Hello my name is Courtney and I’m currently a Business Administration student at Oregon State University-Cascades. I began my study abroad term March 29th for Spring semester and will be studying here at DHBW Mosbach, Bad Mergentheim campus until June 29th. In Bend I work part time, have a wonderful boyfriend and a cat and dog. Living in Bend, I like to go outdoors and explore. Hiking, snowshoeing, paddle boarding, anything adventurous. Also living in Bend of course I have to like beer, so Germany has not disappointed on that front. Here’s a taste of my experiences abroad so far.
#Why I chose to go abroad
My motivation for doing a semester abroad was that I’ve always loved travel. I have been to Europe for vacation before, but I always felt like I didn’t get a true cultural experience by just being a tourist and visiting famous places. I thought immersing myself into a different culture and truly getting a feel for what it’s like to live in a different country would be a lot more fulfilling than just a week-long trip somewhere. I also think it’s a unique opportunity you only really get the chance to do while you’re young, before being tied down to a job, mortgage and family. Being a Business Admin major, I think it’s important to understand how different economies work and how cultures can affect business internationally as well. So with all these factors motivating me to take the leap and study abroad, here I am.
The first few days in Bad Mergentheim were a huge culture shock. I can blame this partially on my unpreparedness as I learned very little German before I came here. I could not communicate with anyone, I could not read labels at the grocery store or the menu at restaurants. I did not know how to ask for directions and I had to rely on my phone to get me through even the simplest of tasks. Aside from the language barrier another big difference for me was the food. There is so much bread and pork here, the bread is amazing but it gets old very fast.
People are not shy about correcting you and it felt like I got yelled at for so many things when I first arrived and didn’t know how things worked and I couldn’t understand what they were yelling at me for. For example, if you go for ice cream/coffee and you ask for it “to go” you can’t sit down or they will yell at you and make you leave. They just aren’t shy about yelling at you when you’re not following rules. At first it was really overwhelming and I was nervous to do anything wrong so I just avoided doing anything I was unsure of, but I’ve learned to appreciate how blunt they are here and how they aren’t shy or passive about correcting you like they are in the states.
Also the trains. Getting from the airport to Bad Mergentheim requires a 3 hour train ride with roughly 1 to 2 connections. My first solo train ride getting to Bad Mergentheim was terrifying. I went to the train station at the airport and sat staring at the ticket machine for about 5 minutes before a lady came up and asked me if I needed help. (FYI there is a train information center/ticket center with people that generally speak English but I didn’t find it until my next trip). So after you get on the train there’s a list of stops and times and platforms and I just sat there for two hours terrified I was going to miss my stop. At one point my train just stopped in the middle of a forest and they said something in German over the speakers but I had no idea what so I just sat there waiting to start moving again. We were stopped for around 30 minutes before we started going again and obviously the train was way behind schedule at that point. I was relying on getting off at the time my ticket said I would arrive in Bad Mergentheim because I couldn’t understand any of their announcements, so I started looking out the window and trying to read the name of every stop to figure out which one I needed to get off at. That was super stressful to do alone in an unfamiliar place with no one who speaks English. But I made it to my new home okay! Now I know how to use the train system pretty well. I’ve learned to try to avoid connections that have less than 10 minutes in between them because the chance of a train running late is pretty high and then it can mess your whole trip up by hours if you miss a train.
#First few days/adjusting
Before I left the states I was getting cold feet about this whole experience. I just remembered thinking “What am I doing leaving for 3 months to a place I’ve never been and don’t know anyone or even the language?” I was worried about leaving my job for so long, my cat, my boyfriend, etc. Just my normal life. The last week I was just panicking trying to enjoy every last second of being at home. I ended up worrying for nothing.
The first week or maybe two weeks here were, however, pretty difficult. The culture shock reasons I mentioned above were big part of adjusting.
I showed up a week before classes started to get settled in, and I found out there was only one other American student that lived with me, and the rest were all international students from other countries that had already been living there for months. They spoke English, but it wasn’t their first language so it was hard to communicate. My bed in the house was a couch, and I found out that Hulu and Pandora don’t work here. We are also about 9 hours different here than in the U.S. so when I’m awake and free to talk, my boyfriend is asleep or at work. The first week was really hard just getting used to these changes and not having anyone to speak to in English really. I just felt pretty helpless, like I couldn’t do anything for myself, not even buy food or place an order.
When classes started the next week I realized there was another dorm across town and there were more international students living there that were from OSU as well. This was a huge relief having more people to talk to and that are from the same place as me. We took one week of German classes and I learned enough German to at least place an order and get me by. After that we began classes with all the other German students, and they are all so nice and helpful. They invited us to lunch the first day and helped us order and they are always giving us helpful advice and travel tips.
