This program has been around for over sixty years, so it’s understandably gone through various changes. A while ago, the Bonn Buddy program was structured so that there was one buddy for a large number of people, whereas now, every person who signs up for the Buddy program gets their own buddy. That makes a big difference in terms of the quality of contact you have with the other person! While I can only speak for the way the program is at this moment, one thing I noticed that I think will continue on for later years is that it is very well-structured and organized. The Orientation Course really is what it’s described to be – there is a German class that meets every weekday, optional workshops that meet twice a week from the third week on, and excursions to various nearby areas that give a wonderful glimpse into different aspects of German life, history, and culture. It’s been only a few weeks since my program’s Orientation Course ended, but looking back, I can definitely say that this will be one of the things that will have impacted my time here the most.
One of the highlights of the orientation program are the excursions they offer to various cities and landmarks nearby. This time we went to a winery for a wine tasting, to the Marksburg, and to Trier. All the excursions involve tours, where you can choose to follow the English or German language group, and many of them last for either half a day or a whole day. We also took some mini-excursions through areas confined to Bonn, such as a Beethoven-themed tour, and a visit to a museum that featured German history after World War II. Then, towards the end, we went hiking in the Siebengebirge, a rock formation near the Rhein. Not only will you take great pictures, but you’ll experience lots of different modes of transportation, like the U-Bahn, bus, and your own two feet walking through nature.
Wine tasting at Mayschoss included a complimentary dinner with bread, salami, cheese, and salad. Not bad!
One of the photos I took on the tour at Marksburg.
An U-Bahn station.
The German Class:
About a month before departure, the program staff emailed me the link to an online language placement exam that would determine which level of German instruction I would be placed into during the four weeks. I ended up achieving a B1 level on the exam, which placed me into the class that strove for a B2 level. The class met every weekday morning from 9:00-12:30. I’ve had one or two classes that lasted for this long before, and the strain was always twofold – one, to process almost four hours’ worth of constant information, and two, to physically last that amount of time in a chair, writing notes. But this German classes was different. The teacher didn’t just lecture and drill us for three-and-a-half hours, but also gave us speaking exercises, roleplays, and games. There was also a bit of homework, but it was mostly to just finish exercises in the worksheets she handed out. On the very last day of class, we took a test that covered what we learned, the grade of which would determine the course recommendation we’d get for the semester.
During the Orientation Course, you get the opportunity to tie up all the administrative loose ends related to your stay in Germany. The very first thing we did was settle into our dorms and obtain a special confirmation letter from our dorm manager (Hausmeister). The process of getting your room key is threefold: First you go to the housing office in person to sign your contract, then pay the initial deposit, and finally go with the fee receipt and signed contract to your Hausmeister. This can be a problem, however, if the Hausmeister’s office hours aren’t until later in the day, or worse, have already gone by. In my case, I was able to call my Hausmeister and he told me that I could come by right then. He turned out to be very friendly and approachable, and the dorm itself was fairly small and quaint. Hearing stories from the other international students, who had been placed in bigger dorms and had less-easygoing staff, really made me appreciate what I had.
Aside from giving you your keys, the Hausmeister also gives you a paper confirming that you’ve moved in, which comes in handy a few weeks later, when it becomes time to fill out the application to register with the city of Bonn. For that, the program staff set aside a large part of the first orientation meeting, in which they walked us through the application form step-by-step, then gathered all of our application materials.
Once you’re registered by the city office, you get a confirmation letter, with which you can register with the university library, among other things. But most importantly, you’ll need a copy of it when the time comes to go to the immigration office and apply for a residence permit, thus legalizing your stay in Germany for the one or two semesters you’ll be studying there. American citizens don’t need visas to enter or stay in Germany as long as it’s for a period of 90 days or less. After that, you need another form of documentation. Some of the other international students had gotten student visas that covered the entire duration of their program, but many others didn’t. So, for us, the program staff had a predesignated day on which we all went to the Immigration Office together and met with the staff during individual appointment times to get all the forms filled out. You’ll get an ID card three or four weeks later, and you can start showing that to people when they ask for your ID.
There are lots of other things that Direct Exchange Students have to take care of that JYP (Junior Year Program) students don’t, like opening a bank account and paying the registration fee to the university (necessary for obtaining a student ID).I’m not too familiar with how things work for the JYP students here, but it seems like in their case, a lot of the aspects of Bonn’s study abroad program are already paid for, possibly included in their own program fees. It’s just a matter of what kind of exchange agreement your university has with the University of Bonn. In UF’s case, the exchange agreement is tuition-only (meaning UF’s program fee covers only tuition), and as a result, things like the dorm rental payment and university registration fee have to come personally from you. Since much of fee payment is done through the bank, you’ll have to open a German bank account. Then you’ll have to sign documents that allow the Housing Office, University of Bonn, etc. to draw money directly from your account to fulfill the fee obligations. Unfortunately you’ll have to make the appointment for the bank account on your own time.
By the end of the month, having taken care of all of that and gone through four weeks that burst at the seams from activities, I felt like no semester would scare me.. xP It reminded me a lot of UF preview, actually, especially on Arrival Day, when you’re sent from one station to the next and get handed paper after paper. Then, of course, you get a nice feel for what life in the city will be like, what your morning commute will be like, and the places you’ll want to explore more.
1. Time flies. By the time I had reached the end of September and looked back, it felt as if I had just arrived in Bonn yesterday.
2. You get close to the people in your German class group, and it’s nice to be with people who are in the same situation as you, being exchange students in a new country. In my case, we all went to the nearby Mensa (cafeteria) together after German class, which made for great conversation.
3. It’s a blessing in disguise to have a class group consist entirely of foreigners who don’t share your language. You end up having to resort to German, and even though your conversations are often clunky and ridden with errors, you’re still exercising your language skills.
4. The Orientation program is basically your life for that whole month. It’s an academic/study program, a touristy/cultural excursion program, and an administrative workshop all in one. I came home exhausted nearly every evening, but it was worth it.
5. The process always sounds a lot more complicated than it ends up being. The best piece of advice I can offer is not to get worked up about future procedures too early and do things step-by-step.