So where to begin... I have a lot of thoughts on my mind and so I am just going to write them down as they come. Blogs and Facebook posts are not normally my thing but I want to be able to share my experiences with everyone and I said that i'd try a blog so here it goes. I am going to be absolutely blunt / honest about my experience and not sugar coat anything, no cliche "this is the most amazing experience of my life" unless it actually is. It is currently 12:34am on the 17th of February 2017.
This post is called Am Anfang which means "in/at the beginning" (i'm pretty sure) because it literally is based on the last 6 weeks which have really been a precursor to the monumental challenge that is just ahead of me. These 6 weeks have been a mix of too many emotions but also emotionless. I arrived in Germany on the 4th of January and spent the first couple of days adjusting to the colder climate and doing a bit of sight seeing with a good friend. The snow was obviously the major attraction to begin with. Although I have seen snow in Australia on the skii slopes, it is a completely new experience to see it lining the streets of a city and decorating the roofs of houses. Every photo was made better with snow and this was no more evident than in Heidelberg where it just made the castle and its surrounding gardens that one tiny bit better. After I had become accustomed to the white winter wonderland that surrounded me, I was naturally blown away by the stunning architecture of just about any Altstadt (old town). Just looking at a stunning old building began the inception of so many questions about who had lived there? How long for? How did they live? What did the world look like for them everyday when they stepped out the door every morning to go about their daily business? What came before? To the utter frustration of my friend who obviously couldnt answer them, I always ensured that these questions were vocalised in order to express my interest. The first few days were a good introduction to Germany and allowed me to have a small taste of what is to come in the next 12 months.
After my first 4 days I traveled to Stuttgart in order to begin my first language course. Typical of me, I had high expectations for what needed to be accomplished in the course. As a result, this would cause both a lot of stress in the days to come but also a slight shift in the way I perceive the future of my exchange. I expected to submerge myself in the German language and immediately leave English behind, but it was never going to be that straight forward. In the first week I got to know many new people some of whom would go on to form a tight nit circle of friends who would experience many new , weird and wonderful things that would only ever bring us closer and closer together. I began German classes pretty soon and it didn't take long for me to discover that it was going to be easier said than done just to leave English behind. As much as I felt like I had learnt so much in a year of German at University it also became clear that there was a very long way still to go. It was difficult to express every idea that I wanted with a very limited vocab and many grammar rules missing. Also the largest proportion of people participating in the course were beginners and of the 67 students present 61 were from Australia. As a result it wasn't long before English prevailed as the dominant day to day language and the idea of speaking German indefinitely was forgotten. This was a cause for stress as it clearly wasn't what I had planned and was thus undermining the expectations I had of what I would achieve from the course. Nonetheless, I was still learning many new words studying German 3 hours a day 5 days a week. Some relief also came from the fact that the entire course was instructed in German. Ultimately, with a lack of skills and not too many people to talk to only in German it was largely out of my hands and so, with advice from a friend, I decided to re-evaluate how I would approach the exchange. I decided to remove all expectations of what was to come and immediately I felt better. I think this was for the better as I concluded that I will never be able to truly predict what a course or my study will be like.
The first week culminated in an excursion to the black forest where we tried traditional black forest cake; had fun with sleds; got to see allegedly "average" German skii fields which turned out to have more snow than possibly all the mountains in Australia combined; and had epic snow ball fights. The black forest was absolutely beautiful, especially with all the snow (no surprises there), and the black forest cake was surprisingly alcoholic. The second week began by diving straight into the course work. Everyday my German vocabulary was expanding and I was making flashcards endlessly night after night after night. I also had a lot of time on my hands as my afternoon course didn't run in the second week at all. In this time I visited galleries, museums and hiked around the beautiful snow covered hills of Stuttgart. I also spent a lot of time on the königstraße, which is the main shopping street in Stuttgart. In Australia I never considered myself a fashionable person and was never very good at shopping. In Germany, however, being in Europe and surrounded by many sophisticated looking people, I felt pressured to change this. As a result there were many expeditions to the shops in which, to the annoyance of friends, I spent hours browsing items of clothing often in order to buy just one item. This was due to the fact that I often had an idea of what I was after and wanted to ensure I buy the right piece but also because I generally had no idea of what looked good. In the end I felt like I had done pretty well but it had definitely thrown my budgeting a bit out of order.
