Travelogue LXVI: We

unspecified-10January 10, 2016 In the few years of this blog’s activity, I’ve tried to keep purely personal narratives to a minimum, to reveal the goings-on in my life only to the extent that they were applicable to the business of being abroad. But some of you may have noticed that the I in my posts has been more and more frequently replaced by a we. Maybe that deserves a bit of an explanation.

And anyway, some joys are just too big not to be shared.

unspecified-4unspecified-5unspecified-2unspecified-7unspecified-3unspecified-9unspecified-8unspecified-14unspecified-13unspecifiedAll pictures were taken by my wonderfully talented sister, Anna.

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Travelogue LXII: Liminality

Liminality, noun. From the Latin limen, threshold. The quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete.

In common usage, liminality describes any period of transition, where the individual has the feeling of being on both sides of a boundary or threshold. It is often a time of discomfort, of waiting, and of transformation. (source)


Between Mainz and Geisenheim.

July 26, 2016 I find myself in a liminal space. In three weeks, I will be in Vermont. The day after tomorrow, I will defend the thesis I came to Germany to write. Everything is in flux.

Next week I will be spending the last night in my beloved apartment in the Old City.  It’s been the first place in my life that belonged only to me—above the flower shop, in a cobblestone street where the bums call out “Good morning, Whistling Girl!” when they see me and the waiter in my favorite Weinstube knows my name. The leave-taking is hard. Last spring, I watched the mourning doves outside my window raise a family while I went to the theater alone; this spring, I was the one making a nest. And now I’m packing everything into suitcases again and starting over on the other side of the world.

Between Hamburg and Copenhagen.

 July 30, 2016 Germany, it seems, is also in a liminal space. It’s a strange and heady time here, when it seems like Europe is falling apart a little at the seams, where in Germany especially the greatest of challenges is faced and answers are sought to very hard questions. The face of this country is in flux.
Some parts of the change you are used to already, even when you don’t want to be. For instance, you are drinking wine with friends when one of them excuses himself to go call friends in Munich to make sure they are ok, and you say, “Another terrorist attack?“ and know that the answer is yes and somehow are not even shocked anymore.
Some things you are still learning. For instance, you are standing in Berlin in the train station surrounded by thousands of people and you think fleetingly that any one of those suitcases, any one of those sunglassed tourists could be about to blow the place up. You are learning not to be scared. You are not scared.
But still, there is always something in the air, an underlying current of discomfort that only needs the tiniest of triggers to come to the surface. You are at the Christopher Street Day in Mainz, laughing and dancing and watching a line-up of the Pfalz’s finest drag queens, when someone pops a balloon behind you—louder than usual, cutting through the music. You jump and cling together for a second and have to admit that the first thought that entered your head was that this was finally it, the nightmare come to Mainz….
Ambiguity, discomfort, transformation. The whole country is waiting; the ritual is not yet at an end. And right now, all one can do is stand in a torn-apart kitchen and wash windows and almost cry as Rheinhard May sings “Wann ist Frieden endlich Frieden?“—when is peace finally peace? 

Between Mainz and Frankfurt

August 25, 2016 I’ve been back in Vermont for ten days now, in this place that seems so silent and peaceful and non-transformative in comparison to what I just left.

Taking the bus up to Vermont from Boston, the driver plays the country station I grew up listening to, wedged between my father and my siblings on the seat of the pickup. We fly up the interstate and I am suddenly surrounded by the Green Mountains, for the first time in over a year. This is home, I think, I’m back.

But later that night, the liminality of it all is brought back to me again. Even after 24 hours of jet-lagged travel, I can’t sleep, in my own childhood bedroom. The silence and dark–things I once treasured, things I needed to sleep–are suddenly oppressive, foreign. I want the echoes of footsteps on cobblestones, want the friendly light from the street lamp in the courtyard. In the huge drafty room I share with my sister, I feel lost.

And so the transition goes on. After the first few nights, I can sleep in Vermont again. But in two weeks, I will be leaving even this for a strange city on the West Coast and a new field of studies and a new way of life. I will arrive again, and put down roots, and I am deeply looking forward to this.

At the moment, though, I’m still standing on both sides of the threshold.

Frohe Weihnachten!

