100 things I've learnt during my year abroad in Germany

100 things I've learnt during my year abroad in Germany Hannover by Rudi Heim

This article was written by Global Graduates, published on 6th September 2013 and has been read 15570 times.

Dan is studying at Exeter University and has spent his year abroad as a British Council Language Assistant in Hannover. Here are 100 things he has learnt during his year abroad in Germany...

End of week 1 of being back in England (I feel like I’m doing the whole ‘moving-to-a-foreign-country’ thing again), and I’ve had a good think about what I’ve learnt from my year abroad. I have pinched this idea from Rachel, who also writes a fantastic blog, who split her year between Germany and France and wrote 50 things she’d learnt from each country (From Germany: ‘Fifty Things I’ve Learnt Since Coming To Germany‘, and from France: ‘Fifty Things I’ve Learnt: The Paris Edition‘). So I thought, with having spent nearly 13 months in Germany, that I’d write a whopping 100 things I’ve learnt throughout my time abroad.

I’ve tried to do a mix – from serious points, to funny points (which do still count as me learning something). There’s also a mixture of things I’ve purely learnt, as well as advice I’d give to future students who do their year abroad. I hope you enjoy the read!


1. ‘Indian’ is not an appropriate term to use when describing your Karneval costume of ‘Red Indian’ or ‘Native American’.

2. Don’t try speaking with a Yorkshire accent in front of a group of kids and an English teacher. They will not understand ‘d’ya wan’ me to do owt?’.

3. Moving 7 times in the space of 13 months isn’t as bad as it sounds.

4. The German version of ‘I’m A Celebrity: Get Me Out Of Here’ is a perfect way to learn vocabulary.

5. The word ‘lächelnd’ (smiling) is not the same as the word ‘lächerlich’ (ridiculous) and will cause confusion if the second is used when the first is actually meant. Especially when it’s used to describe the photo of a really friendly teacher.

6. Most Germans love the fact that someone with English as their mother tongue can speak German. They may even just love the fact that English is your mother tongue and not care that you can speak German. Use this power wisely.

7. If you order tap water anywhere in Germany, you are stupid and will probably have to fight for the right to quench your thirst for free.

8. Expect delays when travelling with Deutsche Bahn and you won’t be disappointed.

9. You are bound to have embarrassing moments in a language class if learning said language in a foreign language.

10. More often that not, you will become a celebrity at your school due to your age and your nationality when working as a foreign language assistant in another country (or at least in Germany). Be careful with this new status.

11. It’s not the end of the world if you bump into a student you teach at your school on a night out.

12. Lederhosen, though very attractive, really hurt after wearing them for a while. Even if you buy denim ones.

13. Wearing Lederhosen (or any other costume) in a club is not normal in Germany, unlike in England, and will result in a lot of looks and people asking what the hell you’re wearing.

14. Germany likes churches. Lots of churches.

15. “I’ll play it in German” is a perfectly acceptable excuse when buying a new Pokémon game.

16. There is such thing as a fish knife.

17. The use of American English in your school will become your new pet hate if British English is your mother tongue.

18. At some point, Euros will gradually stop being Monopoly money to you. I promise.

19. Having friends spread across Germany is a perfect way to travel, just make sure you make time for them to visit you in return.

20. Hanover doesn’t fully have a perfect High German accent. But that’s how I like it.

21. Travelling is great, but don’t forget to explore the place where you actually live every now and then.

22. Phoning people in German isn’t as scary as it sounds.

23. It is possible to trick those whose English is perfect, though not native, into believing certain made-up words are actual insults to be avoided. Slugweasel is a good example.

24. It’s not as possible to trick non-natives to believe that there is a song which is sung on Pancake Day. Though planning a song before the day may lead to better results.

25. If you really enjoy a place which you can buy a year’s ticket for, then buy a year’s ticket. You will probably take visitors there and it will save you loads of money.

26. The zoo in Hanover is brilliant.

27. Be prepared when travelling to come across a variety of accents. Near to Stuttgart, ‘gedringai’ (or something similar) means ‘Getränke’ (drinks), for example.

28. It is your year abroad – so stay for as long as possible (if you’re enjoying it, at least). Don’t leave pretty much as soon as you’re finished working and then complain the whole time about how you miss Germany, with about 3-4 months of summer with nothing planned.

29. Nothing is served to you on a plate unless you ask for it.

30. Don’t scratch mosquito bites, despite how itchy it may be. It will result in a swollen leg and a trip to the doctor’s. This was, however, a good addition to my culture log for university.

