As I reflect upon my first semester as an exchange student in Germany, I can confidently say that I have learned so much about myself in the five months I’ve been here. It was a bit scary at first, often requiring me to look within to seek the courage to navigate unique challenges I faced, but it was during this process that most of my growth occurred.
Semester one was a whirlwind! I left off my last blog post at the beginning of November after I had just completed a busy month getting used to life in Germany – meeting new friends, starting classes and squeezing in some time to travel. Throughout this crazy process, I told myself (rather skeptically, I might add) that after a month had passed, the challenges I was facing would start to become more normal and I would finally “settle in” to life in Germany. I am happy to report this in fact was the case! As November began, I found myself figuring out a bit of a routine and was able to start planning for some travels for the upcoming months.
In early November, my University’s Erasmus team planned a trip to Berlin for international students. There, we were able to meet up with some fellow BIBers and tour the lovely city together. I am already looking forward to going back!
In mid-November I visited Prague with two friends from France. I loved this trip (despite the cold weather) as it was relatively inexpensive and it was only a short bus ride away from Augsburg. However, our visit wasn’t all smooth sailing, as I was almost barred from returning to Germany due to a mix up with my passport. Thankfully, this story had a happy ending and I was able to return ‘home’ safe and sound with a memorable story to boot. Long story short – don’t forget to travel with a copy of your passport on hand!
The end of November marked the opening of the highly anticipated Weihnachtsmarkt/German Christmas markets; an event we had been diligently researching in German class for the past two years. The Christmas market here in Augsburg was absolutely magical and I visited as many as I could throughout December. Overall, I visited six markets throughout November and December (Lindau, Nuremberg, Friedberg, Munich, Vienna and Salzburg), and I made a point to try a new dish and/or drink each time I went. If you ever have the chance, don’t miss out on trying a Feuerzangenbowle! You won’t regret it.
At the beginning of December, my best friend and fellow BIBer Alex joined me in Amsterdam for my birthday. Initially, the trip seemed to be going all wrong, but we were pleasantly surprised by the amazing weekend we had in such a fun city. I can firmly say that Amsterdam is an amazing place to visit regardless of the time of year.
My family joined me in Europe for Christmas, and together we travelled to Salzburg, Vienna and Munich, finishing off our trip in Zurich for New Year’s followed by a quick tour of my city. After three months apart, I was very grateful to have them here with me.
In January, I visited Scotland with fellow BIBer Josée and another friend – one of my favourite trips thus far. I finished off January with a trip to Budapest with Alex – a great trip in an absolutely stunning city.
As I am writing this, I have yet to complete the bulk of my final exams – which shows just how long the semesters are here in Germany! However, I have thoroughly enjoyed the courses I had this term and was very interested in the unique teaching methods employed at my university.
My favourite part of the courses available at German universities are the “block seminars” or intensive courses. Many German schools offer compacted courses, where students can attend lectures taught over a small number of days instead of months and are able to fully complete the course with a term paper or exam over the course of a few weeks. These courses are also often led by a guest lecturer from a different university, which allows for an even more unique experience and a new form of teaching.
One thing I’ve learned from living here is that my progression in German speaking was not going to come from simply living in Germany. It in fact requires a very active effort to seek out opportunities to improve my German – and this was a challenge I did not necessarily anticipate on having.
During my time so far, I took advantage of my university’s “Sprachtandem” partnership, which pairs German students seeking to learn English with international students looking to speak German. I meet with my partner each week, and we rotate between speaking in German and English together. The informal setting of speaking with another German has allowed me to learn a lot of German “slang” which has helped quite a bit. Aside from this, meeting other Germans, taking part in German courses and speaking German with the international students, I have began, slowly but surely, to improve my language skills.
Living in “Limbo”
When living in a foreign country, (or in any foreign setting for that matter) one must make an active effort to go out and engage in their new world. It’s something we usually don’t do at home, and therein lies the challenge. The experience of living abroad is one of incessant uneasiness because nearly every interaction is virtually brand new and almost impossible to prepare for. In an environment that you’re used to, this is not something one encounters often.
An example of this is going to a new food stand to grab a bite to eat for lunch. In this setting, you may be asked questions you’ve never even heard of before and in a language you’re still learning. You’re expected to answer correctly and efficiently in order to not hold up the line. It may seem like a small task, but when every interchange is built upon a fear of not knowing what to do, it can become quite taxing! However, despite being a bit exhausting, it also provides an enriching experience that allows for reflection and growth.
I have now begun to discover an element of comfort living in Germany. Recently, when I was approached by a German resident, I was able to answer their question with ease instead of anxiety. I remarked to myself that this was quite an accomplishment for me. Becoming comfortable with the unknown has allowed me to take on new experiences with a new ease, anticipation and excitement. Now, I’m looking forward to seeing where this new mindset takes me as a I start my second semester.
Christiana is a third-year Bachelor of International Business student studying abroad in Germany.
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