Monika Bochert, Peer Advisor
My first day in Tübingen, Germany was the closest thing to sensory overload I have yet to experience. It was exciting, terrifying, invigorating, and frustrating all within the span of a few hours. I arrived in Germany after taking a mere semester’s worth of language courses back home at CSU. To say that I initially struggled with the language would be an understatement. Imagine my surprise when on my first day, I ordered a beer at a restaurant and somehow received a sparkling apple juice instead. (For the record, “beer” in German is “bier,” pronounced exactly how it is in English. Till this day, I am still confounded by the miscommunication.)
Nevertheless! After a mere three weeks of intense German language studies at my university in Tübingen, called Eberhard Karls Universität, I could already sense a shift in my ability to communicate as I learned phrase after phrase. Suddenly going grocery shopping didn’t seem so terrifying and making friends came easier and quicker. I was a part of a massive international group of students who passed endless hours in the city park, lavishly spending the late summer days away. The hours my new comrades and I spent wandering down quaint and narrow alleyways in search of the perfect Döner kebab could not have been more typical to my experience. It was the seemingly everyday occurrences like grabbing some ice cream and sitting on the Neckar Bridge that wound up being the most memorable. Every day was an adventure, big or small. Every day I learned something new, about myself or about the world. Every day was a challenge to not get discouraged or not stop exploring. We were the exchange student warriors, battling against social stereotypes and the complacency of every day.
Once I got a small grip on the language, a whole new world opened itself up to me. The experience culminated in a two week long solo trip around the lower half of Germany with primary destinations such as Freiburg, Heidelberg, Würzberg, Bamberg, and Leipzig. I traveled these two weeks by almost exclusive means of hitch hiking and couch surfing, meaning I was wholly dependent on both myself and the generosity of complete strangers – a somewhat terrifying prospect. And yet, each time I got myself in a sticky situation, there was someone to help get me out. Individuals I would never see again went out of their way to make my travels easier, be it by rescuing me from pouring rain when hitching out of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, or by acting as mediator when I did not purchase appropriate tickets for the public transport in Heidelberg. Better yet, random interactions with locals resulted in the discovery of awesome new foods like Schweinshaxen (pork knuckles!) and smoked beer in Bamberg. Such small efforts had such a large impact on how I interpret the world, and ironically enough, I never even learned the names of many individuals I came across. Such information was unnecessary. What was more important was the cultural exchange, and that is something that will remain in my memory for a long time to come.