I’m not even kidding. I’m not a wealthy student; travelling in western countries does take its toll on my wallet. It would’ve been a shame not to do it though, so during my year abroad, I did my fair share of excursions around the European continent, be it for immersion, events or just sightseeing. And to mitigate my financial stress, since last year, I started exploring newer ways of travelling alone: instead of forking out for hotels and airbnb, I tried lots of hostels and Couchsurfing hosts instead.
…which is why I’ve recently been answering a lot of questions like “is it risky to couchsurf?” “is it awkward to share a room with strangers?”
A while ago, my friend Fiel from Between 3 Worlds wrote a great post on why hostels rule; while I couldn’t agree more with his reasons, I feel like it’s only half the story. I think it’s now my turn to answer some of these questions, drawing from my one year of ‘cheap travelling’ experience.
What Couchsurfing is about
Before we dig deeper, some of you might not know exactly what Couchsurfing is yet. While it’s originally the name of the biggest site of its kind, it’s evolved to mean home-sharing communities, where travellers get to sleep at hosts’ place (supposedly) for free, be it on couches or beds of all sorts. This is where most people scratch their heads: why would people even share their homes? What is it all about?
Read the previous parts: Day 0 Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Thanks to my slow (albeit steady) publishing schedule interspersed with other topics, even the next polyglot event of the year has ended. But fear not! With my thick online face, I shall continue to document my favourite excursion of the year until I’m done! Unbelievable as it was, we’d come to the last day of the main event, and I’d come to my last chance of recovering my voice. Yes, it was still lost…I did get one good sentence out, but afterwards it got worse again. So bad that I skipped breakfast to grab a couple of lozenges at the one and only Hauptbahnhof. Hoping for the best. But let’s get back into the last day of fun!
Read the previous parts: Day 0 Day 1 Day 2
Phew! It’s taken a bit longer than expected to get the third (official) day of the event documented here! That’s mostly due to me setting off on my final journey in Europe and spending more time with my private travelogue than this. But if you’ve been reading the past two installments, the bulk of this will be similar: more talks on different topics. I’ll try to recollect what I found interesting in each talk concisely, and highlight more of the special activities unique to the day!
By the third day I’ve becoming totally hooked on the lozenges I got from my friend. Thankfully it doesn’t really hurt anymore to speak, but I still have that sexy, coarse voice with a very limited volume – I won’t be shouting at the speakers from my seat any time soon for sure. Again, it was simply impossible for me to get to the first talk in time, after all the gettting-up-procedures and a chatty breakfast. Not even when it was Richard Simcott himself’s talk on language difficulty. The thing is, while we all have high expectations on the talks by these big-name polyglots, they’ve for the most part already said all they have to say on other media, so in these talks they kind of just summarise certain advice and ideas for us. Same for this: we’ve all discussed hard and easy languages, and what makes them hard or easy, but the point is it’s our own circumstances and motivation that make a language easy or hard, in addition to the intrinsic complexity of the grammar and vocabulary.
Read the previous parts: Day 0 Day 1
Getting into the even more fun parts of the gathering! This day there were even more multilingual talks, as well as sessions (that I skipped) called Lightning Talks, i.e. 5-minute short talks by anyone without too much preparation or visual aid. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Starting from day 2, we had to get up much earlier, at least in order not to miss anything interesting. (I do know someone who skips everything before noon though.) I was fine getting up, only to find…no, it’s the opposite: to not find my voice. Yes, I had known on day 1 that I’d caught a cold, and I’d felt a sore throat, but I thought it’d get better real soon. It didn’t. Instead, I was shocked to realise I’d lost my ability to speak, almost completely. At a polyglot gathering! It’s as if someone had put a curse on me or stolen my speaking capabilities. Jealous maybe. I’m a goddamn polyglot.
After killing the time – both mine before the actual gathering and yours for reading my previous post for Day 0 – the actual gathering was about to begin. To be fair, though, Day 0 already contained enough socialising to be considered an essential part of the event. I met tons of polyglots I knew, and even more that I didn’t. It’s pretty magical that we polyglots, or language learners – probably a weird geek among our ‘normal’ friends – get to meet so many other weirdos just to geek out together. To not feel alone in the quest for polyglottery and cross-cultural communication. To help each other spread the message that…one language is never enough.
