My good friend and travel buddy Rebecca is way ahead of me in the study abroad game. She is just finishing up a year long study abroad program in Germany. I’ve learned a whole lot from her, and since she agreed to let me interview her for the blog, now you can learn from her fantastic experiences as well!
What made you interested in studying abroad? I love traveling, but I also like having my own place to go back to at the end of the day. Living somewhere and traveling to a place are very different, and it’s much easier to travel, so I wanted to seize the opportunity to live somewhere I usually just visit. I’ve lived in Europe before, and have visited it several times, and I knew this would be another opportunity for me to live in another country. Most people barely get one chance to just pick up and live somewhere else for a year, and I get the chance to do it twice? No way am I passing this up. Plus, I want to continue to practice and use my German.
How did you choose your program/location? I knew I wanted to go somewhere German speaking because I wanted to use it more than in the classroom. At first I thought Austria because I’ve never been there, but then I went to a church youth conference in Poland and met young people and saints from Germany there, but there weren’t many in Austria, let alone Vienna where I wanted to go, so I felt that Germany was the place to go. I was looking at programs, and I knew I wanted to not be in Berlin because I’d already lived there, and I wanted to live somewhere else this time. I settled on the south since it would also be a bit warmer, but at first I thought Tübingen, which is a little town in Baden-Württemberg about an hour away from where I am now, but there weren’t any saints there. I was going to Germany for the Lord, so it would defeat the purpose if I wasn’t around saints, so I settled on Stuttgart. It’s more of a technical university, but I thought it would just be a new experience, so why not try? Plus they did have courses in both of my majors (English and German), so I would still get credit. Also the Stadtbibliothek in Stuttgart is absolutely amazing. I think it’s my favorite place here.
What was the hardest part about studying abroad in Germany? Definitely not knowing anyone very well. I’d met a few people before, and there were other people from the US, but I didn’t have any close friends or confidantes in Stuttgart. It’s basically like starting freshman year of college over again just without knowing any of the other students, not being grouped together with other freshmen, and being 5000 miles away from home. I felt very lonely for the first few months, especially after a lot of the people I lived with were really just in college to party, and while I will go to the occasional party and have one maybe two drinks, I don’t want to stay up till 4 am and get wasted multiple times a week, which is what it seemed a lot of Germans and some other Americans were doing. Also there weren’t many artsy people where I live, so I had no one to share my biggest passions with. There weren’t any groups for this either, so I couldn’t do acting or singing or discuss film, TV, theatre and literature with others as much as I was used to. I had messaging with friends back home and myself for that, which is just not my preferred way, so it was hard to get used to. Also I miss my cat back home. Like more than I thought possible.
What is the number one thing you wish you had known BEFORE you left to study abroad? I mentioned before that it’s a lot like starting your freshman year of college over again – just without all of the freshman resources this time. I think my transition would have been a lot easier if I had been prepared for that. Also that you have to put in the effort to make and maintain friends too, which is something that doesn’t come to me very easily. I’m always worried I’m bothering someone when I ask them to hang out, so I don’t, but I think pushing myself more would have been helpful.
Would you recommend studying abroad in Germany to fellow American students? Yes! The Germans do often know pretty good English, but there is the language barrier of course. Germany has great sights and cities and food. Not all of the people here are all party all the time, but I think drinking is more of the culture here – at least in the south – because the legal age is lower. Plus just by being in Europe it’s easier and cheaper to travel around other countries, so you aren’t just stuck with Germany, although that wouldn’t be that bad. It also has some really cute villages, old buildings and castles, and lots of history, which you can’t get in the US. I recently saw Roman ruins from the first century. You can’t find anything in the US even a thousand years older than that!
How did you make the most of your time in Germany I jumped and introduced myself in class (at least to the professors) as an exchange student. You aren’t going to gain anything by hanging back. I also made friends with Germans, so I know what it’s like to be a German studying here and Americans, so I still have some people that are closer to “home” and what I’m familiar with. I tagged along and tried different things, some of them I didn’t like, but I can at least say I’ve done them. I know next time that I don’t like a certain thing, and now is the time in my life to go out and do crazy things (while still being safe about them), so why not? Some things I won’t get to do in the US, so even if they didn’t sound like my cup of tea I at least tried them, and very few – if any – things were all bad, so I got at least a little enjoyment out of them. Also this was my first time living on my own more or less, and this may seem odd but I enjoyed it. Nothing like 5000 miles including an ocean to make learn how to live without your parents. They did still help me financially, and I could call them sometimes, but I couldn’t have them there physically. It’s just something you have to learn, and I had no way to crawl back, so that was good.
If you went back, is there anything you would do differently? I would go out on more limbs to make friends, take the initiative to hang out and/or talk. At the same time I would also cut poisonous people out of my life sooner or at least minimize contact with them. I just ended up with more pain I could’ve avoided if I’d done that. It may seem rude and/or mean, but I have to take care of myself, and if people are making it harder for me to feel good and be healthy, well naturally I shouldn’t be around them. I was so eager to have anyone to talk to, I often didn’t think about the trustworthiness or how deserving that person was. It is better to be by yourself than with someone who brings you down. I would also have set more regular contact times with friends back home. Overall though, I’ve had a great time, and these are lessons I would have learned eventually, so having them happen now, doesn’t really reflect badly on my study abroad experience.
What was your highlight? Probably getting to travel around. I’ve been to so many places and seen so many things I’ve only ever dreamed about before, and there’s no way I could’ve done all of them without living in Europe. I’ve been to Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Devon, the Czech Republic and Austria for the first time. I’ve also gotten to see so many old and pretty libraries and castles, Westminster Abbey, the Sisi Museum, a show in the West End, the British Library with Jane Austen’s writing desk and a manuscript of Persuasion, the Doctor Who Experience, the English coast and so much more. I’ve wanted to go to Ireland for about 10 years and Vienna for about 5, so finally getting to them brought me joy I can’t even begin to describe. Also it’s amazing just getting to experience a different culture intimately. As a writer, meeting and seeing different people and different kinds of people is an invaluable experience. Most people just think of the Germans as harsh and all work all the time, but I know from experience it’s just not true. They work hard, so they can play hard. You don’t know that without living here, and that’s just one example. Also I’ve eaten some amazing food. Thanks so much Rebecca for answering all my questions with such detail! I hope you have an absolutely fantastic last couple of weeks in Germany!