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Closure to the Most Amazing Year of My Life

In the year of 2010 I visited 23 countries and traveled well over 25,000 Miles.  This abundance of travel gave me the unique chance to explore many different and unique cultures throughout Europe and meet so many wonderful people.  When I think of the vast variety of individuals I’ve encountered on these journeys, it simply blows my mind.  One of the reasons for creating this blog is for me to remember these special times and people I shared them with.  It was a life changing experience that I will never forget. Being able to travel so often and so cheaply was something truly special and unique to Europe.  In America, one could never find the train connections and ridiculously cheap flights that they have in Europe.  RyanAir and EuRail/InterRail passes were truly the way to go.  I am amazed that I accomplished all that I did with the extremely small budget of saved up money I had.  It all truly comes down to planning efficiently and being able to roll with the punches as nothing ever goes 100% as planned.  Below is a map tracking every journey I’ve taken throughout Europe.  Click on the image or the link below in order to view an interactive map.

http://www.wayfaring.com/maps/widescreen/65443

During my time in Deggendorf, my home city, I felt as if I had been adopted by my wonderful host family, the Löffelmans.  The university in Deggendorf has a program where they match up international students with a local family in the community.  I visited my family usually once a week to spend half the day with them, eat and go on local excursions.  Being so far away from “home”, I began to feel as if I were “home” with the Löffelmans.  We established a bond that will be carried many years into the future I’m sure.  When I left for Germany a year ago, I was saying goodbye to my family with the idea of seeing them in a year.  Now here I was in Germany, saying Goodbye to my “family” once again saying, I’ll see you summer of 2012!

For the entire year Sabine, mom of Nadine, a girlon the softball team I helped coach, was kind enough to invite me over once a month to her house to cut my hair.  It was things like this that made me really start to feel part of the community in Deggendorf and not just an International Student at the University.  I'm very thankful to Sabine for going out of her way to do such a nice thing!

Of course, being my last night in Deggendorf, we celebrated it to commemorate all the wonderful memories of the past year.   Lucas and I put on a going away party for the two of us at the local dormitory common rooms which eventually made its way to the local bars downtown.  It was a wonderful last night to have one final goodbye to all my amazing friends.  Many people left goodbye notes which for Lucas or Me which I didn't open until I was waiting for a connection in Chicago.  When I did read them, I literally broke out into tears as people shared how much I had touched their lives as they had likewise done to mine....

When I look back on it, it’s truly the people who I met from all over the world that made my year in Germany so amazing.  The environment we lived in was something truly unique.  Having people from all corners of the world together in one small German town sharing a similar experience of living abroad was something special.  I wish every young person could experience this once in their lives because it’s at times like these that all stereotypes, social/political barriers and discriminations completely vanish and people are appreciated for who they are and not judged by where they come from, their faith, background or the current or historical actions of their country.  Something that is incredibly hard to ever find back at “home”.

Nearly the entire baseball and softball team showed up the final night and even brought an American flag-stamped Leberkäss, my favorite Bavarian food.  Nadine painted for me a beautiful baseball portrait and Flo put together a framed college of baseball memories throughout the past season.  At the end of the season I had turned my jersey in thinking I would never see it again, but received it back as a gift signed by every member of the team with personal messages.  Today, this hangs on my wall and is one of my most cherished physical items from Europe.  I bonded so much with this Deggendorf Dragons baseball and softball family that it’s difficult to even put into words.  These guys became true friends of mine and we all shared tears as we gave our last hugs….. it was a difficult night in that respect.  I look forward to playing baseball with these guys again in the summer of 2012 when I will be back in Germany.

The city of Deggendorf really grew on me.  It is such a beautiful small little city on the Danube River at the foot of the Bavarian Forest.  I began to see Deggendorf as a European version of Chico, California as these two small university cities share a lot in common.  Sometimes Deggendorf feels as if it is even my “home”.  Here are some photos of beautiful Deggendorf that I took in the weeks before leaving.