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

Hamlet, Act I Scene I



December 25, 2015 Christmas-not-in-Vermont will never stop being something strange. I skype with my family and see my father, wearing three flannel shirts one on top of the other, coming in from doing chores and standing in the doorway because he is still wearing his work boots. And my siblings, flown home from college and sprawled in front of the fire on sheepskins with the dog. And my mother, cooking enough delicious food for an army because, heck, it’s Christmas. And the tree in its usual spot, and the manger scene without Baby Jesus because he technically hasn’t been born yet, and Bing Crosby singing White Christmas in the background.

And I miss those people, and I miss that place. It’s a feeling of lack that is otherwise blessedly foreign to my experience abroad.

But then again, when I’m standing at my favorite Glühwein-stand in Mainz with my small community of fellow Comp Lit students gossiping about professors, or drunkenly singing Christmas carols on the street with Valerie after the Market in Ingelheim, or experiencing the towering hospitality of the people who have opened their lives and homes to me, I think, this isn’t so bad either.

In fact, maybe it’s more than just not bad.

Merry Christmas from Germany, folks.

6 Tips for World Travelers

A second post for Hillsdale College!

Hillsdale Launch

Travel light. Wheeling an oversized suitcase over cobblestone streets gets old fast. If you can’t lift it over your head or sprint across a train station with it, you probably don’t need it. Yes, fellow Hillsdalians, that includes the complete leather-bound edition of Augustine you carry everywhere. In all seriousness, though, it is incredibly freeing, both physically and psychologically, to leave your stuff behind and focus on other things while abroad. Unless you are moving to a foreign country for an extended period of time, a carry-on will most likely do.

Become more than a tourist. Pursue opportunities that will allow you to see your city or country from the inside instead of from the outside. For instance: If you are going to be in an area for more than a few months, consider getting a part-time job. Being a part of the workforce offers an entirely different perspective on…

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Study Abroad | Guest Post

I’ve had the opportunity to write about studying and living abroad for my fantastic undergraduate institution….thanks, Hillsdale College!

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Hillsdale Launch

Emily Goodling graduated from Hillsdale College in 2014 as a double-major in German and Classics. She is now getting her master’s degree in Comparative Literature in Mainz, Germany, as a DAAD scholarship holder. When she isn’t studying like a responsible graduate student, she is usually photographing some political protest or another, geeking out about German theater, or drinking Riesling on the banks of the Rhine river. She blogs about living and studying in Germany, and other things, at

Had you taken any languages before coming to Hillsdale? What made you decide to study abroad?

I came to Hillsdale as a Classics major, so, like a typical nerdy homeschooler, I had had Latin and Greek in highschool. I actually started German with the goal of being able to read Classical scholarship, but I fell too much in love with the language itself and decided to continue with it. At…

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Tschüss, 2014!

Dear Readers,

Believe it or not, I’ve been living abroad for exactly six months now. In one sense, it seems like just minutes ago that I was boarding a plane in Boston and asking myself what in the world I was doing; in another, however, it all seems lifetimes away.

The past year has brought more change than any other year of my life. At the beginning of 2014, I was still an undergraduate, spending my Christmas break at home and writing a thesis on Plato and Thomas Mann. I had just made the decision not to apply to American universities in favor of moving to Germany, and I was terrified that it was all going to come crashing down by the time I graduated.

Now, I’m living in Mainz in Rheinland-Pfalz, nearly halfway through the first semester of my masters’ degree. I haven’t seen my family for six months, and probably won’t for another nine. It’s been a season of growing into things–a new language, new people, a new educational system, a new way of seeing the world. It’s a humbling and exciting business, this.

And after four months here in Mainz, I don’t just feel like a visitor any more–I know where the most convenient food stores are, where not to walk at night, and which buses to take, and I give directions to tourists. I have a job, and some sort of social life, and go to classes and debate tragedy and existentialism in Hamlet along with everyone else. It’s good to be here.

It’s been a hard year in many ways, due to some things that I am too sick at heart about to put into writing. And at the same time it’s been one of the most beautiful of my life.


Schillerplatz, downtown Mainz. With snow and sunshine.