31. People will stare at you if you speak English in public. Especially if you’re somewhere where tourists don’t often go to.

32. If one of your main aims is to learn the language, don’t always meet up with other assistants whose mother tongue is the same as yours. This is allowed at the start, but try and slowly drift away once you get comfortable.

33. Always be ready to prove certain words using a dictionary to show that you’re not actually making them up. A good example being ‘clotheshorse’. It is a pretty weird word.

34. Though it’s easier said than done, try not to laugh in front of pupils who say something a little strange when trying to speak English. I failed every time at this and felt like a horrible person afterwards.

35. Be aware that certain English songs in Germany which are really popular might have never been played in England. So don’t be too disappointed if your friends in England have never heard of some amazing songs you love in Germany.

36. Christmas Crackers are a perfect way to show German pupils something typically British. Just make sure they don’t throw the paper crowns in the bin, mistaking them for rubbish (if you cringed in horror when reading that, then imagine how I felt when I witnessed it in front of my very own British eyes).

37. In London, the doors on the Tube will not reopen if you get stuck. In Hanover, they open fully again as if to say ‘Oh, I’m ever so sorry that I was about to close on you, despite this tram being about 5 minutes late and therefore making trams behind late as well’.

38. Be prepared to be asked silly questions at school by your pupils, from the most common ‘Do you come from London?’ to more obscure questions, such as ‘Are your parents married or separated?’.

39. Germans do do being late. This occurs more often in the evenings, and not so often in the mornings.

40. At some point, you will stop giggling to yourself at words such as ‘Mannschaft’ and ‘Fahrt’. Maybe.

41. If you hear a bike bell ring, jump for your life. Even if you don’t hear one, be aware that bikes could come from anywhere.

42. After you return to England, you will have German words in your head that will want to jump out/will actually jump out in the middle of an English conversation, because you will probably get used to using German words in English conversations during your time abroad.

43. If you’re not happy at school, tell somebody. Otherwise, they won’t know to change whatever it is you’re unhappy with, and more often than not, they will be happy to amend things.

44. From my experience, it is more common to have days off at school due to it being too warm, than days off due to the 6-foot deep snow outside (I overexaggerated, but still).

45. There is no English translation for ‘Hitzefrei’, and the closest I can get is by using dict.cc which states: “to have time off from school on account of excessively hot weather”.

46. Remember to always carry a UK-Euro plug adapter with you. You will be annoyed when you get comfy in the library to do university work and you discover your laptop has 3% charge left and you have no way to charge it, despite having brought your laptop charger with you.

47. Don’t depend on the trams all the time. It’s amazing how everything actually links up above ground (sounds patronising, but I felt like an idiot at the time), and discovering I could walk from my house to the town centre in 15 minutes after living in my flat 3 months in was a bit annoying.

48. German recycling can get a bit confusing. Best is to either to put something in whatever bin when nobody is there, or when you’re with your housemate who understands who complicated it is and will help you.

49. Germans love little dogs.

50. Though I’ve forgotten the name of the drink, the drink which is champagne with elderflower syrup and mint leaves is my new all-time favourite.

51. Beer is actually not that bad either.

52. Though stressful at first, playing board games in German is a brilliant way to add to your vocabulary. It’s a bonus if you win, too.

53. If you’re 21 like me, you will feel extremely young in Germany compared to how old you feel in England due to the students in Germany usually being a lot older on average.

54. It’s not possible to explain some English grammar at the click of the finger after not having looked it up yourself.

55. Germany does autumn really well.

56. Writing a blog is actually a lot of fun, and you will either get addicted, or you will stop after about post two.

57. Discover as much as you can in the place you live as soon as possible, and don’t do what I did and discover your favourite club just 3 months before you leave. I missed out on a whole 10 months of Faust!

58. If you meet assistants who will be based in the same place as you were the year after you were there, you will most probably get incredibly jealous of them, especially if you’re about to leave for good.

59. Don’t constantly listen to songs which remind you of your year abroad after you’ve moved back home. You will only regret it and feel sad.

60. Scaring your housemate and recording it is a fun pastime. Especially if they were the one who actually started the whole thing.

61. Doing the above after watching a creepy film adds even more fun.

62. Working at a mixed comprehensive school was amazing, especially because of the tons of school trips.

63. Oktoberfest is a must. Karneval was a bit too hectic for my liking with it just being all along the streets (though the parades were pretty damn good).

64. Just because the Lidl in the main train station is open on Sundays, it doesn’t mean it will have fully-stocked shelves, due to every Hanoverian shopping there on Sunday.

