Half a Year in Heidelberg
Health sciences, politics and German – Ana Renker-Darby rounds off her conjoint degree with six months in Germany’s oldest university town…
My conjoint degree is in health sciences, politics and German at the University of Auckland, but at the beginning of September I moved to Heidelberg to study German at the Universität Heidelberg for six months. I always knew that spending an extended period of time here was the best way to quickly improve my knowledge of the language, but there have already been many unexpected joys to living in Germany.
As an exchange student, my university workload is relatively easy going. I attend classes Monday to Thursday each week, all but one of which are taught in German. Having to use my German in an academic setting has improved my vocabulary already, and it is immensely satisfying to hear myself become a more eloquent speaker.
Personally, I notice the biggest cultural differences in small everyday activities. For example, eating the cheap, healthy meals provided by the university cafeteria every day has shown me how important meal times are to Germans. I find myself getting joy out of the tiniest things, such as the efficient method of boarding the bus through the back door and not wasting time showing the bus driver my ticket. Another German quirk I have observed is the limited opening hours of businesses. This can be frustrating, but can also turn the hunt for a bottle of beer on a sunny Sunday evening into quite the adventure.
Heidelberg is a very small town, with just 150,000 inhabitants, and a large majority of the population study or work at the university. Moving here from a city ten times the size was initially a shock, but I am getting used to the slower pace of life here. I particularly appreciate the quiet, the lack of traffic jams, and our proximity to nature. On Sundays, my friends and I like to go for walks through the forest on one of the mountains bordering Heidelberg, which is five minutes by foot from the town centre.
While the language can be challenging at times, it is also exciting to see how quickly I progress. Dealing with administrative issues in German is a nuisance – but also a fun exercise to test my language ability. It’s a small feeling of accomplishment every time I walk out of a shop or a meeting, having achieved what I wanted with communication only in German. Furthermore, being surrounded by Europeans who speak three, four, five languages fluently, I am more motivated than ever to master the language.
One of the most rewarding things about living in Germany is my proximity to other countries. From Heidelberg, I have taken weekend trips to Munich, Luxembourg and Paris, and when I had a week-long holiday from classes I hopped on a short flight to Portugal. The freedom to travel easily and cheaply is one of the things I will miss most about living here.
But I do looking forward to getting back to the sea, New Zealand casualness, and cheap sushi when I return to Auckland in February.