I've signified the word "home" in this post because as I returning back to the States, I was seriously confused inside what really was my home and where I felt at “home”.   This feeling of "homelessness" and confusion lasted for months after being back in America and the reality is, “home” will never be the same as it was before.  After speaking with other Americans who have assimilated into another culture I’ve heard similar responses in the fact that once you truly see your “home” from an outside perspective, it never does feel the same as before once going back.

As for now, my European story is on pause.  I’ve returned to California where I’m finishing up my bachelors degree in Business Administration focusing in Logistics.  I have loaded my course load up with 21 units each semester in order to finish as soon as possible and return to Europe.  I am in the process now of preparing to apply for masters programs in Germany, France and Scandinavia.  I’m confident that when I go back to Europe in 2012 it will be for the long haul as I don’t have any plans to return to the US in the near future.  My goal as of now is to finish my Master's Degree in Europe and than begin working abroad.

To end this final post I’d like to share two videos with you.  The first is a collection of photos where I tried to find a photo with every single person I met in Europe.  The second is a piece of art I created with all the photography I’ve taken over the past few years, most of which is from this past year in Europe.  Thank you all who took the time to read my blog, it was always nice to see the view count shoot up after every new post as I knew people were actually having a look into this amazing adventure :)  I encourage everyone to get out there and experience this beautiful world we live in.  Step outside of your comfort zone, establish connections with others from around the world and get to truly know a culture other than your own.  It will enrich your life in ways you can't even imagine and be a memorable experience that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.

Video #1 "Most Amazing Year of My Life"http://vimeo.com/26953539  Video could not be embedded but may be seen at the link!

Video #2 "A Photographic Journey"

http://vimeo.com/24407134 Video could not be embedded but may be seen at the link!

End of Second Semester

The end of my second semester In Deggendorf was filled with events.  First of all, I was recruited for our University intramural basketball team.  The highlight of this was a state-wide university tournament.  While we didn’t win the tournament or really come close for that matter, it was a great opportunity to play side by side with guys.  We were quite the international bunch with players from Russia, Brazil, Korea, Turkey and Iraq.  At one point in the tournament there was a rough foul and a German player on the opposing team got pretty heated.  He began chewing out a guy in our team in German and while most of us only understood half of the words coming out of his mouth, he sure as hell wasn’t going to mess with us!

During the second semester in Deggendorf there were two other American students who were from Ohio.  The three of us took the upper hand in putting together a Thanksgiving Pot-Luck dinner together for everyone.  This was something really special for me.  Students from all over the world took part in what was for many of them their first Thanksgiving.  We had the traditional food of course but also cuisine from all over the world. At one point I gave a little thank you speech for everyone who came and explained how this meant so much to me as Thanksgiving has always been a very holiday in my life back in the US.

I also wanted to include here a photo from the local Karaoke bar.  About once a month all the international students would get together and take over “Sam’s Bar”.  It a bar for somewhat of the older crowd and they occasionally got frustrated with so many crazy kids on the microphone all the time.  At times like this, the DJ would play a traditional Bavarian song which we would of course butcher the heck out of.  However, in the end, it was all good fun with many laughs.

The student organization AKI at Deggendorf University organized an end of the semester trip to Munich.  Munich was a city that most of us had been visited many times before, however, this time there was a convention for all international students across Europe.  An entire hostel was rented out and the weekend was full of festivals and fun for students from all over the world.

Another AKI organized event was a trip to Nürnberg to Germany’s largest Christmas Market.  Nearly every international student attended, dressed in Santa caps, while consuming a large amount of the traditional holiday Glühwein.

Another nice thing about Deggendorf is that it's so close to the Bavarian forest.  One day in January I was able to board the train in Deggendorf and one hour later I was on the mountain skiing.  The solo ski trip was icy but my first time skiing in Europe.  I had purchased my skis for 25 euros off Ebay in the summer and found boots at the local swap meet in Deggendorf.

