It is not an overstatement if I say that my Year Abroad was literally the best year of my life. I hadn’t thought of it in that way, until I returned to my home University and had some time to reflect on my experience. In fact, currently I am working in the International Office in Aberystwyth and seeing exchange students on a daily basis only reminds me how amazing it is to go and study abroad.
I went on my Year Abroad 2 years ago….has it been already 2 years? Wow Time flies! I went to Düsseldorf, in Germany. I remember arriving at the train station with my massive 20kg luggage, and thinking in my head how was I going to carry all this stuff to my future accommodation. I remember looking on Google Maps and realising to my relief that my future house was located only 15 mins away from the main station. I can easily do that, I thought. I followed the signs out off the station and walked along the main road, constantly checking my phone to see whether I was heading in the right direction. It seemed like the way was pretty straightforward so I just continued to go further, further, and further.… I think after walking around for about 40 minutes I came to the realisation that there had to be something wrong. The little dot on Google Maps which was supposed to be me had not move as I walked away from the station. Google had failed me! I wasn’t an expert in the German language, but I was pretty sure that Hauptstation meant ‘’ the main station’’. Based on my understanding my phone indicated that I was only 5 mins away from my flat.
I decided to stop for a bit and catch my breath. In fact I was already exhausted from carrying all of my stuff. As soon as I stopped, the blue dot suddenly jumped ahead and ended up in a completely different place then it was before. Great, I thought! So I had not only wasted half an hour going in the wrong direction but the GPS on my phone seemed to have stop working. This made it harder for me to find my new flat. I desperately approached an elderly man, trying to ask him in German how to get to Gogrevestraße, however I completely understood nothing from what he had said. I decided to ask him again in English but before I had finished my sentence he had walked away. What a great start into my Year Abroad! I sat on the nearest bench wondering if I should maybe order a taxi to get there as the sun began to go down and the streets became less busy. Then all of a sudden, a 20-something year old guy walked up and asked me politely Wohin gehts du? At this point I was already fed up with talking in German, even though this had been my first day in the country. I explained to this guy that I was trying to find my new flat that my phone was broken and no one was willing to help me in English. So I just sat there thinking whether I should get a taxi or catch a train back to the airport and just jump on the first flight back home (and forget about this whole experience). He started laughing (so apparently Germans laugh, too!) and offered me help with carrying luggage up to the Gogrevestraße, as he knew where it was. It might sound silly, but I couldn’t have been happier! He helped me all the way to the house, giving me tips and practical advice about the city and life in Germany in general. When I finally arrived at my flat, I was greeted by my lovely flatmate Eva (who later became one of my best friends) I look back at of day as a special one – besides of all the struggles, I managed to find my way around and meet some fantastic people who helped me so much. In fact my first day in Germany was a reflection of the year to come.
During my time in Germany, there were moments of when I dreamt about being back home (I am originally from Poland) or at least back in the UK. I was sick of all the paperwork that I needed do to (of which the registration process was the worst) and I was homesick at times. Nevertheless above all the trials and tribulations I had the time of my life. I met some amazing people whilst on my year abroad and I still keep in touch with many of them. I also learnt and perfected my German. I’ve grown up so much as an individual. This year of my life taught me how to be a more independent and stronger version of myself. It was a different experience to when I first arrived in the UK, as I knew some people before my arrival and with Aberystwyth being such a small town it made everything slightly easier. This made me feel at home quickly. Düsseldorf was different, it was a big city and challenging at times. Living there forced me to confront my language barrier fear sooner than I thought. In my second semester of my Erasmus+ Exchange I ended up living only with German students which was a great experience, although a bit scary at first. I remember everything – before our first house party, I sat in my room talking to my boyfriend on Skype. I was moaning about how I couldn’t join the party as I could not speak the language properly. I remember him convincing me to get out of my room and just start talking to people. He reassured me that it would all be fine. I remember him saying that if I go now, I wouldn’t regret this decision in a years’ time when my exchange had come to an end. Guess What? He was right! I can now say that courage helped me overcome a lot of my personal fears and making mistakes made my Year Abroad an amazing experience.
To everyone who is considering taking a part in the Exchange programme – please do! It may not always be easy, but it’s definitely worth it. I do not regret a single day I spend in Germany and now thanks to this experience I feel like I can literally travel the world on my own.