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Rachel Bermingham, currently on her erasmus year in Germany
Everyone tells you how great their year abroad was. They rarely tell you about the hardships - and they almost never tell you these things.
Learn to do your laundry. Just the absolute basics before you go will be such a help, as each washing machine is annoyingly different anyway. It’ll be your responsibility - and you’re a long way from your home wardrobe if you destroy the first basket of laundry.
Housemates are not always going to be a second family. In Ireland, most housemates spend a lot of time together drinking tea and even just making small talk. Germans, not so much at least.
Accept that you won’t always really know what’s happening. Due to languages barriers and cultural differences almost everything is confusing. For instance, I’ve been her five months now and I’m still none the wiser on how to see a doctor here because there is no campus health clinic. Essentially, finding information is by no means easy.
Accept that other internationals become your new family while you’re abroad. International students tend to stick together because they need each other in a way local students don’t. I have to say, it’s pretty cool having close friends from opposite ends of the world, not to mention the added bonus of having a place to stay in America or Australia in the future!
Goodbyes are unfortunately an inevitable part of a year abroad. As second semester starts not everyone from your first semester will be joining you and it makes for some very sad goodbyes. It’s a good idea when friends are getting ready to move home to plan to take things they’ll be leaving behind. From obtaining such thrilling items as laundry detergent, to the more exciting things as a coat - I really recommend checking with friends what they won’t be taking home with them.
Find an International Society. Many European Universities have an Erasmus Student Network (ESN) club that organises trips and events. They also have a discount card that can get you special offers on accommodation and transport around Europe. The University of Tübingen doesn’t actually have an official ESN club but instead has StudIT for internationals. They organise some events and trips but don’t have that all important official discount card.
When it comes to finding accommodation, take every piece of advice that your university gives you. It’s much easier to organise staying on campus in the University halls of residence than renting privately. This avoids having to find roommates yourself and organising separate bills. In Ireland, housemates are usually found on Facebook groups of people looking for accommodation. In Germany, they treat their Facebook pages much more privately so I could never imagine this happening. Always try for Halls, even if your university doesn’t technically have ‘campus accommodation’ they usually have companies that organise residence halls for students so apply to these in your area.
If your university abroad offers a preparation course before lectures begin - take it! Tübingen offered a three week German language course in the weeks before lectures began that was a huge help for settling in. I opted for a three day course before lectures began which aimed to teach us about how the library worked, the universities unnecessarily complicated process of properly registering and other general tips. If I could give my past self any advice it would be - pay attention in these starter courses. Everything is new and there’s a lot of information to absorb quickly, but it’s all worthwhile and will undoubtedly come in handy later in the year.
But finally, if you take nothing else from the advice here - before you leave to go on a night out, fill up a glass of water and leave it beside your bed. You’ll thank me the next morning, believe me.
Rachel Bermingham is an Irish student, currently on her eramus year in Tübingen, Germany
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