Nicholas Thomssen, a senior international business major, is interning at Labfolder, an electronic lab notebook software company in Berlin for six months beginning in July. As a part of the international business major, students can pursue an international internship. The Lincoln, Nebraska native studied abroad in Spain and knew he wanted to return to Europe. “I wanted to learn what it is like to live and work abroad,” he said. “I love meeting new people from different nationalities and am looking forward to gaining international work experience.”
10/4/2017 - Oktoberfest for All, Part 1
I’m going to get two things out of the way right now. Yes, a lot of Oktoberfest is about beer. There’s no getting around it, but there’s a lot more to the festival than just beer. Also, Oktoberfest can be quite touristy. I know when I started this blog I said I hated the usual tourist stuff while traveling, but Ocktoberfest is different.
I decided to camp for Oktoberfest. With hostels, hotels and airbnbs being quite expensive, it seemed like the best option. Plus, the company that rented the campsite catered to young travelers like myself. I left Berlin at 8 a.m. on Wednesday and arrived in Munich just an hour later. I wasn’t really worried about going alone. I knew I would meet people at the campsite and at Oktoberfest itself. My friend who went two years ago raved about how great it was there.
I decided not to buy the traditional lederhosen as it was a bit expensive and I wanted to save my money. A lot of guys did buy it, as well as girls buying the traditional dirndl dresses. Looking back on it, it is part of the fun to dress up in the traditional Bavarian dress, and I should’ve done it, Next time, I’ll do it. That’s the first thing that makes Oktoberfest more than just beer – the fun of dressing up in the Bavarian clothing.
The first couple days went very well. I went to Oktoberfest each day, meeting new people along the way. My best friend I met at the campsite, even if it was only for a few days, was Raymond from the Philippines. We literally met at the bus stop outside the campsite as we waited for the bus. We hung out until Saturday when he had to leave. He was only staying a few days at Oktoberfest as he was backpacking around Europe at the time.
He wasn’t the only new friend I made. I met Aidan from Australia, Kata from Germany (she was from Cologne not from Munich so she was a traveler as well), and Peggy and David, a 70-year-old couple from Iowa who came to Oktoberfest as part of a bucket list trip. That’s the next thing about why Oktoberfest is great: the amount of new friends you meet are ridiculous, and everyone has a fun time meeting new people.
When I got to Saturday, however, I knew I was in a pickle. My flight left the next day at 7:15 a.m. The problem was I couldn’t even check out of my campsite until 8 a.m., and even if I had checked out the night before, there was still the problem of getting to the airport at 4 a.m. So, I made a decision to buy a seven-hour bus ticket back to Berlin, leaving instead at 11:30 a.m.
Riding the bus home after four days at Oktoberfest, I felt quite content with the trip I had taken there. If I had the opportunity, I would absolutely go back again. It was a fun time, and it was definitely worth it. Next time I will talk more about my trip to Oktoberfest and what I learned as well.
9/19/2017 - At the Halfway Point
I have been here in Berlin for close to three months now, and I have basically hit the halfway mark of my internship. I wanted to reflect so far about what I have learned while being here in Europe. How has this fun yet rollercoaster ride these three months changed my mind about travelling and living abroad?
First of all, the thought of being only halfway through is good and bad in my mind. It is great because I still have so much time to create new experiences here in Germany that will be memories I cherish for a lifetime. It is also almost scary that I have been for seemingly months, yet I still have that same amount of time to go before returning home.
I am right in the middle of my internship now, and it is setting in how the 40-hour work week can sometimes be monotonous. I am still learning a lot about marketing, and I do like the people I am working with. Yet, it is important to know that sometimes life can be boring whether we want it to be or not. It is also a reminder that you must find a job that you are passionate about if you want to find more fulfillment and less boredom with your career.
Traveling solo is really fun and exciting. Although it can be sometimes scary, overcoming that fear is always worth it. When I lived in Spain, every trip I took to other cities was with other people in my same program. Now that I have been here in Germany, I have taken two big trips alone, Prague and Bilbao, and I plan to visit Munich solo for Oktoberfest next week (tune into the next blog post about it). Traveling solo is a great thrill, and I want to take two or three more trips after I go to Munich. I have not quite decided where to go yet, but I would like to have the chance to go to Budapest, Bucharest, Tallinn, Dublin, Copenhagen, Oslo, Kiev, Riga, Warsaw, Krakow, Edinburgh, Vienna or Helsinki. There are so many different places you can go. My conundrum is to decide where to go with my budget and time restrictions.
