Mackenzie Vollmer and Katelyn Foppe weren’t in Germany long before they were dancing in dirndls.
“It’s fun to wear what everybody else is wearing,” said Mackenzie, 19, of Fairview Heights, talking about the traditional peasant-style dress with a full skirt and apron. “Mine had a corset in front.”
“It takes two people to put one on,” said Katelyn, of Troy. “If we would have waited until the Oktoberfest (in Munich) to buy them, they would have been gone.”
Mackenzie, Katelyn and Alex Beatty, of Millstadt, got to be part of the fun festival atmosphere, both in Munich and at the Dultfest in Regensburg.
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“They had huge tents,” said Mackenzie, setting the scene. “Everyone was standing on tables, singing and dancing. It was a fun atmosphere. It’s like a huge state fair.”
They were among 25 students from Murray State University in Kentucky, who recently returned from a 3 1/2 -month semester abroad in Regensburg, Germany, a Bavarian city of 150,000 on the Danube, 60 miles north of Munich. They brought back those dirndls, beer steins and coasters, hand-painted artwork and Happy Hippo candy, German language skills, 12 college credit hours and memories that will last a lifetime.
Mackenzie, a 2014 Belleville East grad, and Katelyn, a 2014 Triad grad, are roommates at Murray. Alex, a 2012 Belleville West grad, is a senior there majoring in nonprofit leadership studies.
“Everyone had to take a German language class,” said Mackenzie, a sophomore elementary ed major who works at The Louvre Salon & Spa on Old Collinsville when she’s home. “It was hard at first. Being there, you pick up on it. We took a German culture class. We learned their states and all that jazz.”
The advantage of taking a history class over there is we would take field trips that would have to do with history — places bombed during World War II. We had classes in a church that had been bombed. Art students went to an art museum in Munich.
Katelyn Foppe on classes
“The advantage of taking a history class over there,” said Katelyn, a chemistry major, “is we would take field trips that would have to do with history — places bombed during World War II. We had classes in a church that had been bombed. Art students went to an art museum in Munich.”
They also witnessed history.
“Our city was No. 2 for bringing in refugees,” said Katelyn. “They were very accepting. You would see people there willing to help.”
“When you would go to the train station,” said Mackenzie, “they would have carts of food, water, blankets for refugees. There were Red Cross tents for them to sleep in. I donated clothes to refugees. Jeans that didn’t fit and socks I had never worn.”
The Murray contingent lived five students to an apartment with other Universität Regensburg students. Alex shared quarters with students from Germany, Prague in the Czech Republic, and Slovenia. They attended class four days a week, often traveling on weekends. As a group, they visited Berlin, Munich and Nuremberg. On their own, they were free to choose. After the November bombings, it was recommended they not visit places such as Paris.
They usually stayed at hostels or made arrangements through Air B&B.
“We were in a really central location,” said Katelyn. “With all the traveling, everyone became a little more independent. You could hop on a train and go.”
Mackenzie visited Austria, Italy and France. In September, she saw Paris. Her eyes light up when she talks about sparkling lights at night on the Eiffel Tower.
“When you are in the moment, it doesn’t feel like it’s your life.”
We asked the travelers a few questions.
Q: Favorite weekend trips?
A: Katelyn: “Salzburg, Austria.” Alex: “That cable car was terrifying.” Mackenzie: “They smashed 50 people in like sardines. We went to the top of the Alps. It was beautiful ... ‘The Sound of Music’ was filmed there. We did a tour of all the places from the movie.’”
They also enjoyed a group trip to Berlin. Alex: “It’s such a beautiful city, really big (population, 3.5 million). We saw the Berlin wall, the government building with the glass dome at top. (Reichstag was designed by architect Norman Foster and built to symbolize the reunification of Germany.) We did a three-hour walking tour. Our tour guide was from Pennsylvania.” Alex saw Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. In Wittenberg, they visited the church where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses. In Rome, Mackenzie bought rosaries blessed by the Pope. She gave one to her grandma for Christmas.
Q: Close by trips?
A: Mackenzie: “We did a lot of bike rides around town. You could rent bikes for 10 euro a day.” Alex: “Usually, they would lead to a beer garden.” Mackenzie: “One of my favorite bike rides was to Kallmünz where there was an old castle ruins on top of a hill.”
Q: How did you do with the language?
A: Alex: “You could understand little things you heard people saying on the bus.” Mackenzie: “A phrase that came in handy a lot is we would ask people in German if they spoke English. They would say, ‘A little bit. I’m not very good.’ Then, they would have a conversation with you in English.”
Q: A surprise?
A: How punctual public transportation is. “On group trips, there were so many of us,” said Mackenzie. “It was tricky getting all of us at one spot at one time.” The first week, they missed a train. “It was pulling away. We had to wait an hour.”
Q: Big challenge?
A: Adjusting. “The first few days, getting to know each other was a little overwhelming,” said Mackenzie.
Q: Did you try any new foods?
A: Alex: “Kidney. It was good. It was very good.” Katelyn: “I had white bratwurst.” Mackenzie. “Escargot in Paris. It was different, but good.”
Q: The dish you will miss?
A: Döner, lamb meat on a bun or in a wrap. Mackenzie: “You could get it with lettuce, tomato and chili powder. It’s the greatest thing ever. It’s Turkish food, but it’s all over Germany.”
Q: What did you miss most?
A: Alex: “I missed my puppies a lot.” (Her family visited while she was in Germany.) Katelyn: “I missed my family.” Mackenzie: “At first, I thought I missed being able to be connected to TV, radio, Internet. But it’s nice not to be reliant on that. I talked to my family every Friday or every Sunday. We were either getting ready to leave for a trip or coming home. We would Skype, but the 7-hour time difference made it tricky. It was 5 p.m. here, but 1 a.m. in Germany. There were a lot of late-night calls.” (Because the international cell phone plan was expensive, they bought pay-as-you-go German phones.)
Q: Any mishaps or misadventures?
A: Alex: “I got lost by myself in Amsterdam for three hours. The city was beautiful. I didn’t mind. I wasn’t panicking. A lot more people speak English there. I just gave up looking and asked someone in a restaurant. We were staying at an airbnd apartment. Turns out I was walking around my apartment building. It’s not that big of a city, but all the canals are confusing. They all look the same.”
Q: Any advice on spending a semester abroad?
A: Katelyn: “Definitely do it. Everything is not going to go perfectly. You learn to roll with the punches.” Alex: “You become more adaptable.” Mackenzie: “Don’t let your fears talk you out of it. So many things go through your head. It’s the unknown. You don’t know what to expect. Be open. It’s all about getting outside of your comfort zone, really.”
Q: Lesson learned?
A: Alex: “The experience taught me I am going to stay in America a little while. Traveling is a lot of work. It’s a long, long flight. I definitely want to conquer travel in the U.S. first.” Mackenzie: “I had German friends who had traveled in the U.S. They had been to more places in this country than I have been.”
See Mackenzie’s video of the trip at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scTYxhNkBoI&feature=youtu.be