Author Archives: Clinton Tak

Reflections on My Time in Europe

Now that I am writing the last of my blog posts for the Deutsche Akademie, I figured it would be good to reflect on my time in Vienna so far. I have been thinking a lot about what has been good, what has been bad, and what experiences have taught me the most about myself while I have been here.

There are so many amazing things that I have gotten to experience while being in Vienna. Making friends at the Deutsche Akademie, learning so much about the world as part of my work at the UN, and making connections with people from all over Europe. It has truly been an amazing experience and one that I feel so fortunate to have had in my life. I’ll always remember the various foods, drinks, and cultural experiences I have had the opportunity to be a part of here, and I really couldn’t imagine a better way to spend the last few months.

Of course, nothing is perfect and there have been some tough moments living here as well. I think the feeling of not fully belonging is one that still lingers in the back of my mind, but as I get better and better at German and integrate more and more with Austrian society that feeling will slowly go away. Also, the distinct lack of Mexican food that I grew up eating in Southern California is also a hardship that I will have to learn to endure. But I have managed to substitute my cravings for Mexican food with a healthy portion of Käsekrainer and Döner, and I think that will get me through the next few months.

Lastly, the things that have taught me about myself. While here, I have learned that friends can be found in the most unlikely of places, and I have learned that in order to have a friend you have to be a friend. I have learned that even if you don’t speak a language perfectly, usually people will just appreciate that you tried and meet you half way. And I learned that through hard work and determination, I too can eventually become fluent in German. It’s going to take some time and I will have to be patient but eventually it will happen.

I’ve had an amazing time in Vienna so far, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings. I feel that Vienna is becoming a place I can call home, and in a few months when my time here is over I know I will be very sad to leave.

Schloss Neuschwanstein

One of the most amazing things that I have done in Europe is taking a tour at Neuschwanstein. Sure, its super touristy it sometimes feels like there is a million people there, but it is also a breath taking monument with amazing hiking trails, beautiful views, and lots of rich history. I believe everyone should see Neuschwanstein (and its neighboring castle Hohenschwangau) at least once in their life, and I wanted to write this blog to explain how to do it in the easiest way possible if they’re already in Munich.

One week before

During the high travel season (June, July, and August), tours at Neuschwanstein fill up early. It is recommended that you book your tour pass a week in advance from their website here. There are 3 options of places to tour: Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau, and the Museum of the Bavarian Kings. My recommendation is skipping the Museum of the Bavarian Kings, but if possible make time to see both Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. Neuschwanstein is definitely the most beautiful of the two castles, but Hohenschwangau offers a fantastic tour of the interior and has a lot of really interesting artifacts from the people who used to live there. If you can only do one, however, then go for the Neuschwanstein tour.

The day of the tour

On the day of the tour, allow for at least two hours travel time from Munich. Get up early in the morning and head to Munich Hauptbahnhof, the central train station. There, you can buy a regional travel ticket for one person, or for a group of people that will allow you to travel for up to 24 hours. If you’re traveling in a group, the group ticket works out to be the cheapest because it is 24 euros, plus an additional 5 euros per person. Get on the train to Füssen and ride it until the end of the line, enjoying the beautiful views of the Bavarian countryside along the way. Once you arrive at the Füssen Hauptbahnhof you will exit the train, turn right, then there is a bus stop there with groups of people going to see the castle. Take the 71 bus to Schwangau (you can still use your regional day pass so you don’t have to buy a new ticket) and then hop off with all the other people going to see the castle in Schwangau. Head to the ticket center and collect your tickets for your tour (don’t forget that you must arrive 90 minutes before the start time of your tour) and then go to the castle of your tour. Enjoy the tour and take some amazing photos, and then head back to Munich the same way you came (and don’t forget, the ticket should still be valid so you don’t have to buy a new one).

Insider tip

I recommend talking the walking path to the right of Neuschwanstein as far as it will go. You get to a bridge where you can take an amazing photo of the castle. If you keep going along the path it will eventually come to an end, but there is a section you can climb up a bit and get a more private view of the castle. It’s definitely worth the extra effort!


