Big City Comparison

During our travels throughout Europe, we visited quite a few large cities. Amsterdam, Paris, Prague, and Berlin were the largest cities that we spent spent a lot of time in. The whole time we were in these large cities, I kept thinking about how they are so different from large cities in the United States. The main differences I noticed between big cities in the United States and Europe were the buildings, roads, and sounds.

The most obvious difference when comparing cities was the age of the buildings. A lot of the buildings in Europe were hundreds of years old and made from brick and stone. This was always awesome to see because in America most of the buildings are newer and made metal with large glass windows. Also, the size of the buildings were very different. In Europe, the cities were usually large sprawling areas with 2 or 3 story buildings. In the United States, every large city is mainly made up of hundred story sky scrapers.

Another major difference was with the roads. When I think of American cities, I think of large grid like road systems. Most of the time they are packed with cars and pedestrians and traffic moves very slow. In Europe, most of the roads are very old and we’re not built in a grid like fashion. Because of this, there was never crazy amounts of traffic in the cities. Many people walked, biked, or took public transportation instead of taking cars.

The last major difference I noticed was the sound. Throughout our trip, it was very obvious that European culture is a lot quieter than American culture. People talk quietly in groups and this leads to quieter cities. Also, I heard only a few car horns while in Europe. In places like Chicago or New York, you can hear a car horn every few seconds. People are always in a rush and want to get wherever they are going as fast as the can. Because the European culture is much more laid back, I think that people have more respect for each other and don’t really care if they are going to get to their location a few minutes later. 

Before coming to Europe, I thought that the big cities in America would be very similar to what we saw in Europe. After spending a lot of time in Europe, I learned that this is not true. European culture is much more laid back and not so urgent, and it leads to a pleasant experience.

Restaurants in Europe

     One of the most easily spotted cultural differences between America and all of the European Countries we visited was our experiences in restaurants. This distinction was especially noticeable when we got meals on our own rather than with the group, and the reservations and accommodations that came with that.      

The first thing we observed upon arrival at a restaurant was there was typically no host or hostess waiting to seat people, and instead we were expected to seat ourselves at an open table. The next unusual thing was the lack of water on the table. Water was almost never included with the meal, and cost about as much as a beer or soft drink. We also had to be careful to remember to ask for still water or the waiter would bring out carbonated water by default. And whether it’s water or a soft drink we had to make it last because there wouldn’t be any free refills when we’re done.      Another thing we noticed as the meals went on is that the service was often significantly slower than we were used to. It was very common to wait a while after sitting down even to place our drink orders. Once we had finally ordered and gotten our food, we would regularly see that the portions, while almost always enough, were definitely smaller than a restaurant meal in the United States.      

At the end of the meal, the last unusual thing for us was the payment system. Even after clearing everything off our tables, the waiters wouldn’t bring the check to the table unless we asked for it. And once we got the checks, waiters were typically visibly annoyed by our requests for separate checks, payments by card, or even cash payments that required too much change. Lastly, there was not near as much of an expectation of a tip at European restaurants, and we would usually just round our bill up a little. 

Mercedes Benz

Our group toured the Mercedes Benz plant in Bremen a few days ago. We were warmly welcomed by an awesome showroom and shop. After a few minutes of looking around, we met our tour guide who showed us an introduction video to Mercedes. The video focused on the craftsmanship and extreme detail they put into every car. After the video, we were each given ear pieces that would allow us to hear the tour guide in the loud shop and from far away. From here we hopped on the bus and headed towards the body shop.

On our way to the body shop, our tour guide gave us some statistics about what goes on there. He said that there are over 4000 robots that manufacture 1800 cars per day in this plant alone. The fact that stuck out most to me was that 95 percent of this manufacturing process was automated. It was astounding to see how smooth their process was in putting together and welding the main frame of the car. Though many of the cars going through this process are similar, they are not all exactly the same. Things like right vs. left hand drive and if the car had a sunroof or not varies from car to car in this process. Robots were working all over the place and doing everything perfectly. There were thousands of spot welds on each frame, and the robots were doing them exactly right each time.

After the body shop, we got back on the bus again and drove to the assembly plant. The car frames move from the body shop to get painted and then eventually to the assembly plant. In the assembly plant, the majority of the work is done with manual labor. Workers exam each car and place the needed interior and exterior parts on the frame. The assembly shop is mostly man labor because it would be way to complicated for robots to know exactly what details to put on each car like trim packages or interior details.

Our visit concluded with us heading back to the main showroom where we took a group picture under the Mercedes sign. It was awesome to see the mixture between automated processes and skilled labor that is put into the manufacturing of each Mercedes car. It is easy to see why Mercedes is thought of as one of the best luxury vehicles.

