able to use the numbers and gestures to get our orders. The patience this man had while waiting on 10 people was incredible. I couldn’t understand a word he said, but the smile on his face brightened the mood for everyone. The waitstaff and cooks were so accepting and welcoming of foreigners. We were in their homeland and did not speak enough German to have a conversation, but through some very broken English we were able to achieve some connection. They never tried to push us out the door at the end or even become frustrated with our lack of knowledge. I felt foolish for expecting everyone to know English when we are in a foreign country and couldn’t have even bothered to learn enough German to  order food. I left that pizza parlor with a fully belly and a determination to show my students and coworkers, even just a little bit of the patience I was given  tonight, to become more dependable and open.

Since coming to OSU I learned how to adapt to unfamiliar areas fast, or what I thought was fast. Traveling from Chicago to Columbus on a campus unknown was intimidating. I believed that if I could learn this than a new country would be no problem. While it was not as easy as I thought, I definitely gained some traveling skills Being in a new town every night with a group of people I did not know very well, at the beginning, forced me to learn how to adjust even faster.  Before leaving for the trip I mapped out every town we were going to be in so I could squeeze as many restaurants,  historical sites, and touristy stops in as possible. The town I prepared for most was Amsterdam. But even what seems good on paper may not always work out when it comes time to it. We decided to go to a local favorite restaurant, but could not figure out how to get there. In America, I could use my GPS to understand an unfamiliar landscape. In Europe, we did not have this luxury. After debating for a little bit, we decided to just wing it and try to find it ourselves. I was proud we were able to find it with minimum help. After our delicious pancake meal we decided to explore without a destination for a little bit. It was even more fun to wander and ‘get lost’ with a group of good people to laugh and hang around with. I feel more confident in exploring and not having an agenda. In that little time period I felt myself relax and enjoy the moment and the trip, not only the destination. One thing I feel I have lost since coming to OSU is that ability. The ability to live in the now. Everyone is so focused on the next assignment or exam, that they are not stopping to just enjoy a cup of coffee and look at a clear sky.

To say that I am the same person I was before I went on this trip would not be true. While I still have my typical Abby quirks,  I do believe that I have changed in a few ways. The people on the trip included strangers, acquaintances, friends, teammates, and even one of my roommates. I can be a bubbly and outgoing person, but I will still choose the safe crowd that I know over a group of strangers. I was nervous that I was going to gravitate toward my roommate and not make any friends on the trip. Both of us were able to find friends within the group. We even have a group that still gets together for dinner and coffee every now and them. Bringing friends on a trip like this can be helpful, but also limiting. People change based on their environment. If someone already has an idea of who I am, than I am less likely to open up and allow new things to happen, especially in a different country. Even though I had friends and people that knew me, being surrounded by people I did not know and my desire to experience everything gave me the courage to branch out. 

The biggest realization I had while on this trip did not have to do with horses or management systems. While these impacted me, nothing hit me harder than when we were at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. This stop was near the end of the trip after I had become comfortable with new people. This allowed us to have a true conversation and to feel it. We said the most when none of us said anything at all. The first place we walked to was an obelisk in the back of the courtyard. It could be seen from the entrance. The entire way there we were discussing things we were seeing, as we got closer the conversation slowed down to nothing. The emotion I felt was overpowering. Although I cannot speak for the others, their faces said enough. Everyone knows the history, but being at the camp itself gave a whole new perspective. Leaving I could only yurn to wish that something could have been done before all of this happened. Even though I cannot change the past, I can alter my future and the future of others. I hope to do one thing a day that can help someone. Big or small, easy or hard, one thing a day could be all it takes to make that person’s day better.

(Laika- Warmblood at Pferdeschultze Equestrian Center)

The transformation I felt abroad gave me confidence and patience, but also taught me exceptance. Wether it be exceptance for the what has happened and how to move forward, or exceptance for how I am going to change someone.

This trip was focused on horses and the difference management styles in Europe. I learned a new outlook on how to perceive a situation from a different angle. I learned how to not materialize and coddle olympic style horses and to just let them be until they are the ones ready to learn. I learned how to be confident in myself and my actions to stand for a situation. This will help me for the rest of my life. It will help me go for things that may have scared me, but I know I can achieve at. It will also help me in my career in looking at animal behavior in research. Looking outside the box for a simple reasoning is not always easy, but by giving new tools to do so, it is attainable.

O-H-I-O at Hamburg Aquarium

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