|Hiking around Stuttgart|
The second week ended in a trip to Munich with a small group of friends which served as a good bonding experience. The trip was full of fun and laughter. We visited many tourist attractions such as the famous Neuschwanstein castle (what the disney castle is based off of) and the Nymphenburg palace. There was also a night out to an Australian bar and then my first German club, all kindly sponsored by two Singaporean tourists. It was such a good weekend and I couldn't have spent it with better people. Week three began and I began to notice that I was feeling very emotionless. What I mean by this is that I was feeling just as if I hadn't left Australia. I didn't feel excited because I was in Germany or sad because I was missing my family it just felt like nothing had changed. This was neither good nor bad but surprising, I had managed to slip into a comfortable cycle of going to uni and then going home just as I had in Adelaide. To this day it has never really "hit me" that I am now in Germany it's almost as if I had thought about it and planned it so much that my body was expecting it.
|"Skating" in Munich|
My home experience has been very comfortable, my host mother was absolutely lovely. She offered to cook for us every night and said she would wash our clothes. Maybe this is why it never really "hit me" because I had never really left home. Every night we would eat dinner together as a family which was a new experience but one that I enjoyed because at home in Australia we all fend for ourselves at dinner and eat at different times depending on what suits us. Around the dinner table we would begin with a German conversation in which I would try to speak German.This was a little difficult as my host brother, who was also from Australia, already spoke fluent German. My host mother and him would go on and have large conversations which I struggled to follow as my vocabulary wasn't quite large enough to accommodate my participation. I found this a little intimidating but it was good practice to try and follow. Ultimately, after half an hour of German we would swap to English which I thought was a good mix. This enabled us to also have large meaning full discussion on more complicated topics which I enjoyed.
In the 4th and 5th week things began to change with my German. It started with a bizarre night out where a group of us went around introducing ourselves to some of the locals in a bar and ended up going night clubbing with them. I found that when I had had a bit to drink and tryied to speak German I was thinking less about forming German sentences in my head and as a result it started to come out a little more fluently (maybe it didnt actually make sense, who knows). I met someone that night who id go on to catch up and have my first proper German conversation with. This is when things started to look on the up for my speaking ability. All of a sudden, after a couple of German speaking hours, I could now hold a conversation only in German provided the topic was basic. This made me excited and gave me that feeling of success that increased my enthusiasm to try harder to learn more German. In combination with my ever growing vocabulary, I was able to contribute more in class and participate more at the dinner table. The original stress was finally being put to rest by more visible results. At the moment, all I want to do is try and have German conversations because every time I nail a sentence it is such a satisfying feeling and it boosts my confidence that little bit more.
In these last two weeks we also visited the city of Strasbourg and Ulm. Strasbourg was just an absolutely visually stunning city. With a practically untouched old town it was an incredible excursion. The cathedral was easily the most impressive thing there. The cathedral first came into view after walking around the corner of a narrow street. It loomed ahead in a misty morning dwarfing all the houses around it and creating an unbelievable view. Ulm was also an incredible experience. We traveled there for the Karnival, a pagan tradition where people dress up as witches or monsters and parade around the city to shoo away the bad spirits of winter. The whole city had shut down, the atmosphere was incredible and it became obvious that this was one of those events that everyone counted down the days to in anticipation. Many bars and night clubs were full of people at mid day dressed up, drinking and dancing, and this created a cultural / traditional atmosphere that cannot be found anywhere in Australia. Karnival is a tradition that dates back over hundreds of years. It is passed down through each generation and as a result it is a deep tradition that clearly holds an important date on the calendar for many.
In the final week I sat my exams in which I did not do too bad and then to celebrate went to a naked Sauna (because why not). The naked Sauna was definitely a strange experience but it was something that I thought was worth trying. It definitely took the friendship of the people who went to a whole new level. Nothing is a better bonding experience than sitting naked in a Sauna with lots and lots of very old also naked German men staring at you. There is no doubt that the friends that I have made have shaped my experience here in Stuttgart. There has been so many jokes, dumb moments, chats and so on that have provided laughs and smiles for days on end. I have met so many different unique people here and I have had a blast spending the last 6 weeks with them. Without these people my 6 weeks in Stuttgart would not have been the same.
So basically that's what ive been up to for the last 6 weeks, its not everything but I gave it my best shot to try and summarise it all. It's been an experience with highs and lows but it has been a great way to start my time here in Germany. I will now proceed to include photos in this post and also upload more to Facebook for people to look at and also so mum and dad will get off my back. Maybe tomorrow it will begin. Maybe tomorrow it will hit me. Tomorrow I will have no host mother to look after me or brother to support me, it will be all up to me to look after myself and make my way through the next 12 months living in Munich. Its 2:08 am so I guess its technically today now. Bring it on.