Top tips for living in small-town Germany
When I first found out that my year abroad would be spent in Bad Salzdetfurth I was more than a little bit apprehensive about how I would cope with living in a small town. With a population of 13,000 spread across 12 villages and a train line that stops at 10pm it did not seem like the ideal place to spend my year. However, I’m now eight months in and loving it. I’d even go as far as saying that I think I have benefited more from living in small town Germany than if I’d been placed in a city.
Improving your language skills
Being a language student, the main objective of my year abroad is to learn German, something which has been helped by living in a small town. I have had to exist in German from day 1: from opening my bank account to registering at the town hall to buying a German phone. Whilst this was incredibly daunting at the time (I barely understand banking in English, let alone German) it forced me to be brave and speak from the very beginning. And the feeling of pride I felt walking out of the bank with my new Sparkasse account was amazing!
My advice would be to look up the key words before you go somewhere like the bank. Scribble down the words for ‘debit card’, ‘account’ and ‘bank transfer’ and you will have so much more confidence. When they repeatedly fail to spell your surname write it down on a piece of paper or type it for them. Once people realise that you are English they are generally more patient and helpful. In fact, the bank were so intrigued that they kept asking me questions about English banking and why we liked credit cards so much!
As the only English person in the town I have a certain novelty value which can be used to my advantage. I can get away with taking longer than 10 seconds to count out my change at the supermarket and got given a tutorial in how to use a German card reader (they are different!) by the ever helpful bank. Make the most of it at the beginning because it will help in the long run.
Getting recognised everywhere
This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Living alone a long way from home it can be nice not being anonymous. If I walk to the shops I always see people I know along the way. It’s a little bit like being a celebrity when you realise people are pointing you out to their parents as ‘the English girl’.
But there are times when you might not want your students to see you. The times when you are exhausted after a night train/bus or emotional because you are on your way back from England. Then the lack of anonymity is annoying. You have to always look presentable and like a teacher, because you never know when you will see your pupils/their parents/colleagues.
Whether it’s good or bad, you will always encounter people you know.
Finding accommodation in somewhere small is all about who you know. I tried the usual websites for WG finding and got nowhere, so asked my mentor teacher for help. He found my flat, which is owned by the parents of his wife’s colleague. I have no idea what I’d have done if he hadn’t helped. So my recommendation would be to get in contact with anyone you know in the area as this is one of the those things that the internet can’t really help with.
A side effect of living somewhere small is living alone. There are no WGs or student halls here, so living alone was the only option. For me this is not a problem as I spend enough time with people when I’m out of the house and I like having my own space. But it does mean you miss out on improving your language skills by chatting to your flatmates.
Living alone does mean that you are without the ‘instant friends’ that you get at uni. So you have to find friends elsewhere. There are not a lot of people my age in Bad Salzdetfurth, so I decided
￼extracurricular activity was necessary. Eventually I joined a choir which has been one of the best decisions of my year abroad. From the moment I walked in the practice room I was happy. They organise car shares so I don’t have to get the train/bus combo to and from rehearsals, print off the sheet music because I don’t have a printer and generally look after me.
If you have to make an effort to go anywhere, you might as well go somewhere exciting. This has been my year abroad mantra, and it has taken me to Stockholm, Berlin and Bratislava to name a few. Idyllic as Bad Salzdetfurth is, spending every weekend here would be incredibly dull so you need to travel. It doesn’t matter where, half the fun of the year abroad is exploring somewhere you wouldn’t usual be able to go to. As a language assistant you are fortunate enough to have time and money, it’s amazing what you can cram into a weekend! The only thing to watch out for is Sunday trains when it comes to getting back in time for the working week...
So if you get allocated a small town for your year abroad don’t worry. Yes things like finding accommodation and making friends can be more challenging but there are so many benefits. The walk to school takes five minutes, you never feel unsafe walking around at night and there is always a reason to travel. And did I mention that small towns tend to be really pretty?!
I honestly cannot imagine a better place to have spent my year abroad.