I still have a long way to go in my internship and time living in Germany, but I am starting to get used to living here. I am better prepared to handle any culture shocks I am not used to, as I am growing accustomed to them in Germany. Either way I really enjoy living abroad and most likely want to do it when I graduate from Nebraska in the next couple years.
9/10/2017 - Return to Bilbao Part 3
This will be my last post talking about Bilbao. I wanted to spend this one talking about what I learned going back there for the first time, and also why you should all go visit this city.
I love Bilbao. It is one of my favorite cities in Europe that I’ve visited. Yes, it is also one of my favorite cities where I have lived, beating out both Berlin and Lincoln. Living there jump-started my passion for traveling and seeing the world, a passion I was looking for at the time. I had gone through my entire freshman year at Nebraska before going to Bilbao in the fall sophomore year. I still did not know what I wanted to do yet in life.
Granted, I still had my whole life ahead of me and was still young, so I didn’t need to find my calling in life yet. When I had lived in Bilbao and returned, I felt accomplished in what I had done. And in that moment, I knew I wanted to return. Not just to Bilbao, I wanted to return to traveling. It was in that moment, my passion for traveling was born. That is what the city represents for me, and returning there reminded me of the nostalgia I felt. Even as I write this, in a few days I will be watching the main soccer teams of Berlin and Bilbao face each other in Berlin at the Olympiastadion.
I want to share why everyone should visit the city of Bilbao, and the whole of Basque Country as well. First of all, Bilbao is a beautiful city. After its industrial crisis, the city was reborn as a more artistic city with beautiful parks and murals. Also, the topography is beautiful as Bilbao is built in a valley in the mountains.
Bilbao and its surrounding mountains make it perfect for hiking. You can hike from the town of Plentzia up to the lighthouse of Gorliz, getting a beautiful view over the Bay of Biscay, or you can hike as I did from Bakio to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. For those more daring, you can pick up the Camino de Santiago at Bilbao, hiking along the Bay of Biscay toward St. James Cathedral.
For foodies, Bilbao and Basque Country are well known for their impressive gastronomy, especially in the city of San Sebastian to the west of Bilbao. It is one of the centers of Basque culture and cuisine, and should be visited as well as Bilbao.
Alas, it may be sometime before I return to Bilbao for a third time, as there are many other cities and countries I would like to visit first. But, I still am glad I was able to tell you all about why I love this city.
9/3/2017 - Return to Bilbao Part 2
I arrived in Bilbao on August 25, during the days of a festival called Aste Nagusia (great week or main week in English). I heard about this festival when I went to Bilbao a couple years ago to study abroad; however, I arrived too late to actually participate in the festivities. A large celebration of their culture and heritage, Aste Nagusia is like what happens in the U.S. for July 4, but the celebrations last for an entire nine days.
?After checking into my hostel, I immediately headed to the city center to visit all the places I remembered when I studied there. Feeling nostalgic of great times in Bilbao, I visited places like the Guggenheim Museum, Old Town, Zubizuri bridge and the University of Deusto where I studied. I enjoyed taking a good trip down memory lane.
?That evening, I met up with a few acquaintances who I had not seen since I left the city almost two years ago. Together, we enjoyed the various festivities of Aste Nagusia including multiple live music venues. The evening culminated close to midnight with a massive ten-minute fireworks display from a hill next to the Old Town.
?The next day was more of the same. Yet this time, I had more energy (I had to leave my apartment in Berlin at 4 a.m. on the day before to make my flight and had no rest until the night). That night was also the last night of Aste Nagusia, as the festivities would end the next day. I returned to the Old Town with the same friends before thousands of people filled the streets for the final fireworks show of the week. The amazing show lasted over fifteen minutes and ended the whole festival. It was an awesome sight to see.
?On Monday, I woke up early to visit a site in Basque Country called San Juan De Gaztelugatxe, a church built on an island just off the coast. It is quite an impressive piece of history as well as a beautiful monument. “Game of Thrones” filmed some scenes there. I took a bus from Bilbao for 2.50 euros to the small neighboring town of Bakio. From there it was a rough 4-5 mile hike up and down a mountain to get to there. It was tiring, but absolutely worth it as it gave me perspective about how the church was built over one thousand years ago and is still standing, including the stairs and bridge connecting it to the mainland.
