By: Hana Glaser, Undergraduate Student in Creative Industries
Going to study for a semester abroad has always been one of my dreams. I had pictured myself going to school in a city, making friends with the locals, and learning all about the local culture. Although this was a small part of my experience, I lived a completely different reality that surpassed my expectations.
Looking back, it’s crazy to think that I spent 6 months in Germany studying in Stuttgart at HdM (Stuttgart Media University). During this time, the challenges I faced ranged from odd ones like not knowing how to open my own apartment door, to hard ones where I needed to talk to city officials concerning my VISA in an office where no one spoke English.
“Regardless of how big or small the challenges that I encountered were, they all felt like a big deal as I had gone by myself to a country where I knew no one and did not speak the language.”
The first challenge was using my house key. The door and key were a problem for me almost the whole length of my semester. On my first day a buddy that the university had set up on my part to pick me up and help me settle in took me to my apartment and showed me around the flat. After being there for half an hour, she took me out to eat with some of the other international students that had arrived earlier that day as well. When the time came to go home she handed me the keys and we went our separate ways.
This being my first time opening my door, I struggled for a total of 30 minutes before the panic of having to sleep in a stairwell started to settle in. Being someone who does not like to ask for help nor bother people, especially when I do not know them and it is almost one in the morning, I had to overcome my discomfort and text my buddy for help. My buddy was able to find someone that lived in the same building as me to come and help me. This person quickly became my best friend and my family while I was there.
It took me about a month to learn how to properly open my door, as well as how to ask for help when I needed it. Sometimes you have to place trust in others. The most important thing that I learned through all of my challenges was that there is no harm in asking the people around you for help. Since we were all in the same boat, everyone was willing to help. Even though I spent most of my time with the same group of international students, it was mainly sharing our concerns and helping each other that brought us closer together.
“Sometimes you have to place trust in others.”
This group of international students became my family. We cooked together, did laundry together, studied together, traveled together and partied together. It was this family that helped me with my most difficult challenge which was obtaining my Student VISA. After I heard that the process is much simpler and quicker in Germany than in Canada, I decided to do all of my paper work upon my arrival. Unfortunately for me, the information on the website was not accurate when it came to their hours of operation. On top of that, none of the staff members in the building spoke English.
The office I needed to get to within the building was very difficult to find. I ended up sitting in the refugee appeal waiting room for 15 minutes until I noticed I was in the wrong room. Determined to make things easier for myself, I asked one of my international friends who spoke German to help me. Although it took the both of us some more confusion, two more trips to the bureau, and a pile of paper work in order to get my VISA done, I could not have done it without the help of my international family.
The painful process that I went through in order to get my VISA allowed me to help some of the American Students that started their process later on. All in all, an exchange experience would not be complete without its challenges as there’s a lesson from each challenge one encounters.