I am currently living in Germany for the year and studying at the University of Münster. It has been a bit of a culture shock.
First off, I have been drowning in administration. Endless trips to and from the bank, Bürgerbüro (think citizen’s advice office) and various departments at the university have made me never want to see a piece of paperwork again, and it’s no exaggeration to say that I’m sick of signing documents. This is definitely the side that people neglect to mention when regaling you with stories about their gorgeous year abroad in Munich or Marseille, and honestly, I can understand why – the other stuff is just too good!
Yes, I’ve been bogged down in bureaucracy, but I’ve also been discovering a new side to myself that coming to a new country has really allowed to flourish. The me that’s not afraid to simply say yes to things, the me that will confidently (and successfully!) try and open bank accounts in my second language and the me that cycles to and from uni everyday – although in Münster that’s practically an obligation!
It really is no exaggeration to say that your year abroad changes you and opens you up to new experiences that you wouldn’t ordinarily be party to. The best part is the travel. Students in North Rhine-Westphalia have access to an ingenious thing called a ‘Semesterticket’. This gives you free travel on public transport throughout the region. It means that even though I study in Münster, cities like Köln, Düsseldorf and Aachen are just a train ride away. I can even get to the Netherlands with the ticket, which, given that I study Dutch, is amazing. In the few weeks that I’ve been here, I have already made it to Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Dortmund and Bonn, with plans to go and visit Enschede across the border very soon.
That’s not all, students also received reduced price or free tickets to a whole host of cultural events across the city; something I fully intend to take full advantage of whilst here. In England, you often have to pay an arm and a leg to see good classical musicians, but here I can get tickets to see the symphony orchestra for free.
Besides all the travel, one of the other big positives for me has been the opportunity to improve my health by cycling everywhere. More people cycle than drive here in Münster, and it’s known as the cycle capital of Germany. When you stand outside one of the university buildings, you can really see why – it’s not unusual to see hundreds of bikes parked. I have already noticed that after a few weeks of cycling, I can go faster than when I started, and I’ve lost all nervousness about cycling on the road (which is rare as Münster is covered in cycle paths).
My courses are just starting, and it’s been really interesting to see how they teach in German universities. Although the class sizes are a bit bigger than I’m used to, I have really enjoyed the discussion led approach they practice here. In addition, it’s fascinating to see Dutch taught from the German perspective, with the tutor regularly emphasising the differences between Dutch and German pronunciation.
Sheffield is an amazing city to study in and has given me so many opportunities to meet new people and pursue different interests, but I can honestly say that moving abroad, while tough, has so far broadened my horizons further than I could have imagined.