65. Sundays aren’t necessarily boring due to everything closed – it depends what you choose to do on the day.

66. I should have bought a bike.

67. German radio is strange. One minute you will be listening to Rihanna’s latest hit, and the next minute you’ll be listening to Eiffel 65′s ‘I’m Blue’.

68. No matter what your university tells you, being a foreign language assistant is by no means the ‘worst’ way to improve your German (out of that, studying and a work placement). It is perhaps even the best, due to working with hundreds of German kids. You will learn colloquial words like there’s no tomorrow (which could be good or bad, whichever way you see it). Most teachers will also be happy to speak to you in German, too. 

69. If improving your German is what you want to do, then doing things with ERASMUS at the local university is what you shouldn’t do. They speak English constantly. So don’t be disappointed when you go to a big ERASMUS trip to discover that even the leader of the trip is also speaking English. Warum sprechen die denn kein Deutsch?!

70. Generally, when you enter a block of flats, ignore the fact that the ‘Trepphaus’ where the stairs are is disgusting – chances are that the flat is absolutely amazing in comparison.

71. Some flats can be on the third floor or higher. Without a lift. It’s tiring.

72. It’s normal to wear a rucksack at school in Germany. From my experience, it seems uncool in England, but it makes a lot more sense so you’re not hurting one shoulder with a shoulder bag.

73. Germans aren’t that bothered about television and I prefer it like that – we’re too addicted here.

74. Shisha pipes are absolutely disgusting and make you go dizzy and want to throw up. This is apparently common the first time you try it but I won’t be trying it again to test this theory.

75. A restaurant called ‘Schnitzel Paradise’ is even better than it sounds.

76. If you want to say the names of the tram stops out loud as they’re read out by the speaker, then you go for it. You’re not the only one.

77. The majority of Germans have never heard of ‘Hull’/'Kingston-Upon-Hull’. Lucky things.

78. The majority of Germans have never heard of a ‘roast dinner’. The poor things.

79. Quark, unless an ingredient in a cake, is disgusting. ‘Chocolate-Banana Quark’ now sends shivers down my spine. Ew.

80. Germany does good cake.

81. Having a shopping basket system in a library is ridiculous.

82. The Germans have very clever names for a lot of animals. Why don’t we call rhinos ‘nosehorns’?

83. Having housemates whose trains are delayed is a really good way to learn words and phrases you can use when you’re really annoyed. Sie konnte kotzen!

84. German cinema is really expensive just like here in England. Despite student discount.

85. German frogs are weird and say ‘quark’ instead of ‘ribbit’.

86. A lot of Germans will wonder why you’re learning German when English is your mother tongue.

87. Some Germans think that the English are bad when it comes to learning foreign languages. Considering Point 87 – it is often just a vicious circle.

88. Hanover has a bad reputation for no reason whatsoever, which therefore often surprises people when they actually visit and realise it’s a nice place.

89. Jim Block is amazing and I miss it dearly.

90. Look into each other’s eyes when you ‘Prost’.

91. Germans like numbers. Saying you own a ‘double mattress’ will not suffice – they want to know exact measurements. That goes for houses and flats, too.

92. If someone from Bavaria says to you something which sounds like ‘Der Kaffee mal traurig’, there’s a good chance they’re saying that they’re going to buy themselves a crate of beer from a brewery nearby.

93. German schools are a lot less stricter than schools in England. A lot less.

94. Canadians are wonderful people.

95. It’s fun to have a communal board in your flat. Especially if it’s a blackboard and you have coloured chalk.

96. Student accommodation in Germany is purely based on luck. One time you may not meet a soul until the day before you move out, the next time you may meet Germans who become your friends for the rest of your life.

97. Semester Tickets which you get when signing up to a university are fantastic in Germany with all the free travel you get – England needs to pick this up. I wouldn’t mind free travel around Devon.

98. Wenn es am schönsten ist, soll man damit aufhören.

99. Man trifft sich immer zweimal im Leben.

100. I’m moving back to Germany after I’m finished with university.

The last point probably won’t come as a surprise to most of you. After I graduate (assuming I’ll successfully graduate this year…), I will be moving back to Germany. Probably not to Hanover – I love Hanover, but it’d be good to get to know another city. I’m not sure what I’d be doing, be it a job, studying, or perhaps even British Council again to give me another year of being able to improve my German and earning money, ready for anything bigger after. Mal gucken!

But for now I need to finish packing, ready to move back down to Exeter for university tomorrow!

Check out Dan's blog to find out what else he got up to.

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