Studying in Heidelberg, Germany for the past four months has been the most surreal experience of my life. I had not travelled much before this, moving here being only the third (but most significant) flight of my life so far. Honestly, it did not dawn on me I was about to live in a new country for a whole year until I was standing, alone, in Birmingham Airport two hours before my flight. However, despite my nerves, there was not an ounce of me that didn’t want to go, and it really proved to be the best decision I have made.
One of my biggest fears was meeting people, which I realise was nothing to worry about. Meeting so many others who are studying abroad from all over the world, you realise that everyone is in the same boat (just like when you first move to university!). People just want to make friends with you, just like you want to make friends with them. I was definitely sad to leave my friends at home – I have incredible friends at Durham, why would I leave them to move away? But I wasn’t really leaving them – we still talk every day! Nothing about my being in Germany negatively impacted any of my friendships, so as well as having them I now also have some genuine, long-term friends from around the world!
Time to explore
The best thing about being with others who also study abroad is the collective eagerness to explore. Since being in Heidelberg (which is a great university for international students, as they offer excursions around Germany every Saturday so we can see the country!), I have travelled a ton! We had a hilarious bonding weekend in Munich where we camped in the pouring rain, dressed up in ‘traditional’ attire and danced on tables for two days straight. Despite only knowing each other for two weeks, it will be a memory we all have for a lifetime.
Another time we explored was our trip to Berlin! It was a little more comfortable than Munich, opting for a hostel over a tent (that was somehow the same price! Berlin is definitely one of my favourite cities – the people are so cool, the art is incredible and the nightlife is like nothing I had experienced before.
This buzz to travel amongst the exchange students removes any desire for specific friendship groups or cliques. With everyone just wanting to see as much as they can, you bond with others over this desire to explore a new place! My conversation abilities have improved drastically since being here, and I realised how easy it is to make friends if you are willing to have a chat about anything with anyone!
However, it is not this intense all the time. Student dorms in Germany are quite different from the UK, and instead of living in a house with my friends like I did in my second year, I live with a mix of undergraduates and postgraduates who have been there for various amounts of time. Whilst we get on, my flatmates are certainly not my closest friends here. I thought that would be hard, but it is actually the opposite! I’ve learnt how to relax by myself whilst studying abroad – I no longer feel like I have to be constantly busy, but actually welcome the time I have to myself when I get home from a day out with friends. I even picked up drawing again, and have started to share my art on Instagram – something I would have never done before!
The best decision
Having been here for four months, I can safely say I am settled in Heidelberg. Studying abroad does, surprisingly, involve academics, and I have been loving English Literature so much here. The main reason I decided to do a year abroad was to reignite my passion for literature, as I felt I was losing it at times during exams in the first and second years. Here, I am exploring what I love, which has been great for considering what I will write my dissertation on. I also attend German classes! I spoke no German before coming here (the language is not a requirement for most places, so do not let that put you off!) but have picked it up quickly whilst living here. Plus, in my free time, I have done some one-off experiences such as: going to a free opera night, attending a German film festival or staying in a cabin in the middle of the woods! Whilst they were slightly random, being abroad has encouraged me to say yes to any opportunity I get offered!
Studying abroad is a decision I will always recommend. Whilst having some more serious self-development in relation to my confidence, my independence and my academics I also have had so much fun. It is a year where, at Durham, your academics are only graded through pass and fail – meaning you can take time to explore what you enjoy, the country you are living in and the new experiences that are on your doorstep.
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