How I spent my Summer Vacation
Sioux City Journal, Sunday, September 24, 1995
By Marcia Poole, Journal Staff Writer
who thinks learning happens primarily in classrooms hasn't talked
to Andrew Nieland about his summer job.
After spending two months in Germany as a travel
writer, the Harvard University junior is convinced that there's
nothing like rich field experience to flesh out a liberal arts
Photo caption: Sioux Cityan Andrew Nieland,
a Harvard University junior, considers his future as a journalist.
The Heelan graduate got a taste of the profession when he wrote
for Harvard's "Let's Go Europe." (Staff photo by Gary
Anderson) Click to enlarge
"I want to learn how to write, how to think
and express myself. This summer has definitely helped me in those
areas," says Nieland, a Heelan High School graduate who's
majoring in modern European history.
As a writer for Harvard's travel series "Let's
Go Europe"(St. Martin's Press), Nieland wended his way through
assigned cities and towns of Germany, supped on native schnitzel
and beer, sleeping in bargain-priced hostels, and taking in the
sights, from the magnificent to the mundane.
In 53 days, I went through 50 places. I spent about
four days in the bigger cities, and did maybe three small towns
in a day. It was pretty intense," says Nieland who averaged
four hours of walking a day.
Along the way he tested his German language skills
and map-reading savvy. He got a feel for the surprisingly diverse
culture and developed a knack for painting word pictures for budget-minded
"Our readers are mostly college students who
obviously don't have a lot of money to spend when they're traveling.
But we also make a big deal about writing for senior citizens,"
says Nieland who wrapped up his summer job with a newly discovered
appetite for journalism.
The challenge was not only to physically cover a
good-sized chunk of northern and southern Germany but to craft
digestible travel tidbits on subjects that didn't always rate
"A sense of humor definitely helped when I
was covering the same thing in town after town. Like the hostels.
How many different ways can you write about German hostels? Six
beds to a room, clean, very safe, breakfast it was always
the same thing. I had to write something mildly amusing about
Details were the key. Nieland put his powers of
observation and conversation to work to wrest every ounce of human
interest from the less colorful aspects of the German experience.
Visiting with the locals often yielded something offbeat for the
weekly installments he mailed to "Let's Go" headquarters
in Cambridge, Mass.
When it came to nightlife and major tourist attractions,
the words flowed more easily. Larger cities, particularly, had
much to offer entertainment-wise, even for travelers on sugar-bowl
expense accounts. Along with live shows, there was a seemingly
endless offering of museums and architectural wonders to include
in "Let's Go to Germany.
"For the Sioux Cityan, the most moving experience,
however, was Bergen-Belsen, the first German concentration camp
freed by the Allies in Western Germany in World War II. "It's
hard to put into words what that was like."
Nieland noted the seamy side of the country, giving
his readers information about personal safety, "Generally,
Germany is a very safe country. Ninety percent of the places I
stayed didn't even have locks on the doors. If you asked about
whether there was a key for the door, they just looked at you."
Despite his ease at meeting new people, (among them
other student travels from Wales), Nieland had occasional pangs
of loneliness. Letters from family and friends helped. German
cuisine also supplied a touch of Siouxland soul, with its decidedly
meat-and-potatoes emphasis. For gustatory excitement, he turned
to Turkish cuisine which has considerable presence in German culture.
German treats also were something to write about.
Fresh and fulsome, the baked goods departed from predictable sticky-bun
fare. "It was great and I still lost weight with all the
walking I did."
Likewise, beer treated the travel writer's palate
"I wasn't a beer drinker before I got to Germany.
But the beer is very good and there isn't the stigma about minors
drinking. You don't see a lot of public drunkenness. Beer is just
part of the culture. You drink it with your meal."
But for all its pleasures, the trip was, after all,
a job. Nieland had a weekly deadline for specific assignments.
Sundays were his only days off, yet he spent most of them finishing
up work and preparing for the journey's next leg.
"I've always liked writing it's a challenge
for me. It's hard to punch it out day after day," says Nieland.
His editors through the effort was worth it. The
Sioux Cityan's work will appear in the 1996 edition of "Let's
go to Germany," which is expected to be in book stores in
The professional writing debut didn't yield huge
earnings; Nieland figures he broke about even, considering all
his travel, lodging, food and miscellaneous expenses. But the
experience of writing travel pieces and having them published
by a major press is payment he'd not imagined a year ago. And
as a European history major, Nieland also sees the summer as "amazing"
enrichment for his grasp of German culture.
"Spending time in a country helps you understand
its history. You get a feel for the geography a sense of
the people and what they've been through. It gives you an incentive
to learn another language. Being able to communicate with people
in another language is amazing."
Nieland's academic major was a plus when he applied
for the writing job last winter. The editors also liked the fact
that he had taken German and had been to Europe before, albeit
not to Germany. Along with meeting the basic qualification of
being a full-time Harvard student, he was expected to demonstrate
skill at turning out tidy, snappy writing.
"I had to submit writing samples and do a bunch
of writing exercises. They wanted entertaining writers. Then you
had to put down your top six choices of countries to work in and
you reasons for choosing them. Germany was my top choice. It felt
comfortable because of my heritage and the fact that I knew some
of the language.
As good as the two-month gig was, it didn't allow
a comprehensive taste of Germany. Nieland would like to return
to the country next summer to see Berlin and other areas not included
in this summer's itinerary. England and Wales also appeal to the
"This whole thing has me thinking more about
journalism, especially travel writing," says the Sioux Cityan."
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