?When I had gotten my fill of the sights and beauty, I hiked back to Bakio and caught the bus back to Bilbao. It was unfortunately the last highlight of my trip as I checked out the next morning and caught my flight back to Berlin early afternoon. I do miss Bilbao, but I am happy I got to visit there again before I leave Europe. For my next blog post, I want to share with you why you should visit Bilbao as well as some perspective of what the city means for me.
8/30/2017 - Return to Bilbao Part 1
Two years ago I had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain in the city of Bilbao. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. When I had this current opportunity in Berlin, I knew I wanted to return to Bilbao for the first time since 2015. Out of all the trips I wanted to take throughout Europe, I would go back to Bilbao no matter what.
Because there is so much I love about Bilbao and there is a lot I want to share with you about it, I plan to write a couple blog posts about it. Also, I want to give information about why people should visit Bilbao as well as the surrounding area. To start off, I think it is important to understand some crucial background information on the area and its culture.
Bilbao is in Basque Country. It developed quite differently than the rest of Spain. The language, culture and people are complete different from other parts of Spain. The Basque language, known as Euskera, is completely isolated, having no direct language cousins anywhere near it. For example, the phrase, “What are you doing?” translated to Basque (by Google translate) is “Zertan Zabiltza?” That is nothing like nearby European languages like Spanish, Portuguese, English, German, French, etc. Also, people from Basque Country are not Spaniards. They are Basques or Euskaldunak in the Basque language. The people want to make a distinction between their culture and the rest of Spain.
Spain fought a civil war in the 1930s in which Fascist dictator Francisco Franco was victorious and took control of Spain. He heavily suppressed Basque language and culture. One way it survived his rule is through quasi-secret clubs called txokos (pronounced cho-kos) in which Basque men came together to cook Basque food, speak Basque, sing Basque songs, etc.
When Franco died and Spain returned to democracy in the 1970s, things at first did not get better. A Basque terrorist group called Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (meaning Basque Liberty and Homeland) committed attacks such as bombings targeting Spanish government officials, where others were killed by collateral damage. Also, in the 1980s, Bilbao, which had been a heavily industrial city, experienced a severe economic and industrial crisis as industry collapsed in the city.
However, so much has improved since that time. Bilbao built the Guggenheim Museum which helped revive the city’s tourism efforts. Now, Bilbao is in great shape economically and culturally. The Euskadi Ta Askatasuna have ceased all violent action. It has never been a better time to visit Bilbao. In my next post, I will go over what I did this time in Bilbao and how it felt to return after nearly two years.
8/21/2017 - Two Months in Review
After two months at my internship in Germany, it feels like time is going by extremely fast. I learned much about the culture in Berlin, as well as what it means to work a normal 40-hour week like an adult. While being scary, my experience has made it well worth the move to another city on a whim even if you don’t know anybody there. It forced me to step outside of my comfort zone, but in the end, it is definitely worth it.
I also learned hardships inevitably come and learned to deal with them and grow from the experiences. For example, I was sick with a stomach flu most of last week. It sucked. I missed a few days of work, and it wasn’t a fun time. However, I dealt with it by going to a doctor, and now I’m feeling much better. No one can control when hardships come while living abroad, but learning how to handle them allowed me to grow as a person more than I thought possible.
One of the most important things I experienced was finding friends in the most unexpected places. There are people who I am friends with that I would have never thought I would be friends with, especially among my coworkers. I found there are people who I get along with well, and I never expected it. I enjoy meeting new people and making new friends.
All things considered, it has been a good first two months. I especially look forward to this upcoming week. I will return to Bilbao, Spain, the city I studied abroad in two years ago. I am very excited to see my old friends as well as all the places I remember. I cannot wait and plan to write about it next week.
8/4/2017 – A Weekend in Prague
One of the allures of Europe is the large amounts of different cultures and nationalities in a very close proximity. That is why a lot of students visiting Europe from the United States like myself love visiting as many different cities as they can. Case in point, this past weekend I spent three days in Prague, checking another new city off my list of cities to visit. It was my first trip outside of Berlin since I arrived in Europe five weeks ago.
The weekend did not start great, unfortunately, as my flight was delayed out of Berlin. We were waiting over an hour about luggage still in the terminal and a lack of communication as our plane did not have one of the vehicles required to push back the plane from where it was parked. But, soon I was off and on my way to Prague.
I spent the next few days walking around the city, seeing its beautiful and legendary gothic architecture, from the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn to Charles Bridge. It’s easy (and fun) to get lost among its narrow streets and winding alleys in its Old Town. I swear I walked almost fifteen miles in total over the weekend. One of the best sights in the city is from the Prague Metronome, a giant functional metronome at top of a hill overlooking the city. The views are absolutely stunning as you gaze out over the entirety of the old town, laid out in front of you.