Having spent the past month preparing for Oktoberfest, I was beyond excited to don my Lederhosen and go out into the wonderful world of German songs, food, and beer. I had spent so much time learning the songs, practicing my German, and thinking about what food and beer I would drink that I really couldn’t wait to reap the rewards of my work.

My friends and I woke up early in order to get to the fest on time to get a table and took the train into Munich along with a few other Oktoberfest goers. On the way there, we looked up some information about the tents (we used this website which was pretty useful) and settled on going to Schützen-Festzelt for its mix of authentic Oktoberfest food and great music. By 9:30 am we were in line for the tent, and by 10 am we were inside buying our first beer. We spent the day drinking beer, having fun, talking, eating, and singing along to the few Oktoberfest songs we knew together. In the evening, we left and went on some rides at the amusement park part of Oktoberfest.

Me after a long day of drinking beer and speaking German

Oktoberfest was one of the most memorable experiences that I have had so far in Europe, but the best part of it was that the entire day I got to practice my German. Either when I was ordering beer for my friends or speaking with my girlfriend and her friends, I had a chance to use the German skills that I had developed at DeutschAkademie to interact with other people and really feel like I belong in Germany. I won’t lie, taking the intensive German course for a month at the DeutschAkademie was difficult at times and very time consuming, but it was all worth it when I was able to order all my food, pay for it, ask for recommendations, talk to some strangers, and talk about myself all in German. It felt like after a month I had progressed so much in my understanding and speaking ability and I know I wouldn’t be here without the help of the DeutschAkademie.


Preparing for Oktoberfest

What language learning experience would be complete without exposure to important aspects of that languages culture? To complement my German language courses I felt that it was only right that I take the time to go to Munich’s famous Oktoberfest to get fully immersed in German culture, which includes great songs, great food, and above all, great beer.

To prepare for this trip I had my work cut out for me. First, I had to find a semi authentic Lederhosen, which can range in price from 30 euros to over 500 euros. After comparing prices online, I decided to splurge a bit and bought a semi authentic but still very affordable Lederhosen, along with the appropriate shirt and socks.

Next, I had to learn some traditional German Oktoberfest songs. My girlfriend, who is from Germany, helped me with this by suggesting I focus on learning Hulapalu by Andreas Gabalier, So Ein Schöner Tag by Fliegerlied, and Atemlos Durch Die Nacht by Helene Fischer. Luckily for me, all of these songs were pretty repetitive and easy to learn, since their target audience is drunk people, and after a few hundred listens on the way to and from work, I was pretty sure I could accurately nail the chorus at least.

Lastly, I had to find accommodation for Oktoberfest for myself, my girlfriend, and my two friends who were joining from the United States. We decided to go the cheaper route and stayed outside of Munich in a small town called Holzkirchen. If I had to do this again, I would spend a bit more to be closer to Munich, since we had to get up incredibly early to get to the fest on time, but we did manage to save a lot of money, which is important during Oktoberfest when you’re a broke intern like me.

After all this work and preparation, the end result was a fantastic time at Oktoberfest with my friends, which I’ll write about in my next blogpost.

Mein Lieblingsbuch

Well, it’s not really my favorite book, but it’s definitely up there. I’m talking, of course, about Menschen A2.1 Kursbuch und Arbeitsbuch. These are the two books we’ve been using for our A2.1 course and it has been fantastically helpful with my German education.

My favorite thing about the book is that the chapters are condensed and meant to be covered in about a day or two. It doesn’t focus too much on vocab, which is good because I feel like learning vocab is usually the easier part of learning a language. Each chapter covers one topic, like eating at a restaurant, going grocery shopping, or cooking food (you can tell that I’m very interested in eating). Learning phrases and words in a context makes them easier to remember. This allows your brain to sort the topics easily and if I need to I can look back in the book and brush up on something before I know I will need it.

