Overall, I could not have asked for a better trip to Germany. Words cannot describe my experience and the family that I made on this trip, but I will do my absolute best. There are five big highlights of my trip that I want to reflect on and share with you, the audience.
First, the company visits gave me an insight into the German automotive industry that I never would have been able to do on my own. While there were some company visits that were clearly better than others, they all gave me valuable insight into their business and the future of the auto industry. Dr. Raedt, the Vice President of Hirschvogel, was extremely generous with his time, and described his company in more detail than Mark Zuckerberg could explain Facebook to a new user. I was fascinated by Continental because of how fast the company has expanded. Continental is no longer a tire company, but an enterprise for automotive technology. I walked around their factory having to dodge robotic transport vehicles. They are living in the future. I left Continental wondering what the auto industry will look like in 10 years; if autonomous robots are already running Continental’s factory, how soon will we see autonomous driving? Continental was a perfect foundation before heading to Audi’s headquarters. While touring Audi’s factory in Ingolstadt, I realized that robots are so engrained in our future but will never completely replace the art of human creativity. There is a sense of pride and a unique personality behind the hand of a human, and there will always be a role for humans on the automotive assembly line. We followed Audi’s visit with Faurecia, which did not go as planned, but it was still a good learning lesson. Faurecia showed me what not to do as a company. With the emergence of electric vehicles, Faurecia could potentially go bankrupt, and they have admitted that they are not prepared for the future. Faurecia showed me how important it is to keep changing and modernizing a business, because there never is a finish line. We finished our company tours with SGL, which was polar opposite of Faurecia. SGL focused on their future and have been modernizing their company to remain competitive in their industry. For example, when steel markets tanked in the 1980s and 1990s, SGL sold their steel divisions and decided to focus on carbon and carbon fiber instead. SGL is a perfect role model of adaptability.
Second, the culture of German has been unlike anything I have ever lived in, but I absolutely loved it. For my friends and family who know about my trip to Ireland, I have frequently been asked what culture I liked better: the Irish culture or the German culture. However, the cultures are not comparable, because they are welcoming in their own ways. In Ireland, the people were friendly, and would strike up a conversation with a stranger and would think nothing of it. In Germany, there is a standard of respect and quality, and relationships are built out of a sense of awareness for one another. In Augsburg, I would get weird looks if I would jaywalk. In the cafeteria at Augsburg University, there was giant, detailed mechanism built just to take trays back to the washroom (Ask Lucas for a picture, I am sure he could talk to you about it for an hour). Also, the students I met needed to plan and organize our presentations before we could even start researching. I enjoyed how the students wanted to plan our projects, because it was a change of pace from the hysteria of completing group projects in the United States.
Augsburg is the best city in Germany, and yes, I am biased. With a population almost equal to Pittsburgh, I immediately felt at home. The city was not chaotic, but it was a warm and bustling place but peaceful at the same time. It was a great blend of energy and locality, and I made the most of my time so I could truly feel what it was like to “live” in Augsburg.
While it was not my favorite part of the trip, I still loved touring different cities and exploring Munich. What good is it to go to Germany but not sightsee? My favorite touristy places were the scenes around the Neuschwanstein Castle, Ulm, and Munich. While I was disappointed with the tour of the castle, the views from our lake hike, and then later our mountain hike, were impeccable. I spent 20 minutes on the overlook bridge by the castle just to take in the fresh air and appreciate the beauty that was around me. Right now, I am back to breathing Pittsburgh air, and am daydreaming about the fresh air around Neuschwanstein. The tour we climbed in Ulm was so cool. Who else can say that they walked up 768 spiral steps? Munich is such a famous city and is littered with historical buildings, but my favorite part was the surfers in the Eisbach river, which is a world-famous place for the surfing world. While I am not a surfer, it was fascinating to watch surfers jump in and ride a wave in the middle of one of the biggest metropolitan cities in Europe.
Last, but definitely not least was the German students I met. The hardest part about leaving Augsburg was not because I would miss Germany, but because I felt like I was leaving my family. In two weeks, I embraced Germany as much as I could and befriended the students we got to work with. What hurts the most is knowing that I might never see some of my friends ever again. It is hard to imagine the people that you live, sleep and breathe with for two weeks would just disappear in the blink of an eye. We embraced each other because of the circumstances that brought is together, a circumstance that never will be replicated in our lives ever again. Some of the German students will be in the United States in either the fall or spring semester, so we are trying to meet up with them again when they are on our side of the pond. The German students we met could have ditched us and hung out with their friends for two weeks straight, but they sacrificed their friends and their academics to show a group of random Americans what it’s like to be a student in Augsburg, Germany. It is so hard to explain my appreciation for the students. Have you ever felt that feeling in your chest when you thank someone that has just meant so much to you? Take that feeling, and multiply it by 15, knowing that you might be saying goodbye for the last time.
If someone asked me to stay in Germany for another two weeks, I would do it in a heartbeat. I miss the city, I miss my family, and I miss the German students. Pitt has a study abroad program in the Berlin school of economics, I’ll let you know when I get there. To the German students that might be reading this, please text me, keep and touch, and let me know if you ever need something when you are close to Pittsburgh. I can attest for every single student that we all love you so much.
Augsburg, this is not a goodbye, but a see you soon. Prost!