Alas, not everything is great in Prague. The city has mostly sold its soul to tourism. The beautiful streets and squares are packed with thousands of bumbling tourists, all cramming together to all take pictures, city tours and selfies. Instead of a quiet and rustic experience, you are greeted with large crowds of foreign peoples trying to move through the streets. One of the best (and cheapest) places to get authentic Czech food in the city is located conveniently next to a Hooters bar and grill, which really goes to show the almost painful extent of how tourism overtook the city.
But, it is not all bad. English has become very popular in the city, making it easy for Americans to travel to the city and visit. In a lot of stands across the city, they are selling a sweet food called trdelnik
(I still have no idea how to pronounce it). It is basically a hollowed out cylindrical donut covered in cinnamon sugar on the outside. The best way is to have it served with nutella on the inside surface, with ice cream filling the hollow in the middle. It is incredibly delicious and is very refreshing on a hot summer day.
All things considered, Prague is still a fantastic city with a great history. If you can deal with the large crowds of tourists, the city is truly a beautiful place with fantastic architecture. Even so, at the end of the weekend, I had to return to Berlin and return to my work life. But, I won’t forget the city of Prague.
7/27/2017 – Food, Glorious Food
Germany is quite often synonymous with its cuisine. Pretzels, beer, bratwurst, mustard and sauerkraut are just a few of the many types of food to be found in Germany.
Berlin offers more diversity as it attracts people from all around the world. Over the past three-and-a-half weeks in Berlin, I have tried many different foods from across the world in one city. From Turkish food to Vietnamese food, you don’t have to go far for foods from all over the world.
Popular in German culture, the doner kebab is beef or chicken meat in a bread pocket with chili and garlic sauce and also some lettuce, tomato and onion. It is delicious and filling. The doner kebab was rumored to be invented in Berlin by Turkish immigrants following World War II. No matter its true origin, it is tasty and good food, and at around 3.50 euros ($4.11), it is a cheap meal. The kebab is found all over Europe yet surprisingly not in the U.S. I think it would sell extremely well there, and everyone would love it.
Another special food in Berlin is their most well-known street food, currywurst. This food is made by taking a normal German sausage and cutting it up into smaller pieces, drenching it in curry ketchup, and then putting curry powder on top. It is so delicious, and easy to find everywhere.
Of course, you cannot talk about German food without talking about bratwurst. You will find stands selling them all across the city. With a price under the equivalent of $2, you can’t go wrong for a cheap and easy snack.
The last food I will mention are pretzels. There are small bakery stands set up everywhere, even in most metro stations, selling freshly baked bread, pretzels and coffee. I remember back in the U.S. some sporting events would sell pretzels. But those were the cheap, frozen pretzels some guy would throw into the microwave, dust it with salt and then hand it to you with fake nacho cheese. But these are real German pretzels, and when you get one fresh out of the oven, they are extremely good.
Wherever you go in Berlin, you will find delicious food for cheap. Whether for a small snack or a filling meal, you cannot go wrong exploring the city to see exactly what it has to offer.
7/17/2017 – Let’s Get to Work
This internship is my first real life experience in a regular “nine to five” office job. As a college student, I’m not really used to that much! I’m starting to get the hang of it. There is still a lot I do not know about the jobs I need to do, but I am only an intern, and my supervisor took me aside one day and told me that it’s ok if I don’t know everything. That is why I’m here, to learn and to grow.
When interns are depicted in movies or TV shows, you see them doing coffee runs for employees, doing pitiful monotonous work and being looked down upon by employees. A pleasant shock to me, I am not really treated as the “stereotypical intern.” The most I’ve had to do with that is on Mondays and Fridays, our company does team lunches, where the interns have to go get lunch for the rest of the company. However, the interns do not have to pay for the lunches. I am happy to do that work to save money rather than spending on my own lunch.
There is not just one thing I do every day, and the day does not usually have a set schedule of things that I do. So, there is not a typical day I could talk about. Today, for example, my supervisor was on vacation, but he had given me a list to do. I created a client list and checked with our sales software to see if they were in the system. Then, I went to go get team lunch. After lunch, I did research into search engine optimization to improve the language of our blog posts, then I researched types of clients we want to market to in order to get an idea of how to write articles to appeal to them. Lastly, I started a rough draft of a blog post about laboratory management.
