Prior to my study abroad program I had never been outside of the United States and had a lot of expectations for life while in Germany. My father is German, so I have been learning the language for many years and I also knew a lot of typical German cultural practices and things that were different from America. They typically say when you study abroad you first experience amazing wonder and awe, but eventually, you feel homesick until you mellow back out. But for me, it was hard as soon as I stepped off the plane.
I wouldn’t be the first to say the language you learn in classrooms can only prepare you so much for the way natives speak- especially with a local dialect like in Mannheim. I really struggled for the first couple of weeks while in Germany, as I felt my German was lacking and couldn’t communicate like I wanted. German people are incredibly good at English, so you can definitely get around here without knowing any German, but for me that felt a little like cheating. I have heard that almost 50% of Mannheim is international so people often switched immediately to English when they realized I wasn’t a native speaker. So sometimes I felt not only homesick, but my idea of going abroad and improving my German was not living up to my expectations, which is a problem I think every abroad student feels at some point.
But then I remembered hello! I’m in Europe! And for Americans like me, it is my time to go see what else the country and continent has to offer. I’ve now visited three major cities all within Germany: Munich- the heart of Oktoberfest, Mainz- for Karneval, and the nearest city Heidelberg and its large 13th-century castle. I’ve also been very lucky to visit family in small towns both in the states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg which is an entirely different experience. I really enjoy experiencing all the different cultures that Germany has to offer. Plus the landscape in Germany is just beautiful, and the architecture is like the stereotypical fairy tales, so traveling here is never boring. My aunt thought it was funny that my friend and I were so obsessed with castles here- funny to think about what is astounding for us as Americans is a casual Tuesday for Germans
However, what was fascinating to me the most in my travels in Germany was how much every time I began to miss my home in Mannheim. Despite my original culture shock, Mannheim, a place once so foreign to me, is now a place I look back to for comfort. So you know, I might now have to pay for tap water and the food is just not sweet enough here, but I am slowly getting better at the language and feeling less homesick, and I have found somewhere else to call my home for now.
Enjoying the view of Heidelberg from the castle!