You might be wondering why I’m thinking about what I want to get out of the new semester when the semester is already almost half over. To clarify, I’m in a bit of a weird situation, because my spring semester hasn’t started yet. That’s because I’m not going back to my regular university this semester; instead, I’m studying abroad for a semester in Regensburg, Germany beginning the first week of March. It's taken a lot of planning, a lot of discussing, and a heck of a lot of paperwork, but now that (almost) everything's finally good to go, and I booked my ticket, I can start looking forward to returning to my second home for an entire semester beginning in March.
There are so many feelings you get when you’re about to take off for another country full of new experiences for five whole months: excited of course, but also anxious; eager, but a whole lot of “What have I gotten myself into?!” In full disclosure, this isn’t the first time I’ve been abroad or even to Germany; I was fortunate to spend a year studying and living with a host family in Germany back in 2016-2017 thanks to the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange. (Seriously, it’s a wonderful, totally free program, and if you’re interested, check them out here.
Even before I went away the first time, I knew that I would study abroad in college. It helps that my university is excellent at accommodation and me being an international affairs and language student pretty much necessitates it. The big question was always where I would study abroad, not if. I knew the second I left Germany almost two years ago that I wanted to go back someday, but I also didn't want to feel like I had the same study abroad experience over again.
The neat thing is that this time I'll be studying in Bavaria (Bayern if you're a soccer fan), which means that I'll be living diagonally across the country from where I was last time in North-Rhein Westfalia (near Cologne). One of the things that shocked me the first time was how much regional variance there is within Germany, a country that takes up a relatively small geographic space. The other significant difference is that instead of living with a host family as I did previously, I'll be living in international student housing, which means I have to adult on my own this go-round. My fears about having a repeat experience are no longer.
I'm insanely excited about returning to the country that taught me so much about the world and myself, and I cannot wait to see what a whole other half-year of growth will bring me. I'm less freaked out given that I have a much better handle on the language (a huge improvement from the three words I started out with last time) and now I have experience with the little day-to-day things like using the train system and going grocery shopping.
I don’t think it sunk in for a while how much living and studying in a foreign place would challenge me. At the halfway point of my exchange year, I made a list of the lessons I was slowly figuring out after struggling my way through the first six months:
-Having to re-adjust your expectations does not equate with failure.
-The world is more diverse than we can ever know.
-There is not one single gauge by which one should measure success.
-Some days you merely wake up, and some days you conquer the world. Both are essential.
-Education is so much more than textbooks and classrooms. It lives and breathes in the world around you.
-No one can take the initiative for you.
-Mistakes do not define you.
-Success is neither instant nor always visible, but that in no way means it is not slowly approaching day by day.
I feel like last time I let my lack of confidence in my language skills and cultural understanding hold me back in little ways, like stopping me from introducing myself to a new person, contributing to a conversation, or representing my personality fully. I'm determined not to let that be the case this time, and I'm going to force myself to get over the remainder of my talking-to-native-speakers fear. I don't like sounding stupid or making mistakes, but if I learned anything from my experience, it's that you have to get through the fear to make any actual improvement.
Ultimately, what I’m hoping to get out of my spring semester abroad is five months worth of experiences I can look back on and the knowledge that I didn't shy away from anything. It is the struggles and challenging moments that allow you to learn and grow. So, I'm here once again, about to jump across the pond, and hoping to make a splash.
Savannah is 20 and is a student at Transylvania (not a school for vampires, she promises) studying International Affairs and German. She spends her time traveling when she can, in the library when she has to be, and probably too much time in front of the mirror not quite getting her eyeliner even. She enjoys theater, music, and civic engagement, and would like to pursue diplomacy in the future.