I think I have to get used to the 40-hour weeks that working in an office job brings, but I have time. I am here for six months, so I will have to see how well I adapt to more of a working adult life.
7/6/2017 - The First Week
I have arrived safely in Berlin after 19 hours of flying, in which I did not sleep at all during the long flight over the Atlantic. I have currently been here for about four to five days as I write this, and I have been doing my best to get used to the city.
When I arrived in Berlin last Wednesday, I got hit with a momentous amount of jet lag. When you travel, each of us have to deal with jet lag in one way or another. The best way to conquer it is as soon as you arrive at your destination, get on the schedule immediately of the place where you are. This means eating meals when it is the appropriate time, and most importantly, do not take a nap as soon as you arrive. Do your best to stay up and continue on through the day until it is the actual time to go to bed. This will help in returning your sleep schedule to a normal balance.
Over the past few days, I have wandered around the city of Berlin, seeing the sights and getting the overall lay of the land. I started out visiting the more touristy areas of Berlin like the Brandenburg Gate, Alexanderplatz and the Fernsehturm, as well as the remains of the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie. Since I had this time before my internship started, I wanted to be a “stereotypical tourist,” and also spending some time getting used to the subway system.
Honestly, the first few days are mostly about settling into a city. If you are going to be living there for a while, such as a full semester if you’re choosing to study abroad, you have time to enjoy the sites. Too many people have a long travel checklist. They frantically race from place to place trying to see all that the city has to offer, and yet they don’t enjoy what they see. Take your time. You do not have to see everything the first day.
This week, I have enjoyed the little moments of life. I use an app called Couchsurfing. There’s a feature where you can meet up with fellow travelers from all around the world who are also using the app. I met up with a few guys from Iceland, France and Turkey, and we went to a restaurant and watched a big soccer game between Germany and Chile. In that moment, I realized we need to hold onto and cherish moments like these. Life is more fun when you can enjoy the smaller things.
6/26/2017 - An Introduction of Sorts
I’ve thought for a while as to how I want to write this blog. I had seen several friends do study abroad programs where they each wrote a blog about their great experiences they had while traveling the world. When I studied abroad in fall 2015 in Spain, I decided not to keep a blog. Then, I got an internship in Germany, and I was offered to write a blog for the College of Business sharing my experience with an international internship. What made me want to do this? I want people to know about my travel experiences, so they themselves are inspired in a way that makes them want to go abroad as well.
Over the next six months, I look forward to motivating you as the reader to travel and live abroad to enhance your life. I will talk about what I’ve done, but also talk about tips for those looking to travel, as well as how I got here.
Today is the day before my flight leaves out of Omaha, and even though I’m writing about how great traveling is, I can’t help feel nervous and scared. Yet, it is a good nervous feeling and a good scary feeling. It is like the feeling you get before going on a roller coaster or the feeling you get when you finally get enough courage to ask your crush out on a date. It is a feeling of excitement mixed with anxiousness, and the reward is scores above the risk.
For those who have not studied abroad yet, I encourage you to visit the Education Abroad office at Nebraska, do research online and ask friends that have done it before (Keep reading this blog, of course, because I will share my own tips). For those who have already studied abroad, I want to talk about now how I got an internship outside of the country because that can seem like a daunting task.
After I returned from my study abroad program in Spain, I knew I wanted to go back as soon as possible. It was one of the best experiences of my life. The easiest way would be to do another study abroad program for another semester, but that did not really seem right for me. The next logical option was to find an internship either back in Spain or another country in Europe. It would not only give me international experience, but internship experience as well, adding some more character to my résumé.
So, I went to the Business Career Center in fall 2016, and an advisor gave me some good websites to use to apply through. For the first month, it was tough going. I had yet to have gotten a positive response from any company.
Then, in late October, I got a response. A company called Labfolder out of Berlin, Germany, had liked my résumé and decided to give me an interview over Skype. The interview went well, so they followed it up with a second interview and a writing test. On the day after my birthday in mid-December, I got a call from the HR Manager saying they would like to formally offer me the position. I was ecstatic. I would be returning to Europe slightly less than two years after I had left.
For those who wish to have an internship somewhere abroad, I have some tips for you in your search. First, send out a lot of résumés to many different companies in many different places. You never know which ones might respond. Along those same lines, do not be afraid to send a résumé to a company where you may not fit all of the criteria necessary. Lastly, be willing to accept a position that doesn’t fit exactly what you were thinking. Be willing to try something new, and be ready for anything.