It feels far longer than a week that I’ve been in Germany. Technically, I have: my parents and I arrived last Wednesday, so it’s only really that I’ve been Germany on my own for a week. But that isn’t what I meant. Saying that it’s only a week since I said goodbye to my parents just feels wrong. Surely it can’t have been so recently?
I’ve spent my first week alone in Germany working on my book, exploring Tübingen (pictures below!), going for jogs (admittedly only two), having awkward conversations with flatmates I barely know in the kitchen, setting up a German bank account, handing in forms, and Skyping numerous people, numerous times. I definitely feel like I’m settling in; like I’m getting to know my surroundings and life here is a little more normal.
But does that mean I’m happy here? Not necessarily. There have been ups and downs. There have been times when I’ve felt homesick or anxious or unmotivated. But there have also been times when I’ve been really productive (which usually makes me feel really good about myself), when I’ve been proud of myself for what I’ve achieved (I didn’t think I’d be able to set up my own bank account on my own in English, but then I went and did it in German anyway, with no problems and minimal anxiety), and when I’ve felt quite comfortable in the life I’m making for myself here. So while things still aren’t perfect (and probably won’t be), I think they are getting better.
The thing I want to talk most about in this blog post, though, is living arrangements. Not in terms of where I’m living, but who I’m living with. And the answer to “who are you living with?” is: “I don’t know”. Because German student accommodation does not work like English student accommodation; it isn’t only first years and international students who live there. It’s all the students. And if they apply to live in one place throughout their entire course (including during holidays), it so far seems to me that they can.
What I was expecting was basically something identical to my first year: the international students arrive a week or two early and get themselves settled in, then the first years arrive, and then everybody has an equal chance to bond together because everyone is new and nobody knows each other. So it threw me off a bit to arrive and find that people were already here and were already settled in and some of them already knew each other. I felt a little like I’d been thrown in at the deep end, rather than having some time to myself to move in and get settled before I had to deal with social situations on top of that. And I’m sure you can imagine that someone who doesn’t like not knowing what to expect, like me, also doesn’t like having their expectations be completely wrong. As I said, it threw me off a bit.
Luckily, all my flatmates seem nice. At least, the ones I’ve met do. Some of them are presumably still on holiday. Some of them might have, by some miracle, managed to avoid bumping into me so far. And some of them will presumably be new students, who I’ve been told are likely to arrive at the beginning of October. Apparently I’m ridiculously early.
So with what I said about expectations in mind, it’s probably unsurprising that I’m not exactly happy about the fact that I don’t know when I’ll have to meet my own flatmates.
I’m also finding that interacting with my flatmates is actually the thing that makes me most anxious. Most of the flatmates I’ve spoken to speak somewhere between pretty good and very fluent English, but speaking English is not the reason I’m here. So I’ve been trying to speak German with them, but, being in the kitchen, the likelihood is that we’re both cooking while we’re talking, which makes it difficult to hear what they’re saying. And some of them are quiet, and some of them probably have accents or talk quickly (often, I can’t tell; if I understand them, I understand them, but if I don’t, I don’t often sit down and think about why), which makes things a little challenging for me before I even have to remember what that word means or start forming a reply. Plus, you could end up talking about anything during a social conversation, so using context to anticipate what the other person is going to say gets a little tricky.
Conversations with members of staff at the university or at the bank, for example, tend to go easier and with less anxiety. The surroundings tend to be quieter; I can predict what we’re going to be talking about which makes it easier to pick out words I recognise and understand since I’m actually listening for them; and they probably have their “professional voice” on, which probably involves talking slower and more clearly than they usually would. Which all points to the rather surprising conclusion that conversations with strangers are, at the moment, easier for me than social conversations with the people I live with.
Anyway, enough with feelings and all that serious stuff. Time for pictures!