And so it is.
Exactly one month ago at almost this time (8:43 AM) I was in flight over Hamburg, Germany, about to touch down.
My program lasts for 10 months, so this means I am into my first ten percent of the time I’m going to spend here. If this were a race, my GPS watch would read the same thing it does when it buzzes at the ninety percent mark.
I did a lot this month, and if I multiply that amount by ten, I will end up with a very full, full-filling time here!
However, this post is less about the cataloging of time and more about what one should and does accomplish in the first month of a study-abroad program (I could number this, but I don’t want to give the false impression that the things need to be in any particular order):
- settle into the new living space. If it’s a dorm, like mine, this includes getting used to the morning cleaning routine so that one can take a shower without disturbing the house-keeper’s order and getting used to the kitchen etiquette and floor-mates so that one can enjoy meals outside of one’s room.
- figure out the local transportation. The best thing to do is navigate one time from “home” to the station/stop and one time from the stop back “home.” It’s okay to get lost; don’t be afraid to ask for directions/help.
- figure out other transportation. If a bike is available, figure out the routes to the Uni and make sure the bike is prepped for nighttime riding. Driving with lights is such a relief from the harrowing experience of the threat of not being seen by car drivers and other bicyclists (not to mention, driving without lights of a certain standard is illegal in Germany).
- attend orientation events. For me, the VDAC organizes a seminar within the first weeks of arrival so that students have a chance to get to know other scholarship recipients and learn from each other and from program alumni some of the key methods of initial survival in German culture and bureaucracy. Orientation events are also held by the universities for international students and first-time students. There are usually elaborate programs that one should try to attend at least a few events of. One of my favorite events wasn’t even university related, but rather involved a pub night with the other German Lit. MA students.
- do some initial traveling. While it would seem more advisable to settle into one’s new “home”-base first, the time before classes begin is the most free time one has (other than the semester break) and it helps to get a larger perspective of the country one is visiting, and the role one’s new city has within that space.
- take care of university registration issues-pay tuition and fees, notification of local address, internet and online portal logins, library cards, and of course, class registration
- figure out how to use university services like printers, the libraries, and the cafeterias
- figure out where the local get their food. Start shopping there. Find out where the most inexpensive food can be found in the area, start finding out where the kind of food one likes most can be found
- buy local cell phone service if this hasn’t already been taken care of this issue in home country
- be officially registered as a legal habitat of the area. This includes the residence permit and the visa
- create a budget. Figure out funds and how much to devote to groceries, toiletries, clothes, travel, and leisure. Don’t forget things like school tuition and fees as well as sport/gym memberships
- visit at least one museum and at least one “high-brow” cultural thing such as a classical music concert, a play, or a public reading
- (since I’m a runner) figure out at least two good routes for daily running. One can be an out and back course and the other a pleasant don’t-have-to-repeat-everything-on-the-way-back route.
- go to class. Seriously, this may seem obvious, but there’s also the constant consideration, at least at the beginning, that it doesn’t matter if one attends class and no one will miss one. But if anything, having a reason to leave one’s room should be taken advantage of
- make plans of what to do over the coming months so that when classes and studies are not pressing, there’s something to do.
- try to hang out with people who speak the language of the area as much as possible. It’s okay to
hang out with other foreigners, and it can be very helpful to have people going through the same situation to talk to, but try to get as much integrated into local life as possible. This is a cultural-exchange opportunity, not (just) an observational platform
- recognize that there are good and bad days, psychologically, just like there are good and bad days with the weather. Try to see the positive in the bad days and soak in the good ones. For me, personally, I noticed that while the second half of this past month has been overall good, especially since classes started and I’ve been kept busy by schoolwork, I still wake up some mornings and wonder what I’m doing here, or whether I belong. I have learned to recognize that if I want to be here, I belong, and finding the feeling of belonging with other people comes with the time one leaves one’s room to interact with the other people in the living space, the other students in the classes, and the other people in the city. It’s only a matter of time before they become used to me just as I need to get used to them.
- Take pictures! Write! Try to document time abroad for future self, family, friends and possibly others
… and as you can see, I’m trying to do this last thing regularly! Cheers.