Returning home from this trip brought the final semester of studies to an end.  In Germany, finals are take place at the end of January and the beginning of February.  My biggest accomplishment of the semester was completing level B1 German.  When I arrived in Germany I was enrolled in A1 and completed within only one year levels A1, A2 and B1.

 

Baseball - League Champions!

The baseball season followed the same time as the MLB in the USA, so as the second semester was starting at the university in October, the baseball season was coming to an end.  The Deggendorf Dragons had been in this position many times before where they had a chance to win league but never pulled through.  In their complete existence, this had never been accomplished, however, this was the year.  The Dragons were champions of the Bavarian League and were promoted to the Regional League of Southeastern Germany.  This being the 3rd highest league of baseball in the entire country.

The news was spread through the town papers and our entire team was personally congratulated by the mayor of the city at the annual sports banquet.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ka1jC2E3IR8&hl=en&fs=1] (listen closely to hear how my name is pronounced in German)

The local university also wanted to see some more of this baseball action so one of my professors organized a game where the players mixed in with two teams, one with professors and one with grad students from the university.  Here is a photo of me with Professor Schmieder, my Art of Negotiation professor.  He had previously taught courses in Santa Clara, California, and was fascinated by this American sport.

I also spent some of my free time coaching the Deggendorf Dragons softball team.  I filled the role of assistant coach when schedules weren't conflicting.  They were almost as successful as us, only falling short in the last double header to finish second in league.

As celebration, we all took a team overnight trip to Pilsen, Czech Republic where we went paintballing and made a ruck of the town at night.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0x1d5GeaSgM&hl=en&fs=1] Here is a video of one of our team vans en-route to an away game with some classical Bavarian music.... driver's choice

The end of the year statistics showed our dominance over the other teams as many of us from the team labeled DEG were atop the leaders.  I went ahead and highlighted myself in the document below.

The times that I had with these guys were truly amazing.  My teammates on the Deggendorf Dragons were some of my first friends in Deggendorf and turned out to be some of my best.  Through them, I got to really feel part of the Deggendorf community.  They accepted me into their lives on and off the baseball field.  Playing in Deggendorf was some of the most fun I've ever had playing baseball and I will forever look back on what wonderful memories I had with this team and the baseball family in Deggendorf.

After having such a wonderful experience playing baseball in Germany I wrote up a little summary of everything you would need to know to do such a thing.  I posted it on facebook and sent it to my high school baseball coach and I will post it on here as well.  I hope other kids can have the chance to have such a wonderful experience as I did.

CHANCE OF A LIFETIME TO PLAY BASEBALL, STUDY AND LIVE IN GERMANY AT LESS COST THAN IN THE USA

In 2010 I discovered this unique gem and it was truly an amazing experience.  Therefore, I want to share this with the rest of you in hopes that you may want to try something similar yourselves!

Here is the university in Germany:

Deggendorf University of Applied Science (FH Deggendorf)

http://www.fh-deggendorf.de/index.en.html

The study program offered 100% in English there is International Management.  The course is 50% German students and 50% Internationals.  International students take German courses on the side of their International Management classes.  American students can fulfill their GE and lower division bachelor units and transfer them back to the CSU system for credit.  American students can also obtain their entire Bachelors in Deggendorf.  Tuition costs for full-time students are 400-500 EUR a semester while the tuition is usually waved for foreign students—I didn’t pay a penny in tuition the 2 semesters I was there.  The contact for foreign students at the university is Lisa Hirtreiter< lisa.hirtreiter@fh-deggendorf.de>.  The city of Deggendorf is a beautiful little college town in Bavaria located right on the Donau River about 1 ½ hours north of Munich, 30 minutes from Austria and 45 minutes from the Czech Republic.  The campus is literally right on the waterfront.

