"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains
unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."
By studying abroad, I found out more about myself and what I want to do in the future. I think this quote accurately describes my feelings upon my return to the States. I do not believe studying abroad necessarily changed me, but rather I discovered my true self – my strengths and my weaknesses – by separating myself from everyone and everything familiar.
I studied abroad in Mannheim, Germany the first time in spring 2004. My main motivation for studying abroad was to improve my German language skills. I had traveled through Europe with my family several times but never for an extended period of time. I would be lying to say I did not have feelings of anxiety before leaving the states to live abroad for 5 months.
Arriving in Germany, I knew no one, and the first few weeks were tough. I had to learn to navigate around the city using public transportation, register with the city, and begin attending language classes – all in German. I quickly made friends, though, and learned the advantages of knowing other exchange students. Not only were they going through the same situations as me, but also they taught me much about the countries and cultures from which they came. Coming from a small town in North Carolina, I took many of the opinions and practices from the U.S. as the “norm.” After spending time with students from countries as diverse as Poland, Japan, Mexico, Egypt, and Iran, I soon learned that not everyone around the world thinks as I do. A favored topic was the political situation in the U.S.
I returned to Mannheim the spring of 2005. I chose to come back because I felt like I had not gotten enough out of the first semester and right when I was getting comfortable, it was time to leave. Not only were my German skills much more proficient this time, but I was also more confident and ready to take every opportunity that came my way. The second time around, I became involved in an organization on campus, VISUM, which brings together exchange students with German students. They pair each student up with a buddy and plan events regularly, almost every week.
There is no on-campus housing at Mannheim, but there is university-owned housing that is off-campus. These housing units (dorms) are scattered throughout the city, so I recommend looking at a map before choosing a place to live. I lived in Hans-Sachs-Ring, which is near a park with a lake and really nice. It is in a little community and has a bus connection to the university. The other option that is really nice is Ulmenweg, which is farther away from the university itself, but my friends who lived there said they liked it. There are other options as well, which I recommend you check out.
I also took advantage of Germany’s close proximity to other European countries by doing some traveling. Through discount airlines, such as Ryan Air or German Wings, and seasonal discounts on train tickets, it is possible to travel quite inexpensively. One word of advice though – plan early as often there are only a limited amount of tickets on sale.
When I first arrived in Germany, I had the chance to take a placement test to see how proficient I was in German. Based on my score, I began the free three-week intensive German course, which ran from 8:00am-12:30pm five days per week. This is a great way to immerse yourself in the language and meet different people.
Most of my classes were taught in English and designed for exchange students. I made it through my classes passing all of them. I would also recommend taking at least one or two classes at the university not specially designated for exchange students. Without these classes, it might be difficult to make many “true German” friends.
The second semester I was there, my course options were much wider. Because of my improved German skills, I was able to take two business classes in German, Finance/Marketing I and Business German, for which I received business credits here at UNCG.