A pretzel a day keeps confusion at bay: Erasmus Jahr in Deutschland
Rachel MacLean studies French and German Interpretation and Translation at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. She is spending her year abroad as an Erasmus student at Universität des Saarlandes in Saarbrücken. Here, she gives us an insight into life in Deutschland and tells us what she's learnt so far (pretzels are involved).
Free transport within Saarland, free exercise classes and only 1 hour 50 minutes to Paris by the high-speed train… So what’s the catch? Almost getting jammed in the bus doors for not being schnell enough? Das ist es!
Guten Tag! Ich heiße Rachel und ich komme aus Schottland. It is always good to have some ready-made German phrases off the top off your head. I study French and German Interpretation and Translation at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh and have recently just started my year abroad. Germany starts 1 month later than the majority of other European countries; however, I do not feel disadvantaged at all. I'm currently wandering around and figuring out life at the Universität des Saarlandes in Saarbrücken. Saarland may be the smallest Bundesland (state) in Germany, but I am discovering that it is in a great location for country hopping (to France and Luxemburg, for example).
Here are a few remarks on my time in Germany so far!
Its 8:00am (7:00am UK time) in the morning.
I’m waiting on the bus for Uni. Of course I recognize someone and they start to talk to me. Please do take note: I really don’t like speaking any language at this time, let alone German. As time progresses throughout your year abroad, you start to recognise people that you have seen before and conversations develop. It’s not that great when you have no idea what their name is. It’s also really difficult to have a conversation in German when it feels too early to speak English let alone German. This particular girl was asking me questions and I had no idea what the question was but gave a response anyway. Judging by her confused response, my answer did not quite match the question. If in doubt, just nod your head and say Ja.
Trying out classes for the first time.
You know you are an Erasmus student when someone asks what course you are studying at the Universität. As clueless as I am, the only response I could give was: ‘I’m just doing what I want.’ I have been puzzling through the past few weeks, trying out classes to see what they are like. For my university we have to achieve 30 ECTS points. Of course, my friend and I sat in on an English lecture for our course. All was revealed when it came to introducing ourselves to the class and *ta da*! Fluent English. Safe to say after 10 mins we ran out of the class in laughter. It was time to go back to the drawing board.
You don’t quite see the behind-the-scenes of the famous ‘year abroad’ on Facebook (as we all look so smiley and carefree) but trust me – it is something else and I have never felt so confused in all my life due to making my own timetable. HOWEVER nothing worth having comes easy so we’ll just keep plodding on!
A Pretzel a day - absorbing the culture.
If there is anything I have learnt since being in Germany it's that punctuality is very important. I recently almost got squished by bus doors as the bus driver took no pity on me and didn’t have enough time to wait for me to leave the bus to shut the doors. Safe to say I’m rather scared of doors now.
LIFE TIP: Schnell schnell!
On a positive note, I am 100% impressed by how organised and efficient Germany is. I really do like the punctuality and I’ll definitely be bringing it back to the UK with me… Watch out friends ;)
When you buy bottles of juice/water in Germany you will often see the price displayed plus Pfand. It is a deposit which you get back when you recycle the bottles. A good way to encourage recycling.
What is the year abroad really about? And why am I here?
After talking to a close friend and having a catch up on how we have been finding our time abroad so far it occurred to me that we only have a limited time in our countries before we have to move again. The year abroad has made me realise that wherever we are we have a limited time and we have to let go all of doubts we ever had about ourselves and just follow our dreams, whatever that is. I only have a short time here in Germany and therefore I want to do everything I can do improve my German and also country hop (aka, skipping 3 classes on a Friday soon to go to PARIS – Needs must!)
Let go of all doubt.
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? If you asked me how my German was before I left for my year abroad I would have quite easily tried to convince you that even though I study and understand German I can’t speak it. Don’t believe it. I’ve only been in this country for a month but I already feel more confident speaking German. I don’t hold back. So what if you make mistakes? On my first week I quite happily phoned up a Taxi rank and this week I managed to return a book.
Learning a language is a time consuming process and is not to be taken light-heartedly BUT there is nothing greater than being understood by your German friend. I feel it is absolutely necessary to say a little ‘yas’ in my head when I get the word order of a sentence correct (language learning problems!). One does not simply ‘study’ a language. Learning a language opens up many opportunities and other way of life. So I would like to say to all the other fellow linguists out there to believe in yourselves and trust me when I say that YES you CAN do it!
Making friends? Ja klar!
I, like many other Erasmus students, have signed up to the Tandem scheme at the University. There is a book where you write what language you can offer and what language you would like. Thankfully, being an English native speaker, a few people have been in touch. I am so lucky to have made a nice little handful of German friends. I’ve learned many things that you can do when you can’t quite find the word you are looking for (in German or any language of course):
a) say the verb in ALL the possible tenses
b) use gestures as if you are playing charades and *ta da* if you are lucky your friend will supply you with the correct word.
It’s a Auf weidersehen from me for now. Have a good day wherever you are in the world!