After that first week of culture shock and adjusting to being here, everything is great. Time is flying by, so it doesn’t seem as long as I thought it would be, and me and my boyfriend have found time to talk just fine. It’s so much easier than I thought it would be. I don’t miss home as much as I thought, although I do get homesick for certain things sometimes (I can’t wait to go home and eat a steak), I know this is a once in a lifetime experience and I’m trying to enjoy every second of it. Sometimes I realize how much I have adjusted to living here when I’m walking through the town and have to just stop and remind myself where I am and to take it all in. When I get home there’s not going to be any place with little brick roads and old houses that look like I’m in a Beauty and the Beast movie. I will never be studying in a castle again. It’s funny that you just stop noticing those things after awhile.
One thing that really helped me the first few weeks was having a German “buddy” assigned to me. I highly recommend signing up to have a buddy, because the first two weeks here you are only with other international students, and everyone is just as lost and clueless as you. My buddy kind of took all of us under his wing and took us on a bike ride to see the city, took us to dinners to meet other German students and he even helped us throw a surprise party for another international student’s birthday. After you begin classes with all the other students it’s not as important, but it really made a difference when I first got here.
The biggest difference being at DHBW compared to OSU is the class structure. Classes are 9am-4:30pm every day and it’s just one class generally for a whole week and then you begin a new class. They also only grade you on your final exam, not homework or assignments. All the students are in the same classes throughout the semester so you get to know your classmates very well. Our class has a giant group chat we use to plan lunches, send notes and slides, and just talk in general. I find it really helpful and fun, it’s something I never experienced at any of my college classes in the states.
#A Typical Day
A typical day in Bad Mergentheim involves school from 9-4:30, and then I usually run errands for a little while before going home. Everything is within walking distance so sometimes I walk to the grocery store (I usually have to go twice a week because you can only carry so much walking across town), sometimes I get dinner or hang out in the park with the other international students, and then I try to go to the school gym. Another thing I like to do is just walk around town. Sometimes I’m bored so I just walk through the castle grounds or walk around town and grab an ice cream. Everything is so relaxed and slow paced here, walking around and seeing everything is actually really nice. On weekends we either go on short day trips with the German students or we plan visiting different countries on the long weekends, which usually only involves a few other international students.
Bad Mergentheim is a pretty small town, so there’s not a lot to do, but one of my favorite things is Solymar. I highly recommend visiting it. I didn’t go until about halfway through my term here because it’s kind of on the outskirts of town where I never go, but it is amazing. There are water slides, thermal pools, sauna and a spa and it’s very inexpensive. As far as Germany in general, I like it because it is close to so many other countries. It’s super easy to travel and see different places.
#Things I wish I knew
There’s so many more little details and tips I wish I knew before I went, but it’s hard to think of exactly what off the top of my head because they were just little random things.
One of the big things is apps. Downloading Google translate has been a life saver for me. You can download the german language in the app so you don’t even need wifi to translate things. This helps me whenever I need to buy anything or read a menu. Another one for travel in DB Navigator. It’s the train app and you can plan your trips around Germany and see very detail about the train (stops, real time updates if it’s late, price, etc.).
Also make sure you bring the higher end products you want with you. I left my lotions and face products at home because I thought they would be too much of a burden to pack, but they cost twice the price here and they don’t always carry brands you would find in the states.
Exchange students can join one of our 3 month-long International Programs. Business students can choose the International Program in Business (IPB), which runs three times per year. For Engineering students, we offer the International Program in Engineering (IPE). The classes are taught entirely in English and you can earn up to 30 ECTS in each three-months program.
Exchange students join DHBW Mosbach students, so there is an intercultural mix of students in class. We keep the class size small: you get to know everyone very well and be one tight group during your stay here. Each program includes an Intensive German language and culture course. The programs also include excursions, cultural events and company visits, so you have a great time with plenty of fun and adventure.
The DHBW Exchange Scholarship is provided by the DHBW-Stiftung / DHBW Foundation. With the help of financial contributions from companies and private individuals, the DHBW Foundation’s goal is to strengthen the profile and expertise of the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University and to give further impetus to teaching and research. By awarding the DHBW Exchange Scholarship, the Foundation wants to support our efforts to further the university’s internationalization.
DHBW Mosbach has decided to award this scholarship to two students from Oregon State University, Cascades Campus, Bend coming to DHBW Mosbach, as well as two DHBW Mosbach students, spending one semester at OSU Bend.
More information on the DHBW Foundation can be found here.