Mercedes Benz Tour

     The tour of the Mercedes Benz plant in Bremen was probably my favorite company tour of the trip. It was incredible to see the level of automation at the first plant we visited, and to see each one of the complicated machines working together to produce the bodies of the different models. Our tour guide said that this part of the manufacturing process was currently 95% automated, and that was easy to believe considering how few people we saw working at this plant.

It was also interesting to compare that plant with the next we saw. The second building was where the cars were fitted with their interior, and this building had far more human workers than the previous. Almost all of the work we saw being done on the cars in this building was by humans. I would assume that this part of the manufacturing process is much more difficult to automate than the first, but Professor Brouwer informed some of us that although that may be true, Mercedes has heard from their customers that it’s important to them that a significant portion of the car is built by humans rather than machines. So even if they were able to automate this part of the process, they most likely would not implement it. 

Mercedes-Benz Tour

Yesterday we went to the Mercedes-Benz plant and toured some of their manufacturing facilities. The plant in Bremen is Mercedes’ largest manufacturing facility, capable of producing 480 cars in a day and employing near 12,500 people. The plant is a sprawling complex with many buildings. We started our tour off with a Mercedes propaganda video about their business and the cars they produce. After that we set off with our tour guide Max to see the actual facilities. We got to see the different steps of manufacturing the cars, from the assembly of the frame, all the way up to the finishing touches and an assembled, driveable car leaves the line and heads to post-production testing.

Seeing all the different steps of the manufacturing process, I couldn’t help but think about the insane logistics, planning, and organizational capabilities that they have at the plant. They are able to produce so many different types of cars, and customized variants of those cars, all at the same time, along the same line with the same workers from car to car. It doesn’t take much for you to be able to think up almost endless problems that could occur on the line which could throw off the whole production process. They planning and maintenance crews must be meticulous in order to ensure smooth and continuous operation 24 hours a day.

Another thing that struck me about the tour was the conditions that the workers had at the factory. Our tour guide said that the employees are treated extremely well, with the plant operating only 5 days a week, sometimes 6 if they are behind. But the workers are highly valued and appreciated at the facility. Our tour guide always referred to the workers on the floor as his “colleagues” showing the level of respect that the people who work in the front office have for those who assemble the cars. Our tour guide said that many of the workers there work at the factory for their whole lives. I don’t know a lot about auto manufacturing in the US, but it seems to me like the conditions and respect afforded to the workers at the Mercedes plant would be hard to find in our go, go, go and survival of the fittest culture in the US.

Favorite company visits

Throughout this trip we have been able to see and accomplish so much. One of the many things we have been able to do is tour many different businesses. Here are a few that stood out to me.

The first place that stood out to me was Vermeer. Our tour guild Baaker who showed us around the company was very easy to listen to, and after going through all the businesses that we did he was diffidently my favorite person to listen to. He did a great job explaining so that both engineers and business students could understand. During this tour we were also able to learn about some of the biggest cultural differences of businesses in Europe and the United States. One of them being people in Europe are less afraid to share their ideas 

The next was Gentex which was probably my favorite. Not only was the tour of their facility really cool the provided us with amazing snacks. One thing that stood out to me with Gentex was how excited they were for the future. Another thing that stood out to me was that the plant in Germany was primarily used for distribution and they ship over 300,000 mirrors each day. And each of their customers want the mirror packed and shipped to them differently. 

The last one that really stood out to me was Mercedez-Benz. Being able to see just a portion of this company was amazing. The amount of robots that are being used and the amount of cars that they are able to assemble per day which was 1,800. 

Being able to see all these businesses, the differences between them, and the similarities between them has been really cool and eye opening, it shows that there is not just one way to be successful. You just need to find what is going to make your business or career successful.

Day 21 – Arnhem & Nunspeet

We started the day with a 3.5 hour bus ride back into The Netherlands to Arnhem. Arnhem is another beautiful city that has been rebuilt since WWII. It was the site of a key battle to gain a bridge over the Rhine river for the Allies. After lunch on our own, we went to the Airborne Museum to get that explained.

Then on to our last hotel for a great meal and our last class discussion time. Up early tomorrow to get to the Amsterdam airport and back to Calvin…just in time for the spring semester!

Ready for Home

It’s been such an amazing three weeks traveling across Europe. I’ve experienced and done more things than I can even remember (seriously the profs make our groups recount what we did every 4-5 days or so and we can hardly remember without looking at our itinerary). Sometimes it’s even hard to remember what we did one day ago because we do so much! We’ve been flooded with new memories, experiences, and friends, and it’s been the best time ever.

While I’ve had the best trip in Europe, I am really looking forward to being back in America. I’ve missed so many things about our culture that we take for granted until we leave. Some specific cultural things I’ve missed are free water, free restrooms, pizza that’s actually sliced for you, venmo (at restaurants they give you one check the majority of the time and it’s always difficult keeping track of who you owe in euros), American fast food restaurants (taco bell), English, and more.

