For those that don’t know (which I guarantee is most of you), the University of Mannheim throws together a ‘Welcome Week’ for all of its incoming exchange students. It’s a wonderfully chaotic time consumed with running around campus completing random University requirements for enrollment. However, this is also an incredibly lucrative time to make some interesting new friends.
If I could sum this week-long experience up into a couple of words, I’d have to go with: Freshman Year PTSD. It’s the all-too familiar ice breakers, uncomfortable silences, and forced small talk that we all secretly relish and slightly miss at times. Everyone’s confused, roaming around from building to building, all that’s missing are the lanyards and welcome folders that scream Freshman (don’t worry, you still receive a complimentary Freshman-esque folder regardless).
When I first arrived in Mannheim, I was flabbergasted to learn that practically everyone here speaks English. Constantly hearing this familiar language, I didn’t really give a second thought as to who I was actually studying abroad with. Personally, all throughout my life I just assumed that it was only Americans that mostly studied abroad. So you can imagine how loudly my jaw hit the ground when at an orientation I found out that Europeans easily made up the vast majority of the exchange students at Mannheim.
This, in no way whatsoever, is a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s my favorite part about studying here. I’m constantly meeting students not only from Germany, but from all across the globe, providing me with a much richer and fuller international experience. I have learned all the way from the Italian grading system, to the ways that Australians scare spiders away by dancing.
Not having as many North Americans as a crutch has truly helped me blossom here. As much as we all love talking about peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, Morgan Freeman, and American football, it’s good to be forced out of that bubble so that you can seriously immerse yourself in a life outside of your own. And do you know what makes this all super easy? These experiences come naturally to you when you’re standing in lines, hanging out at meet-and-greets, and even just while you’re hanging around your dorms.
There are plenty of students here with you, feeling those Freshman year jitters and butterflies, simply trying to get as much out of their study abroad experience as you are. So strike up that conversation and get to know your fellow classmates. And in the off-chance that you embarrass yourself (which you inevitably will and that’s okay), just brush it off your shoulders because you’ll only be here for a couple of months anyway, so what do you have to lose?