First Week

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I’ve been in Germany for over a week now, and I’ve gone through quite a few changes in mentality. On my first day I felt exhausted and disoriented. Although the flight took around nine hours, by the time I got to Bonn, I felt as if it had passed in the space of a few minutes. From that moment on, everything else crept by in slow motion. I was having trouble comprehending the fact that I was in a different country, and it didn’t feel so much exciting as it did disorienting. I guess that’s what happens when you suddenly go from a quiet, empty summer to a busy, bustling city where you have to walk for minutes on end to reach all of your destinations and follow a tightly-packed schedule of mandatory activities.

Of all things, I wasn’t bothered about the walking. I enjoyed walking around the campus and using the buses in Gainesville, as it was a refreshing break from life in my hometown, where you have to drive practically everywhere due to long distances. Simply going to class, or walking back from a faraway restaurant after a meal, or climbing the stairs to reach your dorm room is exercise in and of itself, and I think it’s a much healthier way to live to be in constant motion throughout the day, even if it’s relatively low-key, as opposed to alternating between long periods of sitting/driving and intense exercising. The amount of walking I do in Bonn is more than in Gainesville, though, because there’s no central campus with all the necessary buildings conveniently placed near each other. Rather, the university’s buildings are dispersed throughout the city, though it’s sometimes the case that certain buildings are grouped together. The main class building of the university, or Universitätshauptgebäude, is close to the international center and to the Poppelsdorfer Schloss, another class building. But then we have the building where the international students take their German classes during the orientation, which is on a different street with cafes and stores.

I arrived in Bonn two days ahead of time, so during the weekend there wasn’t much to do but walk around the city and visit the places I’d have to go to on my first day. During both days it rained on and off, and the streets were sparsely populated, mostly by lone pedestrians and bikers. I was in a bit of a solemn mood, and the days seemed so slow and empty that I wasn’t sure how I’d survive the rest of the year here. But once Monday rolled around and I was able to get busy, things picked up and became much better.

The official Arrival Day was similar to UF Preview: all the exhaustion and paperwork, but without the tours. First off, I got my welcome folder, which had my bus ticket, blank forms for my future city registration application, temporary student ID until I’d get a real one, and instructions from the Studentenwerk (Student Housing Office) on how to sign my housing contract. Then I went upstairs where two other people were waiting and paid my Sozialbeitrag (a one-time student fee) and signed up for health insurance. Unlike at UF, the signing was done completely on paper and payments were made in cash. (Granted, I don’t know how these procedures go for regular Bonn students; maybe they have an online component as well.) Then, the next day, we had our first orientation event, which was a general information session in one of the main building’s lecture halls. Then the next day, at 9:00, our group of 70+ international students was split off into groups and sent to our first German class of the month, and the program began.

Most of the international students in our group are from Taiwan, Korea, and China. There are five other Americans, but none of them were in my German class group, so the only way I could get by with the other students was to speak German. I enjoyed the opportunity, though, and got so used to resorting to German to get my point across, even if it sounded broken at times, that when I bumped into one of the American students and spoke English with her, the language felt strange on my tongue. I’ve also spoken mostly German with the program directors and signed up for the German version of all the tours and excursions we went on throughout the day. I’ve found that I understand quite a lot of what everyone says, and I’m able to get my point across in situations like ordering food, so I figure only thing left to do is keep on going and using the language until it becomes second-nature. People are generally patient here and will be happy to repeat something if you don’t catch their words right away.

There’s so much more that I could write, but if I did, then this post would be 1,60934 kilometers long, so I guess I’ll have to find a way to organize my thoughts. Until then… I’ll be here. Tschüss!

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