“Why are you going to Germany? Are you even German? Can you speak German?”
I was bombarded with these questions and similar comments when I made the decision to study abroad just one year ago. My initial answers to these questions? I don’t know. Yes. I think so.
I applied to study abroad in a very non-committal manner. My parents had been encouraging me to apply and my German professors kept suggesting it as well. While I knew it was a decision I would never regret, I was anxious and uncertain after submitting my application.
Sitting here now, one year later, I need to tell you why studying abroad is still the best decision I have ever made and how it was something I will never forget.
Fairfield University offers over 60 study abroad programs; check out the list of “Places to Study.” The most popular destinations are Barcelona, Florence, London, and Australia.
I went with an uncommon, nearly unheard-of destination in Heidelberg, Germany. Even though I was hesitant at first, it turned out to be a great decision. The moral of that story is to be unique and not be afraid to go outside your comfort zone. I ventured into the unknown and have been itching to go back to Germany since the day my flight landed back in JFK International Airport.
Attention sophomores: You just missed the deadline (Feb 1st)! But, you can still talk to your advisor about other study abroad options such as summer programs!
Attention freshman: Start thinking about it now! Remember, you must keep your GPA above a 2.8 to be considered!
I also feel like I should include a brief disclaimer: you will receive endless, annoying emails from the Office of International Programs. If I knew how to block them, trust me, I would tell you, but for now make sure you at least skim them and remember to take note of the important parts.
Travel. Travel. Travel.
Hopefully you make the decision to study abroad. Although the country you choose to study in will act as your home throughout these four months, the next coolest thing is that you get to visit a million other places! There are a ton of incredible cities throughout the world so make sure you take advantage of this opportunity to see them. When done the right way, travel can be quite affordable (RyanAir and other budget airlines are especially helpful).
You’ll find that you are never home on the weekends. You’ll collect random phone numbers with absolutely no purpose. You’ll be impressed with your navigational skills. You’ll try specialty foods that used to make you cringe (for me, it was snails.) You’ll get lost, often, but that’s part of the fun. You’ll stay at hostels that would give your mother a heart attack. You’ll buy into every tourist trap and get repeatedly ripped-off.
Most importantly, you’ll never forget the small moments that made your trips and travels extraordinary.
Tips & Advice
The best advice I received before jetting off to Germany was this: you will completely hate the first day, but you will start having fun on day two.
Not only did I pack my entire wardrobe into two enormous suitcases, a backpack, and large purse BUT ALSO I had a terrible head cold when I arrived in Germany. I was immediately miserable and nerve-wrecked as I attempted to settle into my apartment and new city on the first day. But I fully embraced the advice that was given to me, accepted that the first day wasn’t going to be my day and began living my semester abroad dream soon after.
Here are some more tips to keep you positive during your time abroad:
- People are innately kind to tourists and young travellers.
- Play it smart. Travel with friends, don’t walk home alone at night, keep your valuables in check, and don’t fail your classes- they wont be too hard anyways.
- FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is a big no-no. It’s okay to miss people from home but look around you, they are most likely the envious ones.
- Don’t be an obnoxious American. You all know what I mean.
- Holidays are hard. Whether it be Halloween, Thanksgiving, or the lack of Christmas spirit right before you come home, organize dinners or get-togethers with friends so you have company!
- You cannot be shy. Make friends. Everyone is in the same boat (perhaps literally)!
- A few helpful websites to keep in mind: kayak.com (to compare costs of flights, hotels, cars, etc.) tripadvisor.com (a well-organized website to help you get the most out of your visit) and wordpress.com (a blog website to help document your journey!)
- Locate any contacts. You’d be extremely surprised how many distant friends or relatives are willing to take in a wandering international student for the weekend.
- Homesickness doesn’t happen to everyone. Plus with Skype, Viber, Facebook, and WhatsApp, you have every tool to stay in touch with your friends and family.
My semester abroad in Germany feels like a dream. An amazing dream, filled with friends, foreign language, delicious beer and memories; the type of dream you never want to wake up from. There are these magic moments when you are abroad when you realize that you will never forget what you’re doing, where you are or who you’re with. These are the types of moments that will stick with you forever.
I would study abroad again in a heartbeat. Fairfield is a small school, in a small town, with students very similar to you. Don’t get me wrong- coming back to Fairfield this semester was the best feeling ever, but being abroad is an eye-opening adventure. An unimaginably amazing adventure. Fairfield is a bubble, and while it’s a fun bubble, I encourage you to burst through it with the amazing experience of studying abroad.