Blog Entry 1: First Month in Hamburg, Germany
So travelling to the other side of the world for this exchange was my first adventure! Having never left South Africa before I was filled with excitement as well as fear, in all honesty as much as I had been planning this exchange for a long time I had absolutely no idea what exactly I was about to walk into for the next 6 months of my life. After conquering several international airports and surviving a 23hour journey I finally arrived at Hamburg International Airport not fully feeling like I was actually on the other side of the world. I was greeted by my buddy and dropped off at my accommodation where I was introduced to all the other students I would be living with who were excited and shocked as well as confused by learning that I was South African. Some didn’t understand how I was white (yes, that question really does get asked) and from South Africa and others didn’t even know South Africa was a country itself but I guess one of the main reasons for exchange is to educate and promote your country to another. Even though there was much excitement I was dead tired and decided to go straight to bed so I could tackle Hamburg early the next morning.
The next few weeks were filled with many new experiences and cultural revelations. When first told in orientation about culture shock I thought that it would be impossible to get it- but trust me I was very, very wrong! From the awkward silent bus rides and the Germans seeming to be quite cold people with a strong love for their own personal space I very quickly realised that I was in fact very far away from the loud, open, disruptive and laughter filled people of South Africa.
Meeting the other international students was the best! We all stuck together to use each other as support for finding our feet in Germany and especially with all the admin work from registration of our residence to opening bank accounts and of course registration for our courses. As challenging as all of this surprisingly proved to be it bonded us all together in times of frustration as well as triumph and success over Germany’s annoying yet impressive bureaucratic system. Next came Oktoberfest of course and many wonderful programmes offered to the international students of which exposed us to the German culture and traditions as well as the beer of course and the many divine foods Germany has to offer. Having my German friends I met when they were on exchange in South Africa also helped a lot and it was so much fun to see them in their country and have them all welcome me into their homes and towns to share their country with me and my new friends as well. I would say that as much as the first month is a challenging one, it was after this month that I started to feel at home and truly happy here I encourage all students who might have some challenges in the beginning to stick it out its definitely worth it and actually helps you grow immensely as a person in ways you would never have imagined.
Blog Entry 2: In the middle of exchange
So classes were registered for and boy is it quite different to how things are done in Stellenbosch! Most of my classes are called seminars which are small classes of about 20 students where there’s prescribed reading for each seminar and the class is one hour and thirty minutes of debate and discussion. Comparing to my usual fifty minute lectures in huge lecture halls at Stellenbosch these small, personal yet intensive courses were an adjustment. At the end of seminars instead of writing exams we give group or individual presentations ranging from forty minutes to an hour and a half which at first seemed quite daunting but in the end turned out to be extremely beneficial in terms of gaining self-confidence and being able to express your own opinion as well. The seminar system at first seemed a bit scary but in the end I’ve come to appreciate it as I feel the more intimate setting and intensive work proved more beneficial in terms of the amount of knowledge I was able to gain. Next was two hour lectures in GERMAN! Yes having German language knowledge is a must have but the concentration power needed to maintain attention in a 2 hour lecture in my third language was TOUGH! My textbooks are in English but you are allowed to write most of your exams in English. I would recommend to future incoming students for a bachelors exchange to make 100% sure that you are allowed to write your exam in English because even B2 level exchange students this side don’t seem to cope with writing exams in German here.
But after two weeks of classes you get used to it all and you gain a daily routine and life is good! Travelling in Europe is so cheap so weekend trips to surrounding countries and other German cities becomes a norm and in all honesty I started falling in love with the European lifestyle and it’s convenience. Reeperbahn and the red light district felt like another world within Germany. It felt like Las Vegas and Amsterdam had a baby and it came to live in Hamburg. Legal prostitution and public drinking soon become an acceptable norm in my life as well as an infamous Hamburger shooter called a Mexicaner of which is a must have if you visit Hamburg. Partying hours also are an adjustment for South Africans as instead of the party ending at 2am, in Germany it ends closer to 7am the next morning. The fish market is a famous food market open early on Sunday mornings in Hamburg and is famous for being the place to go to after the “jol” on a Saturday night. Next came Christmas time and with that its freezing temperatures of which I had never come close to experiencing ever before in my life- it was a challenge to say the least! Some days I wouldn’t leave the house without at least two pairs of pants on and five layers of hoodies and jackets. But despite all of that the Christmas Markets are absolutely gorgeous with loads of entertainment, gluhwein and yummy foods! In Germany you can feel and see the Christmas spirit everywhere you go I felt like I was 8 years old again with all the excitement I had going to see all the different markets. However my favourite event in Hamburg so far is definitely something called the Hamburger Dom! It is my heaven! It is one of those huge carnivals with all the foods you could want and roller coaster rides, Ferris wheels, bumper cars and games stations to win giant teddy bears like I’d only ever seen in the movies before! It comes to Hamburg twice a year for one month at a time and I would definitely recommend it to everyone.
There’s much to do in Hamburg I found myself calculating how much time we had left to do everything and wishing I had more time here. Although seeing all the facebook pictures of everyone back in South Africa on the beaches when I was wrapped in ten layers and looking paler than a vampire in Twilight, I did start to miss home a bit. And as amazing as Germany and Europe is in this time I started a lot of reflecting and in all honesty as I’ve come to worship this place and all these experiences I have to let it be known that this experience has also made me see and appreciate more things about South Africa than I had before.
Final blog entry: Returning home
So after packing all my things and doing all the paperwork to leave Germany I had a bitter sweet farewell with the new family I had made on exchange sad, because I was leaving but happy because I was going home and we had all made promises to visit each other in the various different countries soon! I had made friends of a lifetime which gave me so many new homes to visit one day all over the world. I then started my 28hour journey to Cape Town of which I arrived 1 day before semester started barely giving me enough time to even register I was back on South African soil on the other side of the world. The biggest difference was the weather, I went from snowy, cold German to hot and beautiful South Africa and my skin of which hadn’t seen sun for the past 6 months is currently paying the price! I arrived to everyone on campus looking all tanned and fresh and felt extremely out of place being so pale for a few days and then bright red from being burnt for sitting in the sun for only an hour.
The language change was also something to get used to. My mind was still thinking partially in German and my normal South African accent took a few days to find itself again. You find yourself having changed so much to come back to a place where all your friends and surroundings have stayed the same yet so much has happened. It’s a strange feeling being back but you soon find your feet and life goes on. I still message and skype and voicenote my friends back in Hamburg. I take photos of anything and everything over here to share with them what South Africa and my university and my lifestyle is like. When they go home now in the holidays they will do the same. I now find myself looking for post graduate scholarships abroad because we all agreed that there are too many countries we all need to visit and that our friendship and time together has definitely not come anywhere close to an end. They all plan to visit South Africa next year and I can’t wait. I’ve found I have grown so much from this exchange and that my international career has just begun and that I have a home across the world waiting for me to explore! This exchange was the opportunity and experience of a lifetime of which I will never forget and I will always cherish. It may be scary and daunting at times but it’s totally worth it. Bis bald Deutschland!