IMG_1049It’s strange–when I arrived in Germany all I wanted to do was blend in, to lose my American accent and reach the point where I could “pass” as German as fast as possible. Now, though, I’m not sure I want to do that anymore. When people say, “I thought you were from Austria!” or “I thought you just had a strong dialect!” it’s incredibly flattering (and also short-lived; it becomes apparent within a few minutes that I am *not* any sort of native speaker). At the same time, however, it’s strangely disturbing–do I really want to lose that part of my identity that publicly marks me as not German? If I can pass as 100% German, do I stop being American somehow?

This “living abroad” concept is as now as much a part of my existence as my feminism or my belief in the power of beauty–but when do I stop being someone who is living abroad? When is abroad not abroad any more?

I’ve thought about the title of my blog, and what will happen after I (most likely) return to America at the end of my masters’ degree, two years from now. I have a feeling that when I move back to the States the name “Emily Abroad” will still fit, because America will have become, just slightly, a sort of abroad for me. After you’ve invested so much in another place, after you’ve fallen in love with a language and a people and a country, can you ever really go back?


Mainz, Oberstadt.

In the end, one of the greatest joys of my time here as been keeping this blog, and I’m grateful to all of you for reading and commenting and generally caring. I would love any feedback you might have–what would you like to hear about in the coming year? Any pressing queries about Germany, about living and studying in a foreign country? I would be happy to hear from you.

I’m excited for the new year. Gaudeamus and Excelsior!

Alles Gute und Liebe,


Frohe Weihnachten!

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

Hamlet, Act I Scene I

IMG_1022Church of St. Ignaz, Mainz, fourth Sunday of advent.

IMG_1005Wooden nativity scene at the Weihnachtsmarkt in Mainz.


Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht!
Alles schläft, einsam wacht
Nur das traute, hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh.

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Die der Welt Heil gebracht,
Aus des Himmels goldenen Höh’n
Uns der Gnade Fülle läßt seh’n
Jesum in Menschengestalt!
Jesum in Menschengestalt!

IMG_1024 Schwibbogen–a traditional Christmas decoration, hand carved from wood from the Erzgebirge region in Germany.

IMG_1033Apfelkuchen–apple cake, made by my host-sister’s father.

IMG_1031And miracle of all miracles, on Christmas morning the sun came out.


Locus Amoenus II: Theater

Locus Amoenus, Latin: the lovely or pleasing place. A common trope in Ancient Roman literature, usually a garden or woodland–a spot of inherent safety, comfort, and striking beauty. The concept features in works by authors as early as Homer, and it was reveled in by the later pastoral poets before being passed on to the writers of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Locus amoenus is a place to retreat to, often with overtones of Elysium on earth.

Staatstheater_Wiesbaden_foyer028Foyer of the Staatstheater in Wiesbaden, just over the Rhein. 

Like the farm kitchen, the first of my personal loci amoeni I wrote about, the theater is no Vergilian garden–but a spot for me equally as transfixing, equally as bound up with memory and childhood and beauty. Like the kitchen, the theater is something that transcends all cultural boundaries: the moment before the curtain goes up or the conductor comes on stage is always the same, whether one is in Munich or in some drafty town hall in Vermont.

My love of the theater started when I turned 15, and began working as an usher in the next tiny town over. The Barre Opera House–certainly no Baroque jewel, but it had white molding and red velvet curtains and four box seats (no one sat in them anymore, but they existed!). To me, it was an entirely enchanting place. I would always work the balcony so I could use the secret spiral staircase in the wings, and lean out over the polished wooden railings, and pretend that I was in Vienna in 1791 for the premiere of Mozart’s Magic Flute. I loved the audiences, too–the aging, tenacious contingent of small-town Vermonters who could talk with equal ease about the local milk prices and the symphony on the program. Most evenings I had the feeling I was the only one in the place younger than 75, and I collected compliments from old men wearing immaculately pressed suits that must have been new sometime in the late sixties. There where two operas a year, and I remember driving home after Le Nozze di Figaro through the worst blizzard of 2008, drunk on Mozart for the first time in my life.

Writing of his own childhood, Thomas Mann says, “I can never forget the hours of deep, solitary happiness in the midst of the theater crowd–hours full of horror and delight of the nerves and intellect, of insight into things of the most vast and moving significance, such as only this art affords.” He, as always, gets it just right.

6758627-Staatstheater_Mainz_MainzStaatstheater in Mainz, with weekly market. 

