What I Wish I Knew Before Studying Abroad

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity of speaking with another Drexel student who was interested in studying at Mannheim. I was asked several questions about general life here, but I was also asked a specific question that I still have trouble answering to do this day: “What do you wish you knew before arriving at Mannheim?” Boy, what a question.

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Mural in Mannheim.

But this got me thinking: what do I wish I knew beforehand? There seemed to be far too many things floating around in my head to even begin to answer. But all of the issues I faced, all of the little quirks that dotted my day-to-day life now, the trials and victories of living in another country, all seemed so miniscule in the whole grand scheme of things. Looking at the big picture, I was more confused than anything.

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Decorated rain drain in Germany.

I would have loved to know plenty of things, such as how to use the laundry machines, or that ‘bitte’ can be used interchangeably as ‘thank you’ or ‘you’re welcome’ saving me from plenty of puzzled looks. It would have been nice to know that sometimes normal and simple tasks like going to the bank or grocery shopping would drain the life out of me and make me never want to return. But it also would have been consoling to know that practically everyone speaks English in Europe, that I’d be able to get to any country because of Mannheim’s stellar transportation network, or that I would actually befriend people from my host country.

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Someone please send me a translator and mechanic.

But I guess those little tiny things all add up to make one giant statement: I wish I knew study abroad wasn’t going to be as easy as everyone told me it would be. Okay, don’t get me wrong, I’m having a wonderful time even though I know it sounds as though I’m suffering. But everyone tends to romanticize study abroad, and in my opinion, rightfully so.

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Museum in Mannheim.

Every single day is a new adventure, something will always go wrong, but you’ll survive. Just because each day isn’t a perfect fairytale, you will learn, develop, and perfect skills you never knew you needed or even wanted – like learning how to use a bread slicer (for all those that were wondering if I ever got around to it). But that’s what’s so cool about studying abroad. You learn you’re more capable of adulting than you thought possible.

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Magazines in one of my favorite study spots in the city library.

You’re constantly being tossed into a dizzying spin of questions and trials, but you’ll come out more resilient by the day, mastering your way through a new culture and language. Once you start finding your favorite study spot, how to maneuver store aisles most efficiently, and how to order the perfect döner, it’ll be almost time to go, and you’ll be wishing you had more time here.

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