Before going to Germany, I watched lots of movies to improve my English and <Tangled>, a German fairy tale, was one of them. Although she longed to leave the tower, Rapunzel hesitated to leave despite having the chance. On the last day of August 2015, I boarded a flight to Germany full of excitement and anxiety. It was the start of my schooling abroad, which I had dreamt of my whole life. However, my dream was quickly shattered when I arrived at my dormitory room soaking wet from the rain and without a phone, which had been stolen in Paris, my first city to visit in Europe. The only thing I could do was trust the “lanterns” at the end just as Rapunzel had done.
My LIfe As an Exchange Student in Ulm
I did my overseas exchange in Ulm, Germany. Many of you may not have heard of the city, so I’ll begin by introducing it. The city is located in the between Stuttgart and Munich, and it is considered an economic hub for southern Germany. It is actually one city with two parts as it is divided by the river Donau. Ulm is the half in the state of Baden-Württemberg and Neu-Ulm is the second half in Bavaria. Interestingly, since the two halves are in different states, they are governed by different law. I often went to Ulm to drink late at night and to go grocery shopping whenever a holiday fell on the Bavaria side. It is easy to travel between the two halves of the city. Besides Ulm, I recommend visiting Bodensee, Bamberg, and Tübingen to truly feel the beauty of southern Germany. My school, HNU, was located in Neuulm. Prior to going there, I had heard that HNU was small, but it was much smaller than I had imagined. I was also disappointed with the school’s narrow range of available courses in English and its small campus facilities, especially the library and the cafeteria. The dormitory I was first assigned was extremely dirty. To make matters worse, after spending hours working to clean it, I was told to move out as it was going to be used by refugees. After moving into my second assigned dormitory room, I wasn’t able to get internet connectivity for one month. I even was discriminated against for being Asian because the people there had not had much contact with Asians in Neu-ulm. Nevertheless, I left Ulm full of great fond memories. I loved the feel of the four seasons along the River Donau and around Münster, the tallest church in the world. In spring, Donaufest was held along the river.
Once the sun had set, people gathered for barbeque parties in the park near the school. I also got the chance to participate in Nabada, a holiday celebrated only Ulm and Neuulm, during the summer. Along the banks of the River Donau, Ulmers enjoyed engaging in water fights and on the water, and they enjoyed having a drink on boats. I was impressed by the way Germans built boats so that citizens of all ages could enjoy the biggest event in Ulm altogether. While I was there, I had the great opportunity of watching EURO2016, an event that only occurs every 4 years. Everyone sang songs as they cheered the German team on, which cooled everyone during from the summer heat. I also had the chance to attend a Halloween party and the world famous Oktoberfest in Munich in autumn. In wintertime, I drank warm Glühwein at a beautiful Christmas market. Even now, the chilly winter wind reminds me of my days and time spent there.
Cold and Blunt Germans?
What comes to mind when you think of Germans? Their strong German accent? German soldiers as portrayed in movies? Strict rules? Alike many who think Germans are cold and straightforward, my first impression of Germans was the same. Upon arriving in Germany and unfamiliar with their train system, I mistakenly stayed on board a train 5 minutes longer than the ticket’s validity time. The ticket inspector refused to be lenient even though I was in Germany for my first time. My school exchange started with a 60 Euros fine and huge embarrassment. However, Germans I met after my initial start were generous and warm-hearted. “We should help others” is a commonly heard adage in Germany whenever I asked them about refugees, a huge issue in Germany these days. I also participated a few times in the effort for refugees and I saw a lot of Germans playing with the children and teaching German. One time I was at the scene of a shooting and as I turned to escape, a German family called to me and I was able to avoid the chaos at their home over a glass of beer. More than anything, I am grateful to the friends I made who helped me create great memories and adjust well to life in Germany. I was the only Korean among my group of friends, so whenever we got altogether, they tried to speak Korean with the few words I taught them. On weekends when I found myself having nothing to do, I was often invited to a Beer-garden or their home to taste various kinds of beer. Though I spent much time on activities related to drinking beer, I got to know German culture better and spend my days happily.
A Year of Journey to Find Lanterns
The biggest reason I chose Europe, despite not being able to speak a word of German, was so that I could travel. Fortunately, just as I had hoped, I got to travel to 22 countries. Not all my experiences were pleasant, but each crisis presented itself with an opportunity. I meet many heroes who helped rescue me from my troubles. For instance, a kind woman paid for my train ticket when I was short on cash. A warm family helped find other options for me when my night bus was cancelled. On almost each trip, I met great people from all over the world. My explorations led to learning a lot about different cultures and expanding my horizons. Other impressive memories are the one when I met people who had been to Korea before. Most of them said the Koreans they met were very friendly and polite and Korea itself was much more beautiful than they had expected. Yet more than those compliments, it was their love of Korean food that was remarkable.
Looking back at my exchange year, I reflect on all the hardships I went through to go like all the money I had to earn on my own. In German, I wasn’t able to do everything I’d planned, but it was still a worthwhile adventure that I recommend highly to others. Indeed, things did not always go as I’d planned, but I gain much more from them. Living independently from your family overseas will make you stronger. You will experience a whole new world, and in Germany, enjoy cheap various kinds of beer. However, most importantly, you will have fun with new friends from all around the world and discover new beautiful places—most of which are not discussed on NAVER. One day I hope you see the lanterns at the end of your path. VielSpaß!