As I write this, I am watching the snow blanket the the trees and buildings around me. When I look out my window, the view stretches out to the horizon and I can see not only Marburg, but neighboring towns. I feel like Moana looking out to the ocean. I’m lucky I have this view — I live in Marburg’s castle, which I consider some of the most prime real estate in the town (even though it takes about 180 steps to get there). But I wasn’t as appreciative of my home merely three months ago.
From the moment I applied to study abroad, I knew I wanted to live in the castle or Schloss. I knew I would be living with a roommate and have all the amenities to make friends and improve my German along the way — with mandatory Monday meetings entirely in German that last at least an hour and Wednesday in-house lecturers, even if you spoke in English the entire time, your listening comprehension would still improve. What I was not anticipating about living in the Schloss was HOW individuals made friends. In the U.S., you can meet a girl at a party, compliment her shirt, and you’re immediately friends for the next 20 years. In Germany, friendship is different. It takes longer than a minute to establish a connection with someone and I was initially frustrated that I had not wooed anyone by the end of my first week. At the same time, I wasn’t sure I HOW I could’ve wooed anyone with my heavily accented, pause filled German, which did not shed light on what my personality was really like. I ended up spending a lot of time with my fellow BCA students, speaking in English, and doing what you do when you don’t feel confident speaking the language — listening. Between banter, movies, and the previously mentioned in house events, my German improved, my personality started to show through, and the foundation of a friendship was built. One of the biggest advantages of staying the year is that I have time to cultivate these friendships.
Staying for a year has other advantages besides being able to make deep friendships. For me, the German semester was an important factor. The German semester goes from October until February instead of August until December. Staying the year allowed me to finish out my fall semester and spend the break in Europe — not only an opportunity for travel, but an opportunity to speak with people in the castle. A lot of individuals go home, so it’s easier to get people in small groups or one-on-one; the least stressful times to talk to a native speaker. Another advantage is staying for two semesters and being able to take advantage of the different courses available to me. In the fall, I took three BCA offered courses and two university business courses in English. Next semester, I’ll be able to take more classes at the university due to my elevated German level. And the biggest perk of all? I’ll have experienced all the different seasons in Europe. I can’t wait to watch the flowers bloom.
There are, of course, disadvantages to staying the year. While the break has been a huge opportunity to learn, it’s sometimes lonely. As someone normally maxed out, having no responsibilities isn’t always a time to relax. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself. While the culture shock more or less ended by October, the homesickness still comes in waves. I was the only year student in my BCA group and I was incredibly homesick when my friends were gone. When I moved into the castle three months ago, I was incredibly homesick. It rains a lot here. A nice drizzle which, combined with homesickness, gives some real movie drama vibes. The college experience here is different and instead of appreciating the differences, I missed what I was used to. If there’s one thing you learn from being abroad, it’s how to adapt. I decorated my room to make it feel like home (a perk of staying the year; when you’re only here three months is it really worth it to decorate?) and started the learning process just like I did in Vienna.
The Naked Brothers Band has a song called “I Could Be.” Going abroad is kind of like that. You get to discover things about yourself and learn new skills. I learned how my German personality is different than my English one — more creative, more patient, less intense. I’ve learned how to cook and how to be alone. I’ve rediscovered hobbies that were lost in my hectic American life. The Marburg program isn’t like the study abroad programs you on your sorority sisters Instagram. I don’t go to a new city every weekend and I am not the ultimate tourist. Instead, I have a deep understanding for German culture. Going abroad for a year was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done — it’s never easy to leave everything behind. It’s also been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I wouldn’t just recommend staying a year to someone who wants to improve their German as much as they can — I would recommend it to anyone who wants to go outside of there comfort zone and learn a new culture.
Sara is am a junior,International Business and German major at Elizabethtown College.