Around seven months have passed since I last left U.S. soil with an over-stuffed backpack slung over my shoulder and my packed suitcase by my side. Spending an exchange year in the middle of a pandemic after completing my first year of online university was probably one of the most uncommon ways to spend my sophomore year. Nevertheless, I am so incredibly grateful to have been provided the opportunity to live and study abroad in Hamburg, where I have learned not only how to weather stormy and rainy days, but also how to navigate living in a shared dorm with others, how to manage course-work in a foreign language, and how to stay positive in times of homesickness and doubt.
Though my time in Germany is not completely over yet, I will be spending the upcoming spring break here back in Pennsylvania, which has provided me with an ample amount of time to consider all that I have learned since arriving in the Hanseatic city. And wow, is there a lot to unpack and look back on.
The importance of communication rather than fluency
When I first arrived in September, I was so determined to reach fluency and speak perfectly that I had totally forgotten that language learning is also about communication, practice, and of course, time. Nothing comes all at once, and it would be a gradual process before speaking German became more fluid and natural. Though I could speak a good amount of German before my exchange year, participating in university-level courses has taken my speaking and understanding abilities to the next level. Though there are still tons of words that I may never understand nor remember, communicating with other native speakers and writing in German feels less demanding and challenging than it did months earlier, and I am truly proud of myself for how far I have come in this language.
Learning how to “adult”
Besides the improvement in my language abilities, studying abroad has also provided me with an opportunity to understand what it means to be independent. Being so far away from home, especially with a time difference, means that my family and friends in the U.S. were not always available right away, and I have come to realize that some decisions, even the toughest ones, really come down to yourself. Of course, like any young adult living on their own, I have had to manage grocery shopping, time management, and budgeting while living on my own, which has provided me with more freedom but also more responsibility to finish my tasks and goals on time. Being abroad naturally comes with the allure of going out more, but my time here has also given me the opportunity to learn how to balance work and life.
A new perspective
Finally, one of the biggest takeaways I have learned from this experience has been that there is so much to gain from meeting people with different cultures and backgrounds different from your own. Growing up in the U.S., where you can travel enormous distances and still be in the same country, one can feel a bit detached from how the rest of the world functions, whether that be politically, culturally, or economically. This year, I was grateful to meet people all around the world and from Germany. Though being an ocean away from home has sometimes made me feel as if I was completely unreachable, I have also realized how many other cultures, languages, norms, and people exist outside of the sphere I grew up in, and how Hamburg, a city that boasts around 1.8 million inhabitants, sometimes feels like a small village, especially when running into friends in random coffee shops or train stations.
Taking part in this exchange has challenged me academically and personally, and I would not want to have my university experience look any different than how it does now. Thank you for keeping up with my blog posts this far, and if you are considering studying abroad in the future, I highly and most definitely recommend Hamburg, Germany!