Below I have listed some of the most important guidelines to having an unforgettable experience abroad, according to my experiences.
Rule #1: Learn the language. I’ve said it a thousand times before in previous blog entries, but learning a language is the single most valuable thing one can do in a foreign country. Not only will you have the ability to communicate with locals and other Germans around the world, you’ll have a souvenir you’ll be able to take with you for the rest of your life, no matter where you go. And much unlike most souvenirs, this one is useful, but only as much as you make use of it.
Rule #2: Spend as little time with other Drexel students as possible.
Shhhh, don’t tell them said this. Of course, it’s nothing personal, but there is so much to gain by associating with locals and other international students. You can hang out with Drexel students AT Drexel (and not only can, but are generally forced to). There’s nothing more satisfying than meeting people you get along with, and having friends in another country is always a great benefit for reasons personal and otherwise.
Rule #3: Do the exact opposite of what everyone else does.
All right this is a bit of an exaggeration, and yes, to some it may sound like something out of a hipster manifesto, but this is truly a lesson I have learned and adhered to ever since leaving the country. You can usually save money, become smarter, and have an overall better experience by doing things independently and not going with the flow just because it’s the easiest thing to do. Sometimes it takes a little extra effort, but in the end, the reward will be worth it.
Rule #4: Document your experiences! Keep a journal, take photos, post facebook statuses (relevant to your life, of course), write a blog, take videos. Make sure you have proof of your adventures. While stories and memories are intriguing to others and personally satisfying, it is always nice to be able to look back at a point in your life and determine exactly what you were thinking and experiencing.
Rule #5: Be adventurous! Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone. You’ve made it this far; you might as well go a little further. Take trips around the area, whether alone or not. Be spontaneous and try new things. Attend social events, sporting events, concerts, local festivals, etc (see the above photo of the Japanese festival at the Dusseldorf riverbank, an example of a cultural event, one of the many to be found at any time of year all over Germany). This is a great way to meet locals and expand your social and personal capabilities.
And as a parting gift, I present to you this essay by Mark Twain, on “The Awful German Language”: http://crossmyt.com/hc/linghebr/awfgrmlg.html