I’ve only been to a total of three states my whole life, one of them being my home state of California, and I have never been out of the country. I took my first plane ride this summer. And of all places, I decided to live in Germany for a semester.
This was a leap into the unknown and the largest adventure I have ever taken on. I chose Germany because I took three years of German in high school and four semesters in college. Even with all of this knowledge, the jump still felt crazy to me, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
When I arrived at my layover in Frankfurt, things were already different. Signs were written in the German language: “Ausgang”, “Flughafen”, “WC”, etc. — the people looked different, even the smell was different.
All of this change in such a short time can take a toll. There are new people, different sceneries, cultural differences and, of course, the crazy jetlag.
I’ve learned to manage with these changes and find comfort here in Germany, however homesickness still sets in for my beloved home and university.
Here are some tips I’ve gathered to make the most of your time abroad — specifically in Germany — and to remind yourself of where you come from.
- Try your German everywhere, don’t be afraid.
Learning a foreign language is hard, and everything I thought I knew was nothing compared to actually being in a German-speaking country.
However, trying out your German speaking skills when you go out to eat or talk with German students or professors is one of the best things you can do to improve it. Like everyone says, immersion is the best way to learn a language.
Most of the time when you slip up, people will just correct you or ask you to clarify and help you. Don’t be scared, people are very kind and understanding.
- Eat new things; German food is amazing.
One of my favorite things about Germany, besides the environment, is the food!
Bratwurst with curry ketchup, Käsebrötchen, “Nasi Goreng,” Polenta, Schnitzel, Poutine, Currywurst, Döner kebab, Milchreis and Leibniz biscuits are just a few of my favorite little German or German-brand foods off the top of my head. Even if it looks gross, try it because you’ll be surprised by how it tastes and how good it actually is.
- Be prepared for a lot of dreary days and rain.
As a person who loves rain and snow, I was not prepared for the days when Germany would get hit with random storms.
Where I am, Lüneburg, rarely gets snow, but a winter storm hit out of the blue that inconvenienced everyone. However, the snowball fights we had and the snowman-building times made everything worth it.
Similar to Reno, Germany’s weather will change on a dime. A warm, sunny early morning can leave you drenched in afternoon showers. It’s important to always have a raincoat or snow jacket with you at all times from January to April.
- Time zones suck, but make time for family, friends and yourself.
My first few weeks in Germany were crazy and hectic. I was planning travel to other countries, meeting new people, bonding with my three roommates — three German and one American — getting to know the people in my program, learning the bus schedules, getting used to my class times and locations, adapting to my professor’s teaching styles, learning how to communicate with people in German and trying to keep my sleep schedule normal.
It is a lot, and if someone tells you any different, they are lying to you. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but try to find a schedule for yourself and take 15 minutes to meditate, journal, listen to music or draw.
The first month, I was having a blast. I wasn’t feeling even minorly home sick. But of course, when the Super Bowl rolled around with the Philadelphia Eagles (my family’s team) versus the Kansas City Chiefs, the home sickness rolled in like a bunch of German rain clouds — out of the blue and with full storm capacity.
I was a wreck, FaceTiming my mom on bad wifi, trying to say “hi” to everybody and staying up till 5 a.m. due to the 9-hour time change. Then, I showed up to class late the next day because I was feeling very sad and homesick.
Call your family and friends once a week for at least 10 minutes just to keep you sane. Make time for yourself and your loved ones. It will help, I promise.
- Don’t overwhelm yourself with travel. Be smart about planning.
And last but not least, travel. This is one of the most important things for students who come to study abroad in a new country.
As someone who has already been to seven countries in Europe, I can say traveling is amazing, but stressful at the same time.
In the first two weeks, I went to Dublin, Ireland, which was beautiful, but sometimes plans don’t end up perfectly. You have to prioritize what you want to see and make a budget.
Cheap flights with long overnight layovers, cheap train tickets with a lot of stops, cheap hostels with dorms full of a lot of people, living out of a backpack and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch so you only pay for one big meal eating out was common for me, but not for everyone.
This is why budgeting is key. You have to figure out what you want to spend extra money on before you go places.
Also, as someone who went to Amsterdam, Prague, London, Salzburg and Paris on back-to-back weekends is inherently crazy. Having to pack every Thursday or Friday night for a weekend away and getting home late Sunday night can get exhausting once you jump from week-to-week. Just make sure to plan out what kind of assignments you have through the week and do a light trip if you need to.
And when you do this planning, it’s important you book your tickets at least two weeks or more ahead of time. Travel tickets are usually much cheaper a month or two in advance and prices may jump the closer the date gets. However, hostels can vary. Usually they are cheaper a month in advance, but sometimes as the date gets closer, they need to fill their dorms, so they sometimes lower their prices.
But, make sure to have fun (duh!). You should be traveling and you will be experiencing some wild and beautiful things, so take a moment to yourself on the side of the ruckus and just soak it in.
Just remember to try it all, if you can.
Jaedyn Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jaedyn_young3.