Monday, March 21, 2016

Brandon in Germany!

When I was boarding the plane that would take me to Germany for 6 months, I was so excited. I was excited to finally know exactly what studying abroad was all about. I had been told by many people that overall, studying abroad was a positive experience, but that I had to “learn to appreciate the little bumps along the way.” Each time someone uttered a phrase similar to that, whether in conversation with me personally, or in front of a group of to-be exchange students at UNCG, they seemed to be recalling memories that weren’t so great. They would usually laugh this off and focus on a more positive aspect of their experience. Remembering that I needed to “take stride in the little mistakes,” I began the task of becoming settled in Mannheim, Germany.

The best way I can summarize my study abroad experience so far is that it has been nothing but a rollercoaster. That may sound like a negative thing, but it isn’t necessarily negative. There have definitely been some growing pains associated with living in a different country and learning to be a member of another culture. However, the experiences have been so important for my cultural awareness, but more so for my independence as an adult.


My first few weeks in Mannheim were, as this whole trip has been, a rollercoaster. I met so many awesome people, and took part in many excursions that were offered through the winter academy I was attending. The excursions were fantastic. I saw so many places that I probably would have never bothered to travel to by myself. That being said, it’s a great thing I had those excursions to distract me, because I had many problems to deal with concerning registration with the city and country, enrollment in the university, and registering for classes. 

While dealing with a mountain of issues from the university, banking, and housing, and other sources, I still managed to get to know the city and be social. Mannheim is definitely not what anyone would picture when they think of Germany. It has been destroyed several times throughout history, most recently during WWII. Due to this, Mannheim has little of the quaint and cute stereotypical European architecture that one might expect to see anywhere in Europe, but that is not a problem. A perk to living in Mannheim is that it is sort-of almost in the middle of Germany. I have been to a handful of major German cities, along with many other quaint, old-style German towns because of the position of Mannheim within Germany.

From Schloss
Another perk to studying abroad in Germany is its central location in Europe. I have been here for 2.5 months, and I have visited France, Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia. Since Germany is central, you never have to go too far. As far as Mannheim goes, it’s an okay place to be. It is average. It’s kind of dirty, but it strangely has a unique industrial charm. While sometimes I think about how different everything would be had I chosen another location, I do not regret choosing to study abroad in Mannheim.

While most other people made their post specifically about their city, I wanted mine to be more about what people can expect while studying abroad. Culture shock is definitely real. I thought it wouldn’t be that bad. I thought that because I was merely aware that there would be vast cultural differences, it meant I would not really experience culture shock. I was very wrong. For the first week, I questioned my decision to study abroad at all. I really wanted to come home. I felt I had made a mistake, and knowing that I had months ahead to go before I could return home only made my outlook worse. I had trouble with buying groceries, public transportation, and finding my way around the city. I was very uncomfortable. Every person I have spoken to about their first few weeks here has told me a similar story. Many people told me about frantic, teary-eyed calls to their parents, expressing regret and asking if they should just come home the next day. However, these people, myself included, decided to stay and try to make the best of things. So far, though it has been very bumpy, things have worked out. I have traveled to places I have always dreamed of going. I have met very unique and interesting people. I have experienced much more culture than I have experienced in my entire life in the United States. This experience has turned out to be one of the most important experiences I have ever had, and it is only about halfway over.

Apartment Mural

With all that being said, I just want to encourage anyone who is thinking of studying abroad in Mannheim, or anywhere. There will be many things you have to deal with, problem or not. There will be a lot of paperwork, and appointments, and apathetic student help, or worse, apathetic university staff. There will be a lot of obstacles in your way of having the best study abroad experience that you can. All of these things will fall on your shoulders, and yours alone. Though that sounds frightening, I am not trying to deter anyone from studying abroad. I just wish I had been told about some of the problems I was going to experience, rather than mostly all of the fun that I would have. I have had a lot of fun while here. However, there have also been a lot of problems that I was not aware I would have to deal with. But that is the way it goes. Dealing with these problems while abroad has made me so much more independent than I was in the United States. I thought I was independent before coming here. I had a car, a job, my own money, and I managed my own finances. Being abroad and experiencing having to accomplish important tasks, often with little or no help or advice, has made me grow so much as a person. As uncomfortable as I was sometimes, it has been the most valuable experience I have had so far in my time here. 

View of Rothenburg
Knowing that I can accomplish this actually makes me feel like I can accomplish anything back home. Studying abroad has made me feel much more like a capable adult. I can’t wait to see what is in store for the rest of my time in Germany. To anyone thinking about studying abroad, definitely do it. It will change your life in positive ways that you won’t imagine.

Brandon Taylor
University of Mannheim
Mannheim, Germany