Central to passing A2 German is a heavy focus on grammar. This is unfortunate, because German grammar is notoriously difficult (at least to me), but the book makes it straight forward and easy to practice different grammatical concepts so that you get better as using them on the fly in normal conversation.

Overall, I found the A2.1 Kursbuch and Arbeitsbuch to be an invaluable part of my German education and I am sure I will continue to refer back to it in the future to brush up on certain concepts. Best of all, the books were relatively affordable, certainly compared to some of the books I have had to purchase before for university!


Teacher Appreciation Post

I just wanted to write a short post to talk about how awesome my teacher is. Since the class is wrapping up now and we are in our final week of the intensive Deutschkurs, it felt like time to talk about the person who has made my experience learning German so enjoyable.

Laura has been amazing to us as a teacher. She seems to have a million different games swirling around in her head to make learning fun, and she never fails to make the class laugh with her stories. She manages to keep the class focused while also allowing us to practice speaking in German with each other and getting to know each other. I have been amazed at how seamlessly I have learned so much. For example, last night at class Laura told us a story about how her brother got a small pig from his friend and then convinced their mother to keep the pig, and then eventually her mother was tasked with finding a new home for the pig, who ended up placing the pig with a farmer. I can say with complete certainty that prior to taking this class I would have understood maybe 10% of that story; last night, however, I understood everything. That is in no small part thanks to Laura.

Lastly, I just want to say that Laura’s dedication to only using German in our class is amazing. After having the class for 4 weeks I’m still unsure if Laura can even speak English (she can of course, but refuses to in order to force us to learn how to adapt to speaking German). Sometimes it was a bit frustrating, but it was an invaluable learning tool as well.

Thank you Laura, for an amazing class and an amazing experience learning German!


For this blogpost I wanted to write about my favorite landmark in Vienna: Stephansdom. Its spire stretches high into the sky, and the cathedral is visible from many parts of the city due to its size. It has inspired countless artists, and even today you can see amateur and professional artists standing in Stephansplatz painting the famous cathedral.

The history of Stephansplatz is also very interesting. Historians first believed that the cathedrals origins began in 1137 when construction began on the main building; however, in 2000 some excavations to install a heating system accidentally uncovered human remains that dated back to the 4th century. It is now believed that the church was built on an existing religious building that may have also contained a cemetery.

Nowadays, people can take tours of Stephansdom and learn about the history of the building. For those with a more morbid curiosity, the cathedral also offers a tour of the catacombs where you can see some of the remains of the people of Vienna who are now entombed under the church. This tour also includes a viewing of the ossuary caverns, where one can see bones and skulls stacked to the ceiling. Definitely not for the faint of heart!

On the lighter side, just outside of Stephansdom is Stephanplatz, where one can find many interesting and nice stores, along with various bakeries and restaurants. Café Demel is not far away, where you can get some of the best cakes and pastries in Vienna and also watch as the workers mix, roll, and distil a small piece of heaven into each thing they make.  There really is something there for everyone and I highly recommend anyone who is spending any amount of time in Vienna come see Stephansdom and Stephansplatz.

My classmates

The other most important thing to a good class, after a good teacher, is good classmates. In my class at the Deutsche Akademie, I was lucky enough to get a class full of hilarious and engaging people who wanted to learn but also wanted to have fun.

At the Deutsche Akademie, most of the classes have people from all over the world in them. My class was no different and included an American (me), two people from South Korea, one person from Colombia, and a collection of people from the Balkans and Europe. I found this to be encouraging for two reasons: one, because I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, and two, because I was sometimes forced to speak German because it was the only language we both mutually (kind of) understood and could speak. In my German class in America we would always inevitably end up resorting back to speaking English when things became too difficult or frustrating, but I couldn’t always do this in my class at the Deutsche Akademie. I found this to be really useful in my development as a German speaker.

