Carly's Adventures in Germany

My adventures during my study exchange in Würzburg, Germany for semester one of 2011.

The last few weeks have gone by really fast, a lot to do with being busy, still adjusting to life and classes here, and the excursions and exchange student travel we’ve been doing between all of that.

I think one of the most magical adventures I’ve had so far was the trip to the customs office to get a parcel - the office being in a town outside of town. The trip took 8 hours in total because I made the mistake of going on my own on a day which was a holiday in the town in question. The plan was to catch a bus to Kitzingen, and then a bus from there to right near the customs office.

What actually ended up happening was that I missed my stop due to being engrossed in my music and book, having to ask a lady on the bus whether I could catch a bus going back to Kitzingen, and being directed to the nice bus driver who said I could just stay on and the bus would eventually reach the end of its route and turn back towards Würzburg. The bus driver was even nicer and stopped to write down the times of the next buses back to Würzburg for after I’d received my parcel.

Upon finally getting to Kitzingen I walked into the train station to ask where I would wait for the bus to the customs office, only to be told it was a holiday and the buses there were not running. Fortunately there were taxis outside and I asked one if they could take me there. The customs office itself was fairly uneventful, a nice man there that could speak English well enough to explain things to me said that my parcel only went there because they needed to ask me some questions or to tax me if my parcel were labelled a Gift instead of for Study… so I can only hope I avoid that next time.

I got terribly lost looking for the bus stop back, I couldn’t find anyone that would speak to me while I was asking questions in English and I had no idea how to ask where the bus stop was in German, but fortunately I stumbled across the southern bus stop (not the one the customs office people directed me to, but a bus stop regardless). The next bus with it being a holiday was in two hours - and I’d caught one going back to Kitzingen instead of onwards to Würzburg! Deciding I’d had enough of buses I caught a train back from Kitzingen for 6 Euros, feeling very much wiser for my journey.

I’ve been to a few places in Germany now between class excursions, the EMAF film festival and group trips with the international student organisers. My travel resume includes: Frankfurt Am Main, Würzburg (of course), Stuttgart, Munich, Augsburg, Nürnbug, Osnabrück and a quarry near Messel. We’re off to Prague on the weekend which will be my first (and maybe the only, with my funding) trip outside of Germany whilst on my exchange. I think I’m enjoying focusing on German cities rather than travelling to other countries anyway, I can go on a general European holiday any time in my life.

The European Media Art Festival was absolutely amazing, even if I did only get to go for two days. Osnabrück is a really pretty town itself, but the experience of going to the festival was one I think I’m going to remember for a while.

Class is still fairly difficult, but I’m slowly working out what is expected of me. It’s daunting being surrounded by so many amazing artists and designers, but it keeps me working harder than I ever have before, and that is something I think I really needed.

Buchbinden

It’s warmed up enough here that I can wear just a hoodie instead of a hoodie, and there are flowers growing everywhere. I think one of the best parts about the season change is that all of the shops change their display themes - replacing snow with flowers and rabbits. Daisies are growing everywhere, and I’ve seen daffodils growing out of the ground for the first time ever - and almost everywhere I look.

The weeks have been getting busier as you can probably tell from the two weeks since my last post, but I intend on continuing with semi-constant entries if I can.

Class has still been going well. It is really different to back home, which is both good and bad, but mostly great. I’m used to understanding most of what is going on, and being able to help others - but here the language barrier and a completely different structure makes it hard to do that. It makes some days hard, but I think it all adds to the experience, and there is always someone around willing to help (one thing I’m learning to do, that I don’t usually, is to ask for help).

Another thing that is hard is that we have to buy almost all of our supplies for class and assignments, I’ve had the occasional class where we’ll be given free paper but mostly we are expected to buy our own stuff. It really makes me realise how lucky we are back home to just be given books and supplies most of the time for class.

Buying the supplies was an interesting experience, mostly because I didn’t think to research which ink I was buying before I went in there, and asking where to find it became a strange game of charades and a scavenger hunt. Between translating on my phone and charades I finally thought of holding up both kinds of ink and the drawing tool I was using and asking the (amazingly nice, and patient) lady that was helping me which one I needed - and all turned out well.

I’ve always wanted to do a bookbinding class back home, but other things kept getting in the way, so I’m finally doing one here. I was a bit worried how that would go, but again everyone is amazingly helpful, and our teacher is really patient and good at showing what to do through gestures to help us out when we can’t understand what he is saying.

Our first class we made a twisty stack of notes and the start of one kind of book, which was the most fun, and we didn’t even have to buy the supplies (at least for that day). I have bookbinding for the second time tomorrow, so I’m pretty excited about that.

