Year Abroad, Part Two: Travel, Arrival and Settling In

So. I’m in Germany. My parents have just left; I’m here to stay now. What a weird thought that is.

Today is Saturday. We set off at perhaps twenty to three on Wednesday afternoon, and reached the Euro Tunnel in plenty of time – only for it to be delayed. After waiting there for a couple of hours, we finally got to France and had soon found our Ibis Budget hotel. It was clean and comfortable enough, but I didn’t sleep well. Not because I was nervous, though – I was determinedly not thinking about where we were going. Apparently I just wasn’t tired enough once my head hit the pillow, and once I did manage to sleep, I was woken twice during the night.

We set off again at about six AM French time, and I napped (badly) through France, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Once in Germany, though, I decided to stay awake despite still being tired: I wanted to see where we were going. At that point, I was quite excited. But the closer we got to Tübingen, the more nervous I got. What if I didn’t like it? What if it wasn’t a nice town? And did I really want to go away on a year abroad anyway? (The answer to that was no, I didn’t.) I just wanted for us to keep on driving, as if we were just going on a trip through Europe, not dropping me off on my year abroad.

The sat nav took us on a windy country road to our first destination: the accommodation office. Here, I needed to pay the deposit for my accommodation before I could go there and collect my keys. This was the first of several administrative processes I was worried about – no, dreading. I worried that we wouldn’t follow the proper procedure, or that the language barrier would cause problems, or something else would go wrong that would mean things wouldn’t go right.

But in the end, we got there on time, everything went fine, and the friendly staff were perfectly ok with me speaking English instead of German (I was too tired and anxious to formulate a German sentence – though when we couldn’t find the building, I did ask directions in German. Turns out we were right across the road from the place). Once that was done with, we were instructed to go to my accommodation and get the keys from the janitor (or, in German, der Hausmeister, which translates roughly to house master, which I think is a much nicer title).

I spoke to the Hausmeister in German. I’m not sure whether he spoke too fast or had an accent or both, but I found it difficult to understand what he said to me. Eventually, though, we got all the forms signed that needed to be signed and he gave us a quick tour (a very quick tour – if we hadn’t asked, he wouldn’t have told us where the showers or the washing machines were, and I’m still working out which key is which).

The room is nice – white walls and large windows, and therefore very light, as advertised. It’s also a little bigger than we expected, with lots of storage space. But we also noticed it seemed to be dusty, so we cleaned it from top to bottom before we moved my things in. I’ve got it feeling quite homely, now.

The rest of the building, however…

There are no carpets anywhere, leaving it very echo-ey, which makes it feel quite empty. The toilets and showers are a little dingy. And when we arrived, the kitchen was filthy. There were flies everywhere. It was like someone had died in there. And on top of that, I’d thought the kitchen was for the seven rooms on my corridor – which was great; finally, a kitchen big enough for the number of people it caters for! Unfortunately, I was wrong. We only get half of the kitchen; the other half is for the other corridor on our floor.

It looked much better once we’d cleaned, but I didn’t feel any better about it. Tired from travelling and cleaning, and dreading all the things we needed to do the next day, I just wanted to cry and then sleep for two days. So my parents went to get checked into their hotel, and I had a shower, which helped a little, and tidied my room a bit. When they got back, we went out for a meal in the first restaurant we found. We got back later than we had hoped, and then I had another restless night, feeling anxious and isolated. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that here, you can’t access your accommodation’s wifi until you ‘matriculate’, or register as a student, but you don’t get the codes you need for it until your papers come through about a week later. And being abroad, I couldn’t use my mobile data either. I hated not being able to look words up and, even more, hated that I couldn’t freely talk to my closest friends, the one thing that might have helped me feel better.

After getting up twice in the night, being unable to find a good sleeping temperature, and having weird dreams when I did manage to sleep, I got up with a churning stomach and a dry mouth to prepare for the busy day ahead. On top of the five steps to matriculation (involving fetching forms, paying semester contributions, registering with the residence’s office… all of which are in different places in Tübingen), we wanted to open a German bank account and set my phone up with a German SIM card. We managed to get most of the matriculation process done within a couple of hours, which we were quite pleased with (I’d expected it to take days), but the office where we needed to hand all the forms in at the end closes at 11:30 on Fridays, so I’m going to have to do that on Monday, which means I won’t have wifi until the Monday after that. Luckily, when fetching the forms at the beginning of the process, we asked about this, and it turns out that if you have an ethernet cable, you can use that before you get wifi. And, as luck would have it, we did actually bring an ethernet cable with us. I may only have been without access to the internet for one day, but it felt such a relief to be connected to the world again.

We also didn’t manage to get a German bank account or a SIM card that day, but we did make progress towards both: we went into numerous shops researching the best SIM card to get, and booked an appointment with the bank for Monday. I’m a little nervous about the fact that I’ll have to do this on my own, but I’m sure I’ll be fine.

By mid-afternoon, we headed back to my accommodation. We’d bought lunch, but despite being hungry, I was still too anxious to want to eat. Plus, the deadline-chasing was making me fed up and want to cry. Being overwhelmed and overtired in a foreign country where your parents are going to leave you, it turns out, is a rather tear-inducing combination. So you can pretty much assume that in every situation I’ve described, I felt like crying and having a nap. In fact, assume that I did cry.

So I had my nap, and when we went out again in the evening for food, I felt a bit more relaxed and started to actually appreciate the town we’d been walking round all day. My mouth was still dry and my stomach still churning, though, so I went for a refreshing salad, the only thing on the menu I felt even remotely capable of eating. I probably could have gone straight to sleep as soon as I got back to my accommodation, but instead skyped my boyfriend for a while, which actually helped a lot. And, amazingly, I didn’t cry upon hearing his voice.

Which brings us to today. I slept much better, but still woke up feeling not so great – though in what way is difficult to describe. We got the SIM card sorted, which means I now have internet on my phone, talking about buses at Tourist Information, and made sure I know the way back to the accommodation office, as there’s another form I need to give them once I’ve set up my German bank account so that I can pay my rent. There’s also another couple of Erasmus forms I need to sort out, so although we’ve done a lot towards finishing all the serious matters that need sorting out for me to stay here, there’s still more to do. But with the majority of it done, I’m feeling a lot better about things. Not that you’d know it from all the crying.

And then, with many hugs and tears, my parents set off home. I do feel a little bit oh-god-now-I’m-stuck-here-what-the-hell-am-I-doing, but I’m sure I’ll get over it. The things I’m worrying most about now is meeting the rest of the thirteen (!!!) people sharing my kitchen, and getting the bus for the first time. But mostly I’m just going to try and treat it like I treat living in Newcastle: with confidence. After all, I’m used to being independent there. The only difference is the place.

Now I think it’s time to stop dwelling on my feelings, venture out to the supermarket and buy some food.

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