As Deggendorf is a smaller city, housing is much cheaper than you would think.  Students live in a common building with small single apartments only 5 minutes by foot from campus.  Cost in 2010 was 225 EUR/month all inclusive (water,elec,tv,etc.).  You can get anywhere and everywhere you need in the city with a bike.

http://www.deggendorfer-studentenviertel.de/index_eng.html

The baseball team in Deggendorf is in the third highest league in the country.  They are the Deggendorf Dragons.  It’s a wood-bat league that travels throughout southern Germany for games.  The team has team vans used to go to and from games.  The season runs parallel to the MLB season with spring training in March and regular season games from April to October.  Games are usually played on Saturdays and Sundays and any week games are usually night games in the local area.  Practice is held 2-3 times a week.

Deggendorf Dragons Website:

http://dragons-baseball.de/

Deggendorf Dragons Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Deggendorf-Dragons/217419765671?ref=ts

The head coach is Tom Achatz and the assistant is Stefan Brückner, both great coaches, ballplayers and quality people.

Thomas Achatz <thomas.achatz2202@web.de>

Stefan Brückner <s.brueckner@gmx.net>

Possibilities to work in Deggendorf are not too bad for a foreigner.  American students can work for English professors correcting English papers on the side and make around 400-500 EUR a semester just for that.  The Dragons also have a softball team, as well as a lower division baseball team and a youth team that are always in need of a good coach.  As almost all the Germans speak English, many international students also find common jobs at a local bar or fast-food place.

The experience to play the sport we all love abroad is unique in its own right, but the chance to live abroad, get to know a new culture, learn a new language and make connections from all over the world is priceless.  It will without a doubt be something you won’t regret and will remember forever.  My experience with this baseball team, university and the city of Deggendorf without a doubt changed my life so I want to share this with others in hopes they might explore something of the same.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me:

David Simmons 530-520-1320     davidofcali@gmail.com

Luxembourg and Brussels - New Years Eve

After a great Christmas in southern France, I was headed to Brussels, via Luxembourg, to meet up with Lucas and Cassia, and stay with Valentine. Lucas and Cassia both study with me in Deggendorf and Valentine is a girl that Lucas and I met this summer while in Edinburgh, Scotland.  I arrived in Luxembourg and waited for Lucas and Cassia-- who were coming from Germany.  With all the snow storms, their train connections were delayed and our time in Luxembourg was cut short.  A planned visit to the German and American cemeteries in Luxembourg was swapped out for a simply a photo with the Christmas tree outside the Luxembourg train station.  We hopped on another train and made our way to Brussels.

In Brussels we met Valentine and she warningly opened her home to us for the few days.   During the day Valentine had to work however Lucas, Cassia and I spent that time exploring the city.  Brussels is a “small Big City” and we were able to walk through most parts of the city.  The whole time we were trying to find the famous “Belgium Balls” as I liked to call it.  They were these reflective balls formed together in the shape of an atom that I had see previously in an online film and knew they were in Brussels.

Eventually we found the “Belgium Balls” and discovered that they are an Exploratorium in which visitors can actually travel up inside the balls and look out over the city.  The day was cloudy and the prices where I so we opted not to go up inside but certainly took plenty of photos from the outside.   Funny enough, the metro line to get to these “Balls” was titled something that looked remarkable close to “Simmons”.   I should have known they marked the subway system out for my visit!!

Belgium is also very famous for their waffles and the peeing baby statue called Manican Piss.  We found manican piss but the statue proved to be very small and uninteresting.  What was more exciting happened to be the giant chocolate replicas around the site standing outside waffle vendor shops.

In the evening after Valentine was finished with work all 4 of us explored the local Christmas market.  There they had set up a giant Farris wheel and we decided to enjoy a ride.  It gave a great view of the city at night and had to have been the first Farris wheel ride I have ridden since I was about 8 years old a the local county fair!