Classes Start

This week we had class sign-ups, which were a lot different to back home. There were two days of class selection: Monday was for our large and small project class selection, and Wednesday was for our 3 technical classes. Descriptions of the available classes are put up on the wall for everyone to browse, with choices being marked down on individual sheets and handed into the nearby office.

Oh and all of the class listings are in German so we had to ask some students for help reading them, luckily everyone is really friendly here! Most of the classes were up online, but not all, so online translating wasn’t an option for all of them even when we did get our passwords to log in and check. Apparently even a lot of the German students don’t really understand what the posters are saying, so they’re guessing almost as much as us.

My favourite part, because it was how I always expected university to be, was when we had to go back two days later to find the sheets of paper placed up on the wall listing those that got into each class. I only had one class I didn’t get into, because not enough students signed up for it, but changing into another was no hassle at all.

The university has a guide program for international students a lot like the mentor program back at JCU, I’m not sure if it’s brand new and/or if it is just for international students but we get a student guide to help us out which is pretty great.

Most of our classes start up next week but we had two that started early, something we were lucky to have checked for. Our first class was mostly in English for us, although some parts our lecturer had to say first in German and then translate. She asked the German students if they were fine with giving their introductions in English and they all were, which was really nice of them because I still really don’t pick up all that much yet.

[I’m still not getting used to the amazing views from pretty much any window here. This is what we see from the windows right near where we sign up for class!]

Forms forms forms

Since the 1st of March this week has mostly been organising forms with Frau Schuster and the other international students, on the first day we did everything as a group but since then we’ve been divided into two groups based on if we are in the Advanced or Beginners German class, just so everything works out faster. The new German textbook we bought on the first day of the class was €12.50, not too bad for probably the only textbook we will probably need. Our German lecturer is pretty cool and makes class light-hearted and fun, which is exactly what we need with so many of us being nervous and never having learned German before.

It’s really amazing being surrounded by so many people from all different places. While sometimes I feel terribly uncultured for only being able to speak English while most of the other students speak at least two languages, nobody seems to mind at all. I’ve been pulled up only once for speaking English instead of German and it was after a few days of going to the same café without me trying very hard, but they were very nice about it.

A few tiny differences in the shops make things a little confusing at first like there not really being one shop that covers all groceries, but with everything so close together it doesn’t matter so much. Some things that are cheap back home like vegetable oil and rice are surprisingly expensive here, but then others like alcohol are surprisingly cheap. There are a few cool new things here that have been happy surprises like Schwip Schwap or Mezzo Mix which is either Pepsi or Coke mixed with orange drink - sounds awful maybe but it’s actually really nice. Also these Pocket Coffee chocolates which are a dark chocolate shell filled with Italian liquid espresso that are relatively hard to find outside of Europe.

I’ve been in my dorm room since the 2nd of March and have set it up nicely with dark and heavy curtains (to block out the light when I’ve been up all night, planning ahead for a stressful lack-of-sleep schedule) and all of the neat stuff the last students left us! I’ve had the keys since the 24th of February but Amy had to wait to get hers and so we stored all of our stuff in my room and spent up until the 2nd in the hostel and hotel we had booked. The internet in our dorms is amazing but you need to buy your own network cable to connect to it. The Borders-like bookstore here called Hugendubel has free wifi and lots of comfy seating if you need to get your internet fix before you have any access elsewhere.

Eight international students and Frau Schuster made a trip to IKEA today in two cars after class and form organising today. Amy and I didn’t have much left to buy because of all the wonderful things we were given, but still managed to find a few extra buys - one of those being the heavy curtains I bought. We gave away some excess cutlery, pots and crockery that we didn’t need the day before to two other international students because my room-mate already had quite a lot set up in the kitchen, and Amy had taken as much as she needed.

In a couple of weeks we’re going to be enrolling and for a few days we get to attend any classes we wish, “trying before we buy” before we actually pick our subjects.

I really can’t wait to start my classes even with how exhausted I am!

Arrived!

We arrived in Frankfurt yesterday after a long flight, I’ve never flown further than Townsville-Sydney before so it was really exciting for me. I’m not great at sleeping in public, especially not in a chair so I didn’t get to catch up on my sleep until the long flight from Singapore to Frankfurt, which was nice because they dim the lights after dinner~

My meals on the plane were uneventful, not at all as interesting as the heart-shaped vegan cupcakes that Amy was getting. Everything was surprisingly delicious except the powdered eggs, but I’ve never tried that before so it was nice in a way. Qantas had these nice informative videos on different destinations and what to do on arrival, the Frankfurt one was nice because it informed us that we’d need our passports ready soon after getting off the plane, and about taking the train from where we landed to platform 1 to collect our bags. It was really warm inside but when we got out to where the trains were it was freezing - just my kind of weather!

