Learning a Language Abroad: My Experience in Heidelberg
September 20, 2012
By: Eda Tajuddin
Micky met us where the shuttle bus dropped us off. For someone who was trying to meet and organise around 80 students in one morning, he seemed pretty calm. He managed to spend five minutes with me, answering all my questions about the German course I was about to take and the town itself, Heidelberg, before swiftly moving off to get someone else settled in. The rest of the day was pretty anti-climactic. Although I could clearly tell I had a roommate, she was nowhere to be seen. I did, however, manage to use my expert detective skills to deduce she was healthy and liked to bake. Good start.
The following day was just as disappointing, as I found there were no social aspects organised by the Paedagogium to help the students mingle, and I had been placed in the wrong class. This wasn’t me being vain – in fact, I deliberated over what to do for days before finally deciding that I was paying for this and wanted to get the most out of it. Being bored in classes and frustrated at fellow class mates was not exactly what I had had in mind. Moving classes turned out to be one of the better decisions of the summer. Not only did I actually begin to learn things in the new class, but the teacher was also more enthusiastic and actually listened. This is something to be wary of at these types of institutions; for many of the teachers it is only a seasonal or part time job to earn extra money. There is nothing worse than having to sit through 3 hours of classes with a teacher who is more bored than her students. So if you end up with one of these, I’d suggest a quick change is in order.
In the meantime, things were starting to look a lot better on the social side. I’d finally met my roommate, who was amazing and introduced me to all her friends at a party, as well as made friends of my own on the course. The only frustrating thing was that no German people were actually on the German course and the language most reverted back to for ease was English. So while I was helping people practice their English, I wasn’t learning much, except for random phrases I could pick up from the mass of Spanish students (and yes, I do mainly mean swear words). You see, the fact of the matter is, doing a language course is probably not the best way to quickly immerse yourself in a culture – in fact, it kind of segregates you by definition. It didn’t help that my roommate was leaving after one week. As a student of Heidelberg University, she was my main source of practising German outside of the language school. Ignoring my mother’s advice of harassing shop assistants in order to improve my language skills, I just grasped every social opportunity involving my roommate’s friends, who seemed more than happy to humour me.
As for the actual classes, they somehow became increasingly insignificant as the month continued – a bit like how you forget that you go to university to study. It could have been due to the fact that classes were only for 3 hours every weekday and finished by lunchtime, before anyone had really woken up. It could have been due to a new teacher in the last week, who had an impressive talent for rambling. It could have been due to my numerous night outs with my new friends, though really, I’d call it networking and strengthening international connections (really important for a language student). It could have been down to the ever more frequent evening barbeques which, in my defence, were for simply soaking up local culture. I guess it’s neither here nor there, though one thing is for sure, I fell in love with Heidelberg.
Being surrounded by beautiful scenery and fascinating history wasn’t really anything new for me, having grown up in Durham. Perhaps that’s why I felt so at home, because of the similarities. But I think most people who have visited Heidelberg would agree with me – there’s just something enchanting about the city. The castle and the architecture are breathtakingly serene; it’s no wonder that the views from Philosophenweg inspired famous poets such as Goethe and Eichendorf. Being a student-populated city meant the nightlife wasn’t too shabby either. It’s also surrounded by other quaint towns and villages, which meant every weekend was a new and exciting mini-adventure. A spontaneous trip to Schwetzingen to see the castle and gardens proved particularly worthwhile. The people I met were also amazing and I’m pretty sure that that won’t be the last I see of them. We’re already planning our reunion – in a different country of course. So while my stay in Heidelberg began somewhat disappointingly, it didn’t take long for the city to seduce me and I would definitely recommend anyone to experience the magic for themselves.
Images: Author’s Own