Still, America–and small-town New England above all–isn’t really made for theater-goers. Once we got older, my sister and I went to a handful of operas and plays a year, usually traveling over an hour and paying 35$ or more for a spot in the cheap seats. I called up the opera houses every year to ask about student discounts, but never got anywhere.

The difficulties come in large part from the  infrastructure behind the arts in America, which has a distinct air of precariousness. Funding usually comes from audiences and donors alone: if no one buys the tickets, the theater closes its doors. On one hand, such a close relationship between the audience and stage is good–on the other, however, the entire set-up keeps ticket prices high and stifles the creativity of directors and actors. One need only look at the Metropolitan Opera, currently on the verge of bankruptcy due in large part to the “risky new productions” (read: non-traditional, moderately avant-garde) brought in by the new manager Peter Gelb.

IMG_0725The Alte Oper in Frankfurt. The inscription reads, “To the True, the Beautiful, and the Good.”

In Germany, the entire system runs on different terms, and better ones, I think. This is truly the land of theater: every small town has at least one, and an opera house, and a symphony to boot. The amount of productions even the smallest of theaters is able to put on over the course of a season is staggering to me. For instance: at the Staatstheater in Mainz, certainly no metropolis, there will 78 performances of some 30 different works in December alone, spread between several different stages and often performing simultaneously with one another. In America, such a vast program would be inconceivable anywhere other than a very large city. Here, between Wiesbaden and Mainz, two small towns within ten minutes of each other, I could go to the theater every night for the next two years.

The financial precariousness is entirely removed, too: even the smallest theaters in Germany receive hefty funding at the state or municipal level. It’s part of the mentality–being able to go to the theater in one’s own town is a point of pride, a vitally important facet of local culture and identity. At an artistic level, this financial situation means that almost anything goes on stage, for better or for worse (mostly for better, in my opinion). Directors can be as trashy or shocking or ground-breaking as they wish, without worrying about offending the sensibilities of a conservative audience. And for students, it’s an absolute windfall. With my card from the University I can see anything in Mainz for free, and get front-row tickets at pretty much any other theater in Germany for 4-8 €.

IMG_0741Schedules for the next month, hanging above my desk…

And so I go to the theater. There’s a sort of rhythm to it all–dress up, look at train schedules, run to the station and read on the train, wait in line at the box office, look around the city a bit during intermission (intermissions in Germany are long, because EVERYONE has to drink a glass of Sekt [champagne] and eat a Brezel!), rant about the whole thing on the way home. It’s exciting, and utterly new.

Staatstheater_Kaskadenbrunnen0106Staatstheater in Wiesbaden by night.

Some highlights of the past two weeks:

Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (or Nora in German, because Puppenheim just sounds weird). In Frankfurt, where we gawked at the sky scrapers and tried without success to find Goethe’s house. The production: shattering, minimalistic, with spotlights shone directly into the audience and rock music turned up too loud. It’s Germany; everything’s designed to make you uncomfortable. It’s astonishing to me how a work some 150 years old can be so relevant.

Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, performed in the local museum in a room full of frescoes and statues from ancient Greece. Mahler is absolutely wrenching live.

Elfriede Jelinek’s brand-new Rein Gold in Wiesbaden. Jelinek is insane; I’ve been obsessed with her ever since my professor told me I must on no account, read her novels, because they were borderline pornographic filth. She’s everything I love about German literature: edgy and hard-hitting, willing to ask the hardest of questions. Rein Gold was a Bühnenessay (Stage-essay; the first of its genre according to the authoress)–a witty, often disturbing meditation on Richard Wagner’s Ring, taking up the themes of capitalism and heroism in modern Germany. Lots of references to the current political situation that I didn’t understand, lots of references to Wagner that I did.

Travelogue XIV: People

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!

The Tempest V.i., William Shakespeare


3. Oktober, 2014 I am, in general, delighted by people. The chance to get to know more of them has been for me one of the greatest joys of this whole traveling experience. To get to know–by that, I don’t necessarily mean in the way of forming lasting friendships, though that is good too, but rather to encounter, to engage in dialogue, to come into contact with beings so marvelous that they slightly change, over the course of a conversation, the way you see the world.