After arriving in Frankfurt we took a train to Würzburg, there were no seated tickets left so we had to stand in the luggage compartment until the first stop, but after that there were enough free seats that we could sit for the rest of the ride.

When we got to Würzburg we took the #5 tram to Löwenbrücke, just near the Jugendherberge Youth Hostel we are staying at and followed the signs to find it. Check-in wasn’t until 3pm so we left our suitcases with the nice lady at the desk and went off to explore and grab some supplies from the mass of shops nearby - like groceries for the next day as everything is closed on Sundays! (Edit: We discovered that only the main shops and things are closed, most cafes and such were very much open. Breakfast in the hostel was also extended an extra hour or so~).

The hostel is really quite nice, we booked a two-person room and have a bunk bed, heaters, a shower and lockable closets! I’ve never used a heater before so those took a while to figure out, as well as the showers - which are hand held quite possibly to reduce the amount of water that flies out onto the drain-less floor. Afraid to ask I looked up about the showers and apparently bathrooms are like that “everywhere” in Europe and they don’t mind too much about water on the floor - I’ll update this later if I find out from experience that Google lied to me. The wifi here costs money but there is a computer downstairs for us to use, I’m just using wifi.

We’re catching up with the other exchange students from JCU tonight, who are leaving really soon due to it being the end of their exchange. We’re not entirely sure what we will be doing until then as we’re both exhausted, but I really want to explore some more and take photos because I’m still really excited about how pretty everything is here - a huuuuge change from Townsville, and yet a small enough city that it isn’t at all overwhelming.

So far basic communication for me has been a little embarrassing because of the language barrier, but having the two of us is great because we can usually work things out between us. Immersion into the language has taught me a lot more in the last 24 hours than my months and months of self-teaching, so I’m not at all worried that I won’t adapt, it just feels really scary at first.

Leaving for Germany tomorrow!

We’ve been preparing for months and we are finally off on our flight in 6 hours! Neither of us have been able to sleep because our taxi gets here in 3.5 hours and we’ve been packing and drinking coffee all night - saving our sleep for our flight.

As we have friends in Brisbane we spent the last week here before continuing onto Sydney-Singapore-Frankfurt. It gave us time to get anything sent to us we forgot or were still getting in the mail (like my Visa debit card) and to buy extra things.

It’s been a bit hectic with Cyclone Yasi happening while we were still preparing, we booked our international flights first and were going to book our flight to Brisbane when the week of the cyclone happened - but everything turned out fine!

When our plane lands in Frankfurt we are taking a train to Würzburg. We don’t get our dorm keys until the 1st of March so we’ve booked a couple of weeks at the Youth Hostel as well as two days at a hotel because the hostel was booked out for those.

We had been planning on going to the Amanda Palmer concert in Brisbane for a while, as we were in the city last year and both missed her by a week. We took the playing cards we are going to use on our flight to the concert and while she was signing them she gave us fun tips for Germany - as she’d been in Bavaria for 7 months previously. Her tips were: to not spend too much time with each other so that we make lots of friends, to learn as much as we can, and to take lots of German lovers.

I can’t take advantage of the last tip, as I am very much attached to my partners - but I hope to do my best to make double the friends instead :D

The Beginning

I consider the preparation for a journey to be as much of an adventure as the journey itself, perhaps because of how over-excited I get about everything. So I’m starting this journal six months early, just so everyone knows how I’m feeling and what you have to go through along the way to even going on the German Exchange, let alone what happens once you are there.

I’ve know I want to go on this exchange to Würzburg for only a month now, before that point I wasn’t even considering going at all. What made me change my mind was when the JCU Exchange Program popped up at SoCA and I went out to have a look with Amy.

This was about when I found out through Amy talking to the JCU students that are already over in Germany that there was an OS-HELP loan to help students going on exchange overseas. It’s pretty much the same as HECS, you pay it off in taxes when you’re making enough money that you won’t feel it so much. Money really was the biggest hurdle for me, as I’ve never been able to balance work with living so far away from uni, and so I just go to uni, and often stay over at uni for days at a time. Some people can do it, and still manage great grades, I’m not one of those people.

So here I am a month down the track, I’ve been in to talk to the head of Creative Arts about the trip, I’m handing in most of my forms tomorrow and still have to get my Academic Reference form filled out. I’m glad I decided on this relatively soon as the only time I could possibly go on this is in the first semester of next year. I’ve been learning German a little bit before I go, I’m also contemplating doing it as a subject next semester. You don’t need to know too much for what you do in their version of New Media Arts because of a German language subject they offer over there, but I just like to be sure.

I’ve been learning German through a few sources, things that work for me:

So that is what I’ve done so far, hopefully I get accepted so that I don’t have to postpone all this until I am able to afford to study in Germany on my own. =)