One of the best parts of studying abroad at Philipps-Universität Marburg in Germany has been how close I am to dozens of other European cities and festivals, and because of the European Union’s open-border policy, it’s been that much easier to travel. This past weekend, my friends and I attempted to attend the infamous Oktoberfest for its opening ceremony in Munich, about a six-hour train ride away.
Through a series of unfortunate events, however, our group was split up, disoriented, unable to get into our hostel, and one boy got lost, alone in the rain all night. On the way back, a massive storm had turned our six-hour trip into a 17 hour long trial. With the various stresses and low points that we faced that weekend, I needed to develop some form of guidance to make it through without losing my group (and my sanity).
Here are the five best tips I found to make the best of a chaotic situation:
1. Find someone to rely on.
Upon realizing how terribly wrong everything is beginning to go, it’s important to find someone who can provide emotional, and sometimes physical, support. In my case, I was lucky to have a friend who helped me vent my frustrations and calm me in moments of panic. There’s nothing worse for an already difficult situation than shutting down completely. When you begin to feel overwhelmed, open up to a friend about your concerns and anxieties. They can help you clear you head and look for the next step.
2. Take charge.
When getting lost in a new and daunting city, especially if there’s a language barrier, remember that everyone is feeling just as uncertain and exhausted as you are. While in some situations it’s important to wait for others who may know what to do better than yourself, sometimes no one knows where to begin. Don’t be afraid to be the one who takes charge! Even if you can’t speak the language or navigate the transportation, you can formulate a plan and assign duties to group members. If everyone feels like they have one specific task to focus on, it keeps the group from feeling the overwhelming pressure of figuring everything out at once.
3. Reach out to locals.
In Germany especially, locals are almost always prepared to help you through tough moments. Whether you need directions, water, or even a tissue, locals had my back. When all else fails, be sure to ask for help from someone who knows the area. This can also be helpful when you yourself are not comfortable attempting to lead the group.
4. Know it’s okay to freak out.
Just like at home, when you have to make a ton of decisions with real-time consequences, you may want to freeze up. In these moments, you are allowed to take a minute to yourself. Taking stock of your physical and emotional needs – like getting some lunch or spending five minutes in silence – can make all the difference between raising group moral and having a complete meltdown.
5. Hold on to good moments.
Despite the myriad of things that went wrong during a weekend I was initially so excited for, my 17 hour train ride home gave me a lot of time to reflect on the individual moments that I never would have experienced anywhere else. Moments like conversing with a German teenager about the stigmas of mental health, or watching a German street concert at 2 a.m. However, no matter the highs or lows of my Oktoberfest experience, nothing beat the moment when – in a random train station hours away from Munich and hours more away from home – the 12 people in my group finally reunited to share one final Oktoberfest beer. Prost!
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