Indiana University Overseas Study

Archive for the ‘Apartment’ Category

Adventures with German Kitchens

Rebecca Haley - Freiburg, Germany

When I was thinking about this post, I was trying to think of something new, exciting, and original, like travel adventures and crazy things happening at the beginning of my German adventure. But everything has gone super smoothly (because the people at IES are wonderful and have helped us so much) and surprisingly, traveling has also gone really well. Exploring has been a lot of fun too, but my biggest challenge so far has been figuring out my apartment. At first I thought that figuring out things like outlets, showers, and other household utilities would be the hardest – but nope, it was the kitchen.

Let me start off with the fact that I have some truly amazing German roommates (or as I call them in German, Mitbewohner). They are incredibly helpful and answer all my questions about things they have done their whole lives. Not all of them are here right now because the University here in Freiburg is on semester break, so a few have stayed to work over the break, but a lot have left. So for all of y’all that are looking at studying abroad, one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you is to get to know your roommates as soon as you can if you are lucky enough to live with natives. They are an invaluable resource and know what’s happening even when you have no clue. Anyway, with that tangent over, here are the things that threw me off about German kitchens:

First, the trash system. Students in the US learning German often learn about this complex trash system but until you’ve actually experienced it, it’s hard to fully understand. In my apartment, there are four trash cans. One for paper/cardboard, one for glass, one for packaging waste (foil, Saran wrap, chocolate wrappers…), and one for everything else that doesn’t fit in the other categories like organic materials. Luckily they’re labeled so I can figure it out most of the time. But there are exceptions. For example, broken glass goes in the everything else bin, which I found out when I broke a plate. Also…what about plastic? Well, for plastic bottles you take them back to the store, put them into a machine which breaks them down, and you get some money that you spent on the bottle back. It’s called the Pfand and it’s actually really cool.

four receptables for recycling/garbage

From left to right: Paper, general organic waste/everything else, Glass, Packaging

This system is complex enough, but it took me forever to figure out the German oven. Not only does it have one knob for temperatures, it has another one with mysterious symbols on it for specific settings. For the first week I just avoided this contraption, but this week I wanted sweet potatoes so I just bit the bullet and found a video online telling me how to operate it. Once I figured it out, it makes a lot of sense. For example, you can set the oven to only cook from the top for meats, so one side cooks, then you flip it over. Or you can set a fan to blow the heat around to make sure it gets all sides of the food. It’s fancy.

german oven

My German oven. The left knob is for the settings and the right has the temperatures in celcius.

Also, I really encourage you to bring some easy recipes or find some online if you don’t already cook. Making your own food saves money and insures that you don’t get tired of all the restaurants in the nearby area too quickly. And one last piece of cooking advice is to always follow directions because products and cooking temperatures are different. Storage information, for example, might also be different that you might expect, so take the time to translate it. I made that mistake with marinara sauce one night and spent the rest of the evening feeling terrible.

Obviously, I’m still not an expert in this area and still have ten thousand questions that require answers from my roommates or the internet, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge of trying to figure things out in my apartment and get comfortable here.

Rebecca Haley

Finding a home in Madrid

Adam Pease - Madrid, Spain

Before leaving for my yearlong study abroad experience in Madrid, my two biggest concerns were (1) being away from friends and family and (2) finding a place to live in Madrid.

Part of the Wisconsin-Indiana-Purdue (WIP) Madrid study abroad experience is finding our own housing. This means just a few days after arriving (not even fully recovered from jet lag), we began looking through neighborhoods and online advertisements for rooms to rent for the semester or year.

This was my first time looking for an apartment—and during this inaugural saga, we had the special bonus of doing it all in Spanish.

Needless to say, my housing search during my first month here was quite the out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire experience. However, at each step of the way I was comforted by the fact that each of us on the program was encountering the same challenges.

Segovia on excursion

Vista of Segovia on a program excursion.

From our first feeble attempts at calling landlords (if you’re wondering what heart palpitations feel like, I suggest calling a Madrileñan landlord with virtually no prior experience talking on the phone in a foreign language) to running to and from metro stations for apartment showings, at each step I had fellow WIPers along for the ride.

Our program administrators shared that year after year, alumni of the program say that this first task is one of the most rewarding—albeit most challenging—aspects of the program due to the absolute necessity of speaking to native Spaniards in Spanish. While I can confirm this statement first-hand in respect to my language skills, I also think my housing search was an essential part of finding not just a roof over my head, but also a community here in Madrid, formed by the shared trials, failures, and resolutions of living abroad in Madrid.

In that sense, this ongoing journey of learning the Spanish language and becoming accustomed to the Madrileñan culture seems to be more than the sum of its parts. Gaining a sense of family here has helped to transcend this experience from a “study” abroad experience to one of “living” abroad.