Beyond the aforementioned benefits of being around people from all over the world, the people in my class were just super funny and friendly and fun to be around. This made me look forward to class every day because the time would go by so fast. We were constantly laughing with each other, sometimes about how ridiculous the German language could be at times, and sometimes because of the funny things that we would inevitably say while trying to speak in German. I will always remember the people in my German class and the time we spent together fondly, and I feel very lucky to have met all of them.

Fun with Games

I mentioned in my last post that my teacher used games a lot as a teaching tool, so I figured I would write more about that here because I felt it was such an impactful part of my learning experience.

The basis of most of the games was basically to trick us into speaking German freely while also keeping it light and fun. One of my favorite games was one where we were given photos of famous people and we had to describe them to the class in German, and the class would try guess who our person was. It was a perfect way to use some of the words that we had learned for that section of the book (berühmt, Politiker, various country and place names names, etc.). The game also forced us to use different cases and tenses in German, which is really difficult but also important to practice.

Another game that we played which was really fun and very active was called “Artikelchaos.” All the students sit on chairs in a circle with one standing and each of them is given one of the three articles (der, die, or das). The person in the middle says a word, “Apfel” for instance, and whoever has the article for that word (“der” in this case) must get up and change seats while the person in the middle tries to sit down in one of the seats that become available. It ends up being really chaotic (hence the name) as people are swapping seats and trying not to be the one in the middle. I found this game to also be really important to me, since as a native English speaker I am not used to having so many different articles for words.

Lastly, since we are near the end of our course, our teacher wanted to play a game that was completely for fun. She bought in a stack of cards with various sentences in German and also mouth pieces to put in our mouth like the kind you would find at the dentist (you can see me wearing it in the picture below). We had to attempt to pronounce the German sentence with the mouth piece in while our teammates would guess at what we were saying. Of course we also had to try not laugh or drool on ourselves in the process, which also proved to be very difficult. Before long the whole class was laughing at how ridiculous we all sounded. I found that it was a great way to end the last few minutes of class and leave me excited to go on learning German.


The Vienna Community

The first thing that struck me about Vienna is how I felt like part of a community as soon as I came here. I arrived a few days before the final game of the FIFA world cup and the city was buzzing with chatter about the tournament. Even though Austria wasn’t in the game (or in the world cup at all for that matter) thousands of people turned out to various places around the city to watch the game.

I met with some friends I had just made at work at Copa Beach, which has since become one of my favorite places in Vienna. Coming from America, I knew that people outside of the US were really into soccer, but I was blown away by the magnitude of people who had come to watch the game. There was a huge TV set up by the Donau River, and around it sat thousands of fans cheering for both teams.

Seeing everyone bought together for the game was amazing to me. The comradery and outpouring of support really showed the kind of place that Vienna is. It’s a place for anyone to fit in, find their group, and have a fun time.


Summer in Vienna

Unfortunately, with the passing of the 23rd of September, summer is officially over and Vienna now begins moving into fall and eventually winter. It has been an amazing few months so far, and I can say that I am completely in love with Vienna. Well, summer Vienna at least; perhaps I will feel different about winter Vienna.

Summer Vienna has so much to offer. Growing up in California, I am used to having great summers, but Vienna is unique in the range of activities one can do. If you want to water ski or wake board, there is a place for that. If you want to paddle board, there is a place to rent them. If you want to go hiking, Vienna offers many amazing trails to hike on that go through wineries and forests. All within just a few minutes of the city.

During the summer, one can find many people along the Donau river barbequing, sunbathing, and swimming. I’ve never lived in a city where the main river is clean enough for people to actually go swimming in it, and now I couldn’t imagine a city without it. Seeing families and friends picnicking and spending a Sunday afternoon outside together is heartwarming, and really makes one feel a sense of community in Vienna.

Though the summer is over for now, I really can’t wait for the next one. In just 3 months I have made a lifetime of memories, and I look forward to sharing food with my friends after work and relaxing by the water. Until then, I’ll have to find out what winter Vienna is all about.