It’s been such a great trip, but it’ll feel good to be back 🙂


The Purpose of Being Still and Silent with God

In selecting a devotion for today, I was at first going to select something about thankfulness. Over the trip we have said how thankful we are that we are able to be on this trip learning about the world in Europe. I obviously wanted to add to this long list of thanks with a devotion on thankfulness. However, being thankful is not the only thing that comes out of a trip like this. We can become different people through our experiences in culture, business, and personal interaction. God brought us to this point for a reason, and He has a plan for our lives. He wants us to take something from this interim, but we may not necessarily know what. It could be that we have found a renewed sense of thankfulness for what God has given. Perhaps God has opened our minds to different cultures that would enable us to better serve our neighbors near and far. Maybe we have learned how to live in a community better or to care for one another. This list could go on Far too long, and it would take extensive time if it even could be completed.

One of the most refreshing things about this trip was the freedom from the urge to get out my phone. When we got to hotels, or places with free WiFi, we were able to check in with family and friends. The devotion asked us today to put away our phones and to turn off TVs. Additionally, it said to find a place free from business and busyness. This way we can find a space in the room for God. We can reflect on what God has done for us, and we can talk with Him. We can ask what it is in our lives that we should be doing differently. We can ask what about Europe has changed me for life. We can ask God to help us remember our experiences so that they will help us in the future. In keeping away from technology for a while, we can find ourselves free. It was nice being at meals and actually talking without myself, or anyone else, being on their phones.

Today we went to a museum dedicated to Operation Market Garden which you can find a post about on this blog. The devotion applies to this experience not because we are still with God, but we have a chance to see what was wrong with this world in the 1940s. We have seen the sacrifices of men and women, civilian and military, so that freedom can come back to Europe. In our moments of silence with God, we ought to give thanks and praise that we, personally, are mostly free of war. Silence with God can bring peace to a troubled heart. Maybe some of us had troubled hearts from some of the experiences we had today or in the past few weeks.

This devotion called me to have silence with God, and our hotel is currently ideal for it. It’s in the woods somewhere in the Netherlands. It’s not just for here and now, it’s for all times and places. Find a place to be silent with God, ask and listen for what God is communicating to you about your life.

The devotion below is based on Romans 12:1-2.

Be Still. Be Quiet.

Silence is a stranger to most of us. To discover silence, we have to be like Jesus and go off to find a place where we can turn off the cell phone and the TV, a place with no bustling businesses or chattering people to deal with. The Lord calls us to this silence as much as He calls us to be with one another. What should our times of silence and being alone before the Lord consist of? This is where the prayer life of Jesus is such a profound example for us. Jesus shows us that these times of intimacy must first center on being quiet and listening.

We cannot put God in a box and make our relationship with Him a formula. But if we are going to follow the example of Jesus, we must get alone with God and silence ourselves. The silence that He invites us into is a silence of listening, a respectful stillness before our God. This kind of silence brings great joy, clarity, and purity to our lives.

Finding stillness may be one of the greatest challenges in our relationships with Christ and our prayer lives. There are two great hindrances we face every day in our search for stillness: our busy lifestyles and the constant noise of our culture. Are you busy? Where are you on the Facebook addiction scale? Enough said.

As simple as it may seem, we find stillness by making a choice, deciding to sit down away from all the clamor of our life and technology. God bestowed on us free will; it is not an illusion. We are not victims of our culture. We have control over the way we respond to everything that comes our way.

The science of neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to reorganize itself by developing new neural connections) makes it very clear that when we make a decision, we change the matter in our brain. It is the scientific confirmation of God’s Word: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23: 7). Every time we steal away with the Lord in quiet retreat, we transform and renew our minds and conform to the communication pathways of the kingdom (Romans 12: 1-2). And it is in the stillness that our zeal for the Lord and His ways is given the chance to grow.


Last week we had the chance to get to visit Dynajet. To be frankly honest, walking in I was not all that impressed. Unlike the other places we had visited, they didn’t have a grand entrance or forum and not to mention, no snacks. But do not let this fool you. Dynajet turned out to be one of my favorite visits. And why is that? It was because it was so different from the rest. I loved learning about what it is like to be a part of a smaller business. 

I’ve always assumed I would want to work for a big corporation with lots of opportunities and potential to move up. I was so narrow minded and believed that would be the only way to have success. After visiting Dynajet, my eyes opened up a bit. We were able to talk to some employees at Dynajet about what it was like to be a part of a smaller business. Though they acknowledged they don’t have the same potential to move up, they did talk about the opportunities they are given. That is, they have the chance to work better as a team. You may come into the office one day and if a person is sick, you may have to take over their work even if it means working at the copy machine for 3 hours. You are challenged and pushed outside of your comfort zone and may have a broader view of the whole business. You have more “pull” in the business and don’t have to get everything approved by so many levels. You see the way the success of the company directly affects you, and therefore you take pride in your work. Ultimately Dynajet has opened up my eyes to the possibility for working for a smaller company.