So, I ended my last post with the line:
‘On the 12th Oct, term begins, so I hope to make the post a bit more academically focused!’
Well, work has started and it’s pretty good, if not always plain sailing.
When I decided to write a blog about my Year abroad, I did so with the intention that I would write the blog that I would want to read, i.e. not a just funny, quirky anecdotes-stuffed, gap-yah style year abroad blog… Rather, I hope that this blog has been so far entertaining and funny, but for this post at least, we turn now towards the serious aspects of studying abroad…
Some fun & crazy pictures are interspersed throughout to make this article a bit more readable…
As such, I welcome you to the academically focused post… I can only apologise if it’s not as entertaining as the others, but before I went out here to Heidelberg, I’d have dearly wanted to know these things!
I’ve divided it into three sections: ‘Organisation & planning’, ‘Effort’ and ‘Acceptance of when things go wrong’ as a result.
Organisation and planning
Plan as much as you can – you’re in a foreign land, which functions differently. Therefore, I’ve found that it’s good to try to plan each week out.
Working for Seminars:
At Durham, I wouldn’t need to plan my work nearly so much, as I basically understand the system and if I have a problem, it’s not too difficult to solve. Abroad at H, it’s a tremendous amount of fun a lot of the time, but having a ‘game-plan’ of what I need to do and what I want to do is simply a must! For instance, this upcoming weekend is Halloween and there’s a lot of partying to be had and which I really, really want to do. Therefore, I made sure that the important and really difficult presentation I had to do this semester was this week, not next week so I spent the whole of last week and weekend preparing for it, rather than this weekend.
It’s really obvious to hear I’m sure, but when you’re working in another language (and in said presentation I had to draw together a lot of texts German and English together), you’ve just got to be that much more disciplined. Emailing professors and going to their office hours to ask the important questions you have is simply a must – I must confess that I was a bit apprehensive at first, as I felt that my German was so rusty, but they were actually fine and really easy to get through. People here are very appreciative of attempts to speak German, rather than barging through with English. Only one professor was a bit disgruntled with me, but this was temporary – once he realised that I wasn’t ‘Pablo’ who was 15 minutes late for his appointment, but rather ‘Sam Walker’ who was accidentally 15 minutes early. That punctuality cult again…
If you’re not organised, the work can become painful – but more about that later in ‘Acceptance of when things go wrong’…
Choosing & balancing modules
Obviously the decision of what modules you take is a personal one: you want to push, but not overextend yourself. When choosing modules this semester I decided to be pragmatic, so I’m studying half in German and half in English for the first semester. In the first few weeks I’ve signed up for more modules than I’m required for this semester and am in the process of dropping the ones I dislike and trying to strike a healthy balance. It’s also worth researching these modules diligently beforehand. There really is no point turning up to a Mittelalter Geschichte lecture if you don’t have the required understanding of Latin that is essential to the course.
In the same way that my first month here involved trying to meet as many people as possible and going to all the social events, the start of term also involves a lot of effort. Not just academically mind you, but socially too… Being proactive is a must.
As I mentioned earlier, I could have chosen to do this really difficult presentation at a later date, but looking through the possible dates made it clear to me that doing it on the 27th October was the most logical solution. I had to really bust a gut to do it, but, it went well! I didn’t just do the work I was required to do for the Seminar, but tried to go the extra mile a bit. For instance, I realised that my summaries of the German articles I read were never going to be as good as my German counterparts, so I did the best I could, but I also made sure that my summaries of the articles in English were especially comprehensive, so as to help my German peers in my class. Thankfully, my Seminar class appreciated the efforts, and I can now sit back and enjoy the next set of presentations as they do theirs.
Whilst there is a temptation to treat an Erasmus year like a quasi-gap year, there’s also a temptation to get too bogged down with work and not enjoy yourself enough. Work definitely gets tiring here, and whilst everyone needs a night or two off sometimes, it also pays to keep enjoying yourself too, and I don’t mean getting smashed in a club, though that is of course fun. After said dreaded presentation on the 27th Oct, I was so, so tempted to sleep the evening and be decidedly anti-sociable… But I fought through the tiredness, did a ‘Pump’ fitness class and some pumpkin carving at a friend’s house instead, which was just a much better idea than having an evening off in my room watching some crappy show on Netflix… My hermitic lifestyle that got me through this tough presentation is one I am determined to only pursue when necessary.
From busting a gut for that seminar, to attempting to use reported speech in a bar when talking to a pretty girl, I’ve found that every time I’ve put the effort in over here H, I’ve been richly rewarded. My use of reported speech is now so much better.
Accept and learn when things go wrong
Despite all the attempts to organise, plan and all the effort you put, things invariably go wrong. Organisation and effort can help to mitigate these errors, but some are just going to happen. It can feel super-annoying, especially when you lose a fair bit of money as a result, but you’ve just got to pick yourself up and learn from it. I absolutely adore Heidelberg and Germany, but the way some things work here are just ridiculously annoying. Here are a few examples.
- If you are with a German bank, you can only draw money out from cash points for this specific bank UNLESS you are 100% sure that you can without being charged for it. I must have made 10-12 withdrawals from cash point at Bismarckplatz before I learnt that it was costing me 4.50 euros each time. Coming from the UK, I simply didn’t even consider this beforehand, but I’m absolutely not going to forget it…
- Mobile phone contract. Research this properly! I have a German buddy in Heidelberg, who is ever so nice, but a little bit clueless when it comes to some things. What with the heaps of tasks I had to do when I arrived, I decided to trust her go with this O2 contract. Needless to say it wasn’t what I was looking for and I’m now trying to change, which is difficult. I don’t want to slate/promote brands on this blog, so I’ll just say that the mobile phone contract you can get with Aldi is much better, at least at the present time in Germany. This lesson is being painfully learned.
- Money: a sensitive issue on a Year Abroad for sure. Germany has proved to be much more expensive than I had anticipated, and I consider myself to be diligent and careful with my money. Copious doses of German bureaucracy, mistakes and some great trips can unfortunately have a painful impact on your wallet. I was rather hoping to do some volunteer work in H, but this may not be possible if I decide to take a job instead. It’s early days, but there is probably a difficult decision to be made along the line. I’d encourage anyone going on a year abroad to plan their money very, very carefully. I did this, so I’m okay and have money in reserve for these unexpected expenses, but it would have been awful if I hadn’t planned in advance!
- Preparing a really hard presentation at the last minute. At Durham, I don’t enjoy doing this, but I can do it when necessary. At Heidelberg, it’s just so much harder to do, what with the language barrier and not yet knowing quite what is expected from a presentation. Needless to say, this was also a painful experience that I sincerely do not want to repeat! In this instance, I got the date for the presentation wrong, realised it a few days beforehand and did not have much fun as a result… All was well in the end, but it could have been so bad, phew…
Righto, that’s all for now.
Mit herzlichen Grüßen aus Deutschland,