Kevin's Blog: Week 1
Hey everybody! My name is Kevin Loughlin, and I’m a rising junior at Harvard University studying computer science. I’m here in the Ruhrgebiet of Germany, along with 16 other students from top American universities, as a Ruhr Fellow. The fellowship is a two-month program featuring one month of German language courses and cultural immersion, followed by a one-month internship at a local German company.
If you had told me a year ago that I would be living in Germany in the summer of 2016, I never would have believed you. After all, I’d never studied a word of German in my life, and knew very little about the country despite my German heritage. However, I do speak French and Spanish, and I’m always eager to travel, live abroad, and add to my foreign languages. I’ve also developed an interest in the applications of computer science in foreign language learning over the past few years, so when I heard about the Ruhr Fellowship, I immediately knew what I wanted to do with my summer. Not only would I be able to learn German, but I would also have the chance to strengthen my software development skills via my internship.
Needless to say, I’m super excited to have been selected for the program and to be here, especially alongside so many awesome students. I could definitely see myself living in Europe when I finish school, making this program an amazing opportunity for me to get to know the nation of Germany!
I’m looking forward to sharing the experiences of the 2016 Ruhr Fellows with you each week via this blog!
My arrival to Germany was not that of a typical Ruhr Fellow. Instead of getting picked up at the Dusseldorf airport by the Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) student assigned to be my "buddy," I flew into Paris. I am (perhaps surprisingly) aware that Paris is in France, not Germany. However, I knew that at the end of the Ruhr Fellowship, my family would be traveling around Europe with me for ten days, with our travels concluding in Paris. It was thus cheaper and more logical for me to book a round trip flight through Paris, and then endure the ensuing 7 hours of trains — Paris to Brussels to Cologne to Bochum. I was restless, but the European train system is efficient, fairly priced, clean, and comfortable.
"Buddies" and Nightlife
My "buddy" Ivett, a graduate student studying English and Educational Science at RUB, met me at the station and took me to the Acora Hotel in Bochum, where the Ruhr Fellows would be staying for the next 2 months. I keep thinking how crazy it is that I’m living in a hotel, and for free! The rooms are fantastic, and even have kitchenettes. It turns out that my roommate is the one person I knew coming into the program — my friend Javier (Javi), who studies Computer Science with me at Harvard!
After Ivett and I went over a brief bit of logistics and information in the room, we met the other fellows at the Bermuda Dreieck (translated: Bermuda Triangle, an awesome part of downtown Bochum with tons of restaurants and bars). They were just about done eating dinner, so I ate my first ever Currywurst with Ivett, an "on-the-go" food that allowed me to stay with the group, which I was told was served to me by the best place in Bochum. I highly recommend coming to Bochum to try it.
All the Ruhr Fellows are awesome — we had tons to talk about right away, and it’s been cool to connect with so many kids motivated to learn from, work in, and visit Germany. We were all originally going to meet up with some other American students from Virginia Tech and Purdue for a bar crawl that evening, but since my friend Fred and I were jet lagged and therefore not in the mood to drink a lot, we went to an outdoor student party with Ivett and danced until we couldn’t resist the urge to sleep anymore.
The next day, all of the Fellows went to Mutter Wittig, a typical Westphalian restaurant, for lunch. We dined with some of the program staff, including the rector of RUB, Prof. Dr. Axel Schölmerich! The food was excellent, and afterwards we walked around Bochum and got groceries for our hotel rooms. Later that evening, we went to Hardy’s (a bar on campus) to watch Germany’s warm-up friendly against Hungary for the 2016 Euro Championships — I’m so pumped that we’ll be in Europe for the duration of the tournament. We finished the day off with our first taste of European night life, going to Zeche with Ivett!
Boat Tour on Lake Kemnade
Our third day consisted of a bus and boat tour of Bochum, where we learned all about Bochum’s past as a steel and coal mining town. Bochum had undergone a depression when these industries died off, but rose again thanks to the university. It was actually a similar story to my hometown Pittsburgh, a formerly prominent steel and mining town that had been revitalized through alternative industries and education. The tour was a great chance to acclimate to my new surroundings and to get to know the other fellows!
After a relaxing weekend, we had our official welcome to the Ruhr Fellowship on Monday, touring the university and meeting our German teachers. Following this, we opened our German bank accounts and received our debit cards, before speeding off to Essen for the welcome by the Initiativkreis Ruhr, where we were fortunate enough to meet the director of the program, Dirk Opalka.
On Tuesday, June 7th, we were introduced to our host companies, in preparation for our internships that will begin in July. The company I’ll be working with, RWE, is one of Germany’s largest energy companies, and I’m excited to learn from their industry and put my computer science skills to work!
NRW State Parliament
Wednesday featured a tour of the State Parliament of North-Rhine Westphalia in Düsseldorf. After briefly sitting in on a parliamentary session on human rights, we dined with several parliament members — my first time ever meeting with politicians! They taught us about the German government system on a local, state, and federal level, as well as in terms of interaction with the EU, and we in turn shared our experiences with the American government system. After the parliament building, some of the fellows and I briefly toured Düsseldorf, a stunningly beautiful city located along the Rhine. We even got to try the local specialty — Alt Bier!
Thursday marked our first day of German class, wooooo!!! I absolutely love learning languages, and even did a bit of Duolingo’s German course before arriving. We’re in intensive courses specially designed for the Ruhr Fellows, in that they work around the many fantastic events we have planned during the month of June. The courses were divided into two levels, intermediate level and beginning level.
Following German class, the Fellows took advantage of the long weekend to travel. I was part of a group of 7 that decided to visit Vienna and Prague. We boarded a train that evening and arrived Friday morning. Though the train was super comfortable, I didn’t sleep much because I was watching my beloved hometown ice hockey team (the Pittsburgh Penguins) play in the Stanley Cup Final!
Wiener Schnitzel and Prague Castle
When we arrived in Vienna in the morning, we ate lunch at an awesome little restaurant called Café Sperl, suggested to us by Javi’s girlfriend (who’s originally from Vienna). There, I had my first ever Wiener Schnitzel, along with a Wiener Eiskaffee (Viennese Iced Coffee), both of which were awesome. We then toured Hofburg Palace, the first palace I’ve ever been to in my life! Finally, we walked around town and climbed all 343 steps of St. Stephen’s Cathedral for a breathtaking view of the city! It was definitely an awesome way to end the day.
We had wanted to tour Schonbrunn Palace the next morning, but ran out of time, so I guess we’ll have to come back! Instead, we stopped by Naschmarkt, a huge ethnic food market where I got to try my first ever Russian pierogies! We then headed over to Hundertwasserhaus, a beautifully designed building with all sorts of exotic colors. Finally, we caught our bus over to Prague, and we went to a club called Roxy’s for the night!
The next morning, we went to Prague Castle, which I found even more impressive than Hofburg Palace (and that’s saying something)! The castle is situated on a hill over the town, giving you fantastic views of the river and entire city of Prague. After lunch, we walked around the city, and then boarded our bus back to Bochum, with a layover in Berlin. We knew that we had only begun to get a glimpse of what the beautiful cities of Vienna and Prague offered, but we were happy to leave wanting to come back! Unfortunately, we got off at the wrong stop for our bus connection in Berlin, and ended up having to spend some extra money getting a late train back to Bochum. On the bright side, we had a funny story to tell the other Fellows.
All in all, we laughed off our bus mishap and reflected on what a great first week we’d had. I’ve met some amazing people, and I’m looking forward to exploring the Ruhr Area in more depth during the coming weeks. To top it off, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup, and the United States Men’s National Team won their group in the Copa America. I’m as happy as can be :)