For me, it has been a conjunto (“grouping”) of experiences and people that has made this semester all it has been: at first, all the stressors that come with culture shock and learning curves in a new place, but also (most significantly) a multitude of connections—to my Madrileñan neighborhood, to my Spanish classmates, to the host language itself, and to my peers who have been along this same journey since we stepped foot in the Madrid-Barajas Airport.

hiking in Madrid

Hiking in the Sierras of Madrid with fellow program participants.

I would be lying if I were to say that I don’t miss my home in Indiana. But I must say that truly have found, finally, a home in Madrid.

Adam Pease - writing with a passion for visual art and social history

Turtle Hunt

Erik Trautman

Around the second week of the BCSP (Bologna Consortial Studies Program), I went to revisit the first apartment I saw in Bologna. “If you like it you should take it because someone else might,” the landlord warned me on my first visit. Sure enough, Kirk, another student in BCSP, was interested and had seen it directly after me on my first visit. The morning before I revisited the apartment I asked Kirk what he thought of the place. “I think I’m going to take it, I’m going to call tomorrow to see if I can see it again,” he responded, not exactly the response I hoped for. I told him I also planned on taking the apartment and that I already had an appointment to revisit it. He said in that case he would back off. I felt like a 10-year-old on the playground claiming “finders keepers” but the competition of searching for a home will do that to you.

I remember trotting down the spiral staircase, my steps echoing off the stone, click-flop click-flop. The sole of my left shoe had come partially undone and flopped around like an extended tongue when I went up or down stairs and tripped me up on cobblestone roads. I reached the bottom of those treacherous steps, opened the weathered wooden doors, and there he was again, Kirk. “They called me and asked if I could come back so they could get to know me better,” he explained. I gritted my teeth and wished him the best of luck. The meeting I just had with potential roommates had been an interview and I didn’t even realize it! I came prepared with questions and thought that it was them in the hot seat, but the opposite turned out to be true.

I spent the next couple of hours in the serene “Giardini Margherita” awaiting their decision. I replayed the meeting over and over in my head, scrutinizing my every move. The three of us sat around the cramped kitchen table, a small overhead lamp hung above us. Salvo, whom I met the first time I saw the apartment, sat to my right, and Francesca, whom I was meeting for the first time sat to my left.   Electronic music buzzed from behind a cracked bedroom door. “Do you mind the smoke?” Francesca asked as she finished rolling a cigarette. “Not at all, it’s your house,” I carelessly responded. “Will the landlord fix the oven?” was the only question I managed to recall. “Eventually,” was their response. Francesca asked me if I liked Salvo’s music. I turned my ear to the shrills and squeaks that crept out from behind the cracked bedroom door. “Electronic music at 2pm is like showing up to a party 8 hours early,” would have been an honest response. Instead I said, “yes, very much.” After about a half hour of this kind of overly polite chitchat I took my leave. They said they’d give me a call around five.

Thankfully, Stephanie, another BSCP member, met me at the gardens to help distract me from my self-criticism. She had already found an apartment but worried about making new friends and fitting in. We strolled through the seemingly endless park until we reached the central lagoon, which we discovered is chalk full of turtles. We spent some time distracting ourselves by trying to catch a small turtle by hand.

trying to catch turtles

Turtles at Giardini Margherita

This naturally drew attention to us as foreigners as it is not a common practice for Italians to try to catch turtles by hand in the gardens. Despite our overt “foreignness,” we were approached by a kind Italian man interested in our fruitless attempts. We chatted awhile and he suggested we buy a net. After what seemed like a lifetime in the gardens, I received the call I had been waiting for. “We choose you,” is what I could make out of their broken English. I cart wheeled from one side of the park to the other; I was so ecstatic! I now had a home in building 7 on Via Della Braina.

After a month of tripping over cobblestones, tripping over the language, and tripping over insecurities, I’ve learned to pick up my feet, pick up my tongue, and overcome some of them. That being said, I still feel isolated and like a fish out of water far from my native sea at times, but this is natural. Don’t think it won’t happen to you. You will feel like a foreigner because you are and it will make you feel insecure at times. Embrace it! Stephanie and I made a friend at the park that day because we were so obviously strange and out-of-place, I was lucky enough to find great roommates after looking at my first apartment, and Kirk found an accepting group of roommates just down the street. Embrace your “foreignness” and learn to pick up your feet. You will have more in common with the natives than you’d ever expect. I’m still on the hunt for that turtle but I’ve found friends and reassurance. And the Italian word of the day is “tartaruga” or turtle.

Francesca and I

Francesca and I

View all posts by Erik

Culture Hooray


My return to the United States after seven months in Italy was less of a culture shock and more of a culture “Hooray!” Being gone for so long had left me with an appreciation of small things I take for granted here—the bathrooms in stores, the lower prices of clothes, the regular-shaped folders, the shorter lectures, and the Thai restaurants.


Home is where the heart is


As any college student knows searching for an apartment is a difficult and stressful time. We often take months searching for the perfect location and personally select our preferred roommates. However, when studying abroad the apartment search is a whole new experience.


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