While staying at Valentine's, Lucas and I did our best effort to prepare a meal for everyone.  Really I should give us some more credit because nearly a year now of practice cooking for ourselves in Germany has taught us some good skills.  However, the next night we found a Brazilian restaurant and Cassia, Lucas and I took Valentine (who was actually born in Brazil!) out to eat.  It was also my first time eating authentic Brazilian food!

Some plans were changed and we ended up spending New Years with Valentine and her friends in Brussels.  Some of her friends came over to her house and we drank and then went up to the rooftop for the countdown to midnight.  Unfortunately, the night was quite foggy but it was really great to be near the city center and hearing/seeing fireworks going off in all directions around you.

After enjoying the fireworks some of us went out to a club in town.  By the time we got there the cashier was so drunk or so out of it that I simply walked in free.  Good thing since the entrance was a ridiculous 16 euros or something.  They should’ve put the sober ones on the entrance!

The night came to an end late the next morning.  We made our way home by subway and went to bed.  Lucas and Cassia didn’t go out as they boarded a 10 am train to Copenhagen, Denmark.  I slept in and had breakfast with Valentine as my train back to Deggendorf was not until 2pm.  However, after I said my goodbyes and made my way to the metro to go to the train station, I ran into a ticket machine that only accepted coins and 5 and 10 euro bills.  I was 60 cents short in change and only had bills in multiples of 20’s.  I begged for someone to change my money but no one could.  So after 15 minutes of failing to change money I was too late to make my train.  In that case, I ended up going back to Valentines for one more day and taking the next train home the following day.

We had a nice evening at the house, cooked a meal together and then I made it home easy the next day without any train issues.  On the international train from Brussels to Frankfurt the workers were all German however spoke French.  It was a really cool situation where I could use any of my three languages to communicate with them.  I chose French as they checked my tickets : )

This ended my last trip after nearly year of literally traveling all over the continent of Europe- while of course studying at the German University! I will post one more blog update as a closing piece of my time in Europe.  It will include a sum-up of baseball, show more of the beautiful city of Deggendorf, my day trip to go skiing and my final going away party.  Thank you all my family and friends who have taken interest into my blog.  It has been a fun piece for me to fill out as I’ve gone along my journey here and hopefully you have enjoyed it too.

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Final Excursion - France (Christmas)

I arrived in Bayonne a few days before Christmas.   The same place where the Fete de Bayonne was this summer.  It was my first time to truly have a “white Christmas” living in Germany but instead we enjoyed beautiful weather, sunny skies and no snow!  At this same time they were having some of the worst storms in Germany and Northern France.  Some of my friends were stuck in Frankfurt Hbf for almost 2 days due to snow.  I was lucky to be in the only warm pocket north of Spain!

While being away from my family in the US, I feel so fortunate to have such a family as the Lopes to spend this “family-orientated” holiday with.  At the same time, it was great to experience Christmas in a foreign country.  Grandpa “Papi” dressed up as Santa and the whole family took part in singing as the kids began to open presents.  Opening presents was nothing like I’d experienced at home.  The kids just go at it with no patience.  I was accustomed to the one at a time and make the event draw out as long as possible but this was fun to see!  The main course we ate was the Bambi that Papi had shot himself!  It was wonderful speaking to Papi the whole night and he really took a liking to me.  Someone told me I was the first American he had ever spoken with in his entire life.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4e11WoAQsE&hl=en&fs=1]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9o62TDW9mQ&hl=en&fs=1]

The days after Christmas Coralie, Antoine and I drove down the French coast in the direction to Spain.  The weather here and the views were amazing.  At one point, we were standing on the Oceanside and you could look up and see the snow in the mountaintops.  A pretty cool experience!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGV_Tbsic88&hl=en&fs=1]

After nearly a week here in France,  I boarded a night train up to Luxembourg through Paris where I was to meet Lucas and Cassia and carry out the rest of my trip and New Years with them.

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