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University Study in Germany - University of Tübingen

by Amanda Hardy

Journal 1

During my first few weeks in Germany I have been facing quite a few frustrations. I am still excited to begin my semester, and after five years of study I am proud to be able to use German. Sadly I feel like I’ve forgotten much of my “basic” vocabulary.  While I am able to have a discussion on many academic and social topics, not being able to set up a bank in account in German was a blow to my confidence.  Nonetheless, I know I’ve already improved my German in just four weeks and am well on my way to my goal of reaching level C1 before I graduate next year.

Another frustration has been setting myself up here.  Firstly, the airport lost all my luggage and after three separate hour long train rides from Tuebingen to Stuttgart to get it back, I was exhausted and completely discouraged. I again had trouble expressing myself with German to the airport employees and really just wanted to go back to Ann Arbor.

I also had trouble getting my housing set up, as the level of bureaucracy here is extremely confusing, especially for someone like me who is used to doing everything online instead of in person and with paper. This has also caused me problems while applying for a visa, trying to sign up for classes, etc. Fortunately, at this point I either have finished or know how to do the rest of my bureaucratic tasks I have to complete to begin my semester.   

Although I’m still exhausted (partly stress, partly staying up obscenely late to watch the Wolverines take on March Madness), I am feeling more confident in my endeavors here. I feel I have become more independent and adult-like in this last month than I have after years of living in Ann Arbor alone.  I have to use a foreign language, much of the time I’m awake, my family and friends are asleep, I have to manage a lot of paperwork on my own and I have to overcome my social anxiety and make new connections here. I am really and truly responsible for myself here in a way I’ve never been before.  This experience has already been so good for me and my German, and although I’m still dreading the bureaucracy to come, I am excited to see myself grow over these next four months.

Journal 2

At about halfway through my semester, I’ve really gotten more comfortable here. Firstly, my language skills are much better now which makes it much easier to form connections with Germans.  I am understanding and responding in German much more quickly and without too much thought.  I’m very excited with the progress I’ve made with German and am excited to see how much I can learn in my last two months here.

I also have found a community here.  Not personally knowing people in Tübingen was a heavy source of stress during my first few weeks. Now, however, I have two tandem partners; one for German and one for Russian, both of whom I’ve become good friends with. I have also formed relationships with my German roommates and a few Michigan students. I now have a sense of belonging here.

I’ve also been taking advantage of opportunities to travel around Germany.  I’m doing a lot of hiking around Baden-Württemberg in the Black Forest, which is pristine.  It reminds me a lot of Michigan, especially all the time I used to spend in the Arb in Ann Arbor. I also found a beach nearby and have been going with some of my new friends on hot weekends.

Being a dedicated student, I’m also very excited about the classes that I’m taking. I have three German courses, Russian (taught in German, difficult but good practice), and a translation theory course. I definitely feel like my classes are challenging and I am learning a lot that can be directly applied to the career I want to have. Having these courses taught in German is also good for my academic vocabulary.

Finally, I’ve begun to adopt the culture here.  Of course there’s getting used to everything being closed on Sundays and using my thumb instead of my index finger for saying one. However, I’ve also become much more environmentally conscious.  Germans sort their trash for recycling and compost anything possible. I’ve also noticed many of my roommates turn the water off in the shower when they don’t need it and eat vegetarian for environmental reasons. Public transportation is also preferred over cars and using reusable grocery bags is the norm. I’m determined to carry some of these habits I’ve learned here to the United States. This is the most unexpected benefit I’ve had studying here.

All in all, although I still miss the familiarity of Ann Arbor, I do feel more like I like belong here and am greatly looking forward to the last two months I have here.

Journal 3

In exactly one week, my plane will leave from the Frankfurt airport. I’ll arrive in Detroit about ten hours later as a much more independent and adaptable person with excellent German skills. I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to here and more.

Firstly, I’ve improved my German more in the last five months than I could have imagined. Although I can’t speak perfectly, I can speak very quickly and easily convey my thoughts and feelings in a variety of situations with no difficulty. I’m excited to be living in the German-speaking residency hall at the University of Michigan and to speak with my old German professors to show everyone how far I’ve come in just a few short months.

Another priority of mine was to represent both the University of Michigan and the United States in a positive light. I spoke to many people during the course of this program, both students and university faculty as well as people who sat next to me on busses and in the park, and I think I accomplished this as well. In a time when the United States seems aggressive, culturally unaware, and insensitive to non-American issues, I think I showed the people I met that Americans can be educated, cultured and caring people. I think I also represented Michigan well through the same conversations, hopefully leaving behind the impression of a well-educated and respectful Univeristy of Michigan student.

I also wanted to travel. Although money was tight and I was afraid to travel alone, I overcame my hesitations and used this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn more not only about German culture, but the culture of surrounding nations, especially in the German-speaking world.

These experiences, however, also taught me some deeper skills that weren’t so obvious at the surface. Travel and living abroad was not only good for me due to improving language skills or the exposure I was gaining to different ways of life. I also gained excellent problem solving and communication skills. Figuring out subway routes and schedules I couldn’t read, taking care of reservation conflicts or lost luggage, and communicating with locals using German, Russian, English, Spanish or any other language I could muster a few words in without the use of the internet has given me critical thinking skills that I didn’t expect. Now, instead of panicking like I did when I arrived in Stuttgart at the beginning of this program without any of my luggage, I am able to calmly and logically approach issues even when obstacles like language barriers, transportation and lack of time are pressuring me.

I have also learned to how to carry myself and represent my home in foreign settings. I’ve learned to always know a few phrases of the language of the country I am visiting because I’ve noticed that even only being able to say “thank you” goes a long way. Knowing basic cultural and historical information is also important. For example, when I was in Munich, I heard an American boy my age making Nazi jokes with his family laughing and egging him on. I can’t help but think that their lack of knowledge of what really happened during World War II and how sensitive Germans are to these events led to his extremely inappropriate and offensive comments. I am now extremely careful to avoid making such ignorant and offensive errors and in doing so representing myself and my country well. I think this will serve me well in my personal life as well as during my career.

This experience has greatly improved my life, and although difficult, I am thankful for every second of this program and the skills and character it has developed in me.