With summer comes a deluge not borne of rain. A deluge that comes near soon as the exam papers close and the James Joyce Library can once again be a place of silence. The deluge of which I speak is one of photos. Those bundles of pixels which litter our social media spaces. Instagram, there Twitter and Facebook become reminders that you are in Ireland, while that friend has “discovered themselves” in California (for which they have some sort of monstrous abbreviation) or has taken to looking sulkily cool in a nightclub in Berlin. Filtered images of Paris, New York, Melbourne and every other bucket list big city inundate our timeline, making us long to depart these shores.
I write neither to disparage travel nor photography. I am a noted abuser of Instagram, a traveling thorn in the timelines of my friends, and thus can cast no criticism upon others for doing so.
However I am here to advocate on behalf of the little cities as destinations of worth, where thrilling experiences as well as pretty pictures can be found. I want you to know that every summer need not be dedicated to capturing New York’s skyline at dusk or taking a selfie with the works of Gaudi in Barcelona. There are options beyond J1, backpacking and interrailling. Options that can bring you to the most wonderfully out of the way places. And those options, as I’ll explain, can originate right here in UCD.
August of this year saw me travel to the city of Bayreuth in Germany, famous only to those who share a passion for the works of Richard Wagner. Most people would even wrongly pronounce the name as though it were the capital of Lebanon and many more would be hard pushed to point to it on a map. I myself had to seek the assistance of Google in locating it when I first learned that I was going there.
But my journey starts back in November of 2013 in the draughty halls of the Newman building. I was trying to map out my summer plans, which was rather difficult: my poverty and need to immerse myself in the German language before 3rd year seemed irreconcilable concepts.
Fortunately the School of German pointed me towards a ray of hope. The DAAD, a German academic exchange service, was offering the opportunity to apply for summer study scholarships lasting one month! All I had to do was write some German and fill in some forms, which I completed and submitted on the last day of first term.
And then nothing. For the longest time I heard zilch. Time and again I checked my email or rang home for a post update. I began to rehash plans, repeatedly counted all twenty coppers in my penny jar, considered taking on the terrifying job of Au Pairing (though apparently minding dogs does not count as adequate experience) and then despaired that I would remain in Dublin watching Goodbye Lenin on repeat.
But then in April a text came. The most beautiful text. I have never been so happy to see my mother’s name on the screen followed by the words “Letter from the DAAD. Should I open?”
What lay inside brought me to Germany on the 3rd of August, when I landed in Nuremberg – a city of which I know little thanks to spending a very drunken night there with a fellow UCD friend, who gave me the Gift (both the German and English meaning) of Mead. I arrived the next day at the University of Bayreuth with a brain barely capable of comprehending English let alone German.
My week days there consisted of morning language classes and an afternoon specialised subject course. I know that the idea of study during the summer may be repugnant to some but it’s not quite like regular university work. Things are more relaxed and explorative and, most importantly, the dreaded GPA isn’t looming above every written exercise. My afternoon journalism classes were exceptionally good, with trips to local media outlets, writing our own German language blog and debates over current affairs – made all the more fun by the presence of Ukrainians and Russians in our class.
In the evenings we had the opportunity to explore the city, especially the local Biergartens. Beer is a big part of Bavarian life and so it was obviously essential that we immersed ourselves such local culture! The University set up plenty of low cost trips to local places of note, such as the beautiful and dreadfully instagrammable Eremitage or a town tour graphing the relationship between Bayreuth and the African continent. Weekends saw us take to the road for Dresden, Leipzig and the UNESCO world heritage medieval city of Bamberg. Travelling was so easy and cheap through the University and tutors gave us tips on what to visit.
But the pretty places and tasty beer were trumped entirely by the people I met at the Summer-University. One of the scariest yet best aspects of my trip was the fact that I went there alone. Scary in that I knew nobody. Brilliant as in it forced me out of myself and into making friendships with entirely new people from all over the world, from my Malian flatmate who was distraught at the cold weather to my Ukrainian friend who spoke always of the “irische Unabhängigkeit”. I not only learned German and about the country itself, but also about social life in Iran, the baseball league in Taiwan and how to shuffle to the music of Latin America. I even found myself drunkenly duped into participating in a short film, wherein I played a lesbian cannibal, the title of which was Sie Ist/Isst eine Frau – löl for German humour!
I would recommend with all my heart that over the next few weeks you go and check with tutors or your course’s information wall for any possible summer study scholarships. You’ll get a great summer, meet new people and, in a time where the CV is all important in the job market, you will have something impressive to stick on it. You might even find something magnificent and unique to Instagram with the X-Pro II filter and put the Eiffel Tower to shame!
– Una Power