There was, for instance, the woman on whose couch I slept my first night in Mainz, who gave me potted plants and a beautiful Persian rug for my room. She restores paintings at the art museum in the city–Baroque graphics, mostly, and a few impressionistic watercolors. When I stopped by her workspace, she lovingly turned over two of the works on her dest and showed me the strip of brighter paint around the edges, as wide as a fingernail clipping. “That’s where the old frame was,” she said. “We’ll never get the color back. But aren’t they beautiful? From a private collection–what a treasure.” From the amount of care in her voice, she could have been talking about a child or a dear friend.

Or a few days ago, the elderly gentleman in the cafe in the city, a composer of music for silent films–German expressionist films of the 1920s, to be exact, the same works I had studied and fallen in love with last semester. He was a talker. He came under the spell of Richard Wagner as a young boy and can still play all the piano reductions. He had read the entire opuses of both Robert Musil and Thomas Mann. His favorite scene Musil’s The Man Without Qualities is where Ulrich shoots the grand piano to pieces with his pistol. And he knew someone in Austria who had a portrait of the family estate painted by Hitler. “Das ist Erzählung–that’s story,” he said.

IMG_0638Drop-spindling on the marketplace.

Or just this evening, there was a local bum sitting near me in the Old City, where I was leaning on the edge of a fountain and spinning wool. “Is that a spindle?” he said, and without waiting for me to answer launched into a monologue on the effects of handwork on the soul in a rushed world, drawing in references to the Virtuous Woman in Proverbs and the Senecan concept of internal rest, speaking of the necessity of practicing stillness in order to live well and to prepare for death. “Das Meer der verzehrten Menschen ist sehr groß,” he said. “The see of wasted men is vast.” I thought, he has voice of an actor and the syntax of a poet or a professor of literature. But before I could ask him how he came to speak like that, he turned around and walked off.

Beauteous, indeed.

Locus Amoenus I: Farm Kitchen

In ancient Roman literature, one common trope is the locus amoenus–the lovely or pleasing place. Usually a garden or woodland, the locus amoenus is a spot of inherent safety, comfort, and natural beauty. The concept features in works by authors as early as Homer, and it was reveled in by the later pastoral poets before being passed on to the writers of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Locus amoenus is a place to retreat to, often with overtones of Elysium on earth.

IMG_0367The kitchen in Kulmbach.

It’s no Virgilian garden, and certainly not beautiful in any classical sense of the word, but one of my most treasured loci amoeni is the farm kitchen in August. Some of my earliest memories are of our kitchen at home, during harvest season–standing on a chair at the sink and pushing zucchini through the food processor, steam billowing off the pots of sterilizing jars on the stove. The whole process was somehow magical, my mother some sort of goddess of cooking. How does she know how to do all that, to transform hundreds of pounds of vegetables into something we can eat for the next six months?

There was a rhythm to it all which I found comforting and intimate. Harvest, wash, snap, cut, boil, strain, can, bag, label, freeze–after so many Augusts, I have the feeling that I could do it almost in my sleep. And when the garden is at its peak, it’s a race against time. Put up the food or lose it.

IMG_0365Pesto-making station–fresh basil, garlic cloves, roasted hazelnuts, olive oil. 

Here on the farm in Kulmbach, in August and therefore at the height of harvest season, I’ve worked in the kitchen nine hours a day for the past three weeks. It’s the same locus amoenus from my childhood, now thousands of miles from home. I have all the recipes from my mother, the same laundry baskets full of beans or squash or apples, the same damp cutting boards and buckets of peels and pits left over afterwards. It’s so strange, to be doing this in a foreign country, alone, without my family, in someone else’s kitchen–and even more strange, how familiar it all is. It seems like there is nothing separating me from all those past Augusts, or from the current harvest season at home in Vermont, where my mom and sister are standing in the kitchen doing the exact same thing I am.

Last week, though, I wasn’t alone. There was a little girl here from France, Sofia, who spoke fluent German and Italian and babbled on for hours about her recent vacation in Sicily. She helped me make apple sauce, and I gave her the pot to lick when we were finished. “When you were little and helped your mom in the kitchen, did she let you have the pot when everything was done?” she asked. “Yes,” I said, “Yes, she did.”

IMG_0417The all-important Speisekammer, with everything that has already been canned or preserved–almost full and it’s only mid-August!