A few days ago, I began my journey to Germany. A country with a long and rich history, it is one of the most populous countries in the EU. The center of the Protestant Reformation, German influences are prevalent throughout the works of famous figures from Martin Luther to Albert Einstein.

Early into my time here, I’ve become interested in the prominent differences between cultural norms here and the United States, specifically in the way lifestyle is influenced by prioritizing the environment. I don’t know enough about the Paris Accord on Climate Change to know if that was a determinant of this sort of policy, but I was shocked to see the recycling bins everywhere and the neat compartments each piece of trash was given. Most locals are also very into walking and biking everywhere – despite being in larger cities than my hometown and Tuscaloosa, there was noticeably less of a car presence. During rush hour, there was a lack of backed up traffic in the streets, and people instead were focused on taking the trains everywhere or biking across the city.

There is also an overall attitude of minimalism prevalent, and this is a pretty large adjustment to what the rest of my travels have been like. A lot of people think of Europe as an opulent setting, and while there are certainly architectural marvels and so much food you want to try everything, it’s surprisingly just a normal to the citizens here and the cities that aren’t capitals aren’t always like the pictures. The mix between the modern and the ancient is also a defining characteristic of what I’ve seen of Germany so far. Castles sit on the same streets as the local KFC.

It’s not at all what I’ve expected, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know such an intriguing country from the popular and more obscure lights. It’s definitely true to the idea of intercultural experience, and even though I’m only a fraction of the way through this amazing opportunity, I’ve already learned a large amount from this firsthand experience. Along with my group, I can definitely say this has been a great way to learn how to survive and thrive in an interesting place where I don’t speak the language or necessarily know where everything is. From free time to group dinners, every moment is a chance to learn something new and understand a foreign culture.

I have only the highest expectations of the next 2.5 weeks here and am excited to continue seeing, comparing, and contrasting the cultural similarities and differences in various cities in Germany, Denmark, and France on this adventure.