For better or worse, I already started staying up a bit before Day 1. Thankfully, the event starts late on the first day to accommodate people just arriving that morning. At 10, we were all done with our first breakfast socialising session – complete with cornflakes, very German Schinken and very German bread, and sweet, sweet coffee – and gathered in a full room for the greeting. Indeed we really have these people to thank for this – such a huge event, along with accommodation, meals, extra activities (to be mentioned later!)…it’s a huge annual effort and probably heavy pressure. But I was soon put under pressure as well as I had to choose talks to go to. As a lingophile, virtually all of the talks captured my interest. Fun fact – I’m one of those who can never make choices. So here I’d have to choose ones that were more immediately helpful or useful, or just choose according to my new friends’ preferences or the speaker, and hope that they’d upload the video recordings soon enough. Because last year’s talks didn’t finish getting uploaded until last week. Seriously.
If you’re one of the two people who have been reading my blog since its inception, you might remember how it all started out – with a series of travelogues from Germany. Okay, I’ve always planned to make it predominantly a language blog, and I never managed to complete the series, but guess what, it’s #throwback today, so why not…write a language post that’s also a travelogue in Germany?
So…we’re here! YES, I just came back from Berlin to Lund, from the unforgettable annual Polyglot Gathering that I’d been looking forward to for months. Heck I’d been wanting to go since the first one, two years ago, but was only unable because I lived in Asia! So the moment I knew I was going to be an exchange student in Europe, my reaction was “yes! POLYGLOT GATHERING!”, above all. I don’t know whether I’ll ever be living in Europe again (no matter how much I want to) or whether I’ll get rich enough to afford an annual flight to Berlin, so before I departed from Lund, I firmly told myself – I had to have the most fun possible.
Oh Munich…it’s such an enormous city that my trip there takes two posts to recount! Catch up with what I’d done in the first 2 days here 🙂 At this point (the middle of the Munich stay) I was pretty much halfway through my 26-day journey. I still couldn’t believe this!
With my practical matters settled, I arrived by metro at the Olympiapark, where the tragic 1972 Summer Olympics were held. Except you shouldn’t expect to see much Olympics-related stuff here: there were stadiums, fields and a nice pool yes, but what you’ll be noticing is a tall observation tower of some sort. Nearby stand the BMW World & Museum if you’re interested in cars (I’m not…yet), and an aquarium if you’ve got time for that. There might even be events like performances going on around the area. If not, you could just walk around, maybe go for a swim, and enjoy the relaxing surroundings – I’m no architecture expert, but I found the generally modernistic and simplistic designs, in addition to the greenery, pretty pleasing.
Wow, there we go – the first German metropolis I visited! (Wait, does Hamburg count?) I’d budgeted 4 whole nights for this city only second to the capital, so that I could either see ‘everything’ in time or take everything slowly. Well, ‘everything’ as in what everyone says I must see – I don’t really believe in that. I could reassure you though, I did honour the city’s fame: the first thing I did, after finally successfully arriving at my host’s home, was having a bottle of dark beer.
Lonely Planet’s tagline for Heidelberg is ‘surrender to your inner romantic’: this city is not only home to the oldest university in Germany, unscathed by the wars in the past century, but also a cozy and charming city at the same time – a place to fall in love (with). And I think I did. It was mildly enticed to hop off the train at Weinheim, but I didn’t know what awaited me at my destination yet, did I? Since my time there I’ve been asked many times about my favourite part of Germany, and though I couldn’t name why – everyone judges a place by their own experience – it was always this town; perhaps this is love at first sight?
Everyone who heard I’m going to Frankfurt says I shouldn’t spend more than a day or even go there at all. Despite all this, I ended up spending two nights there – granted, one night more than I planned, but I found out that this city is not all about the airport and the commerce; it also has some treasures to offer to tourists. These might not suit all visitors’ interests, but hey, isn’t that true for all tourist spots? Read on and you’ll see what I, coming from quite a similar city – Hong Kong, found worthwhile in this commercial centre.