Richelle Whitehead
Third Year, BA German
I am a third year BA German student on my Year Abroad in Bamberg, Germany and will be graduating in 2016. Here I will share experiences and hopefully some tips on studying abroad.

Germany In The Sun

I booked my final journey home last week. Since I arrived it’s felt like I have forever to explore and learn the language. Now I am in panic mode, trying to fit everything into the next four and a half weeks. One thing that is especially hard is the language. When I make mistakes or forget words I feel even worse because I know that in a month I won’t be here to ask my housemate what words mean or be able to practise speaking every day! I am also planning for moving. I arrived here with a small suitcase and a large ‘gap-year’ rucksack and will leave with the same.. but packing it all again is going to be a challenge! I will also have to do some administrative tasks before heading home which I will tell you about in a separate blog for those also going away on a Year Abroad. One of the truest pieces of advice about the Year Abroad is that is goes really quick. I cannot explain how unbelievable it is to think that I have been here for a whole year! It has been one of the most wonderful experiences and it is clear why so many people recommend it. Since the summer has arrived in Germany, we have spent a lot of time going outdoor swimming. It is in the woods and a section of the river is protected for open swimming. There is also a little pool and chairs for sunbathing and reading. Our heatwave started during exam time, so people would bring revision notes to read in the sun!   This town seems to get more and more beautiful:

Room with a view- the river you can swim in from the terrace

Room with a view- the river you can swim in from the terrace


Returning to Germany

In recent months, I have had very little to write about when it comes to my Year Abroad: the German university system means that the break between the Winter Semester and the Summer Semester was approximately 10 weeks.. If you’re planning on studying in Germany, this might be something to plan for and bear in mind.

I realised that most of my friends in Bamberg would be going home for the break and there wasn’t much going on in the city (its quite a small city), so I went back to the UK to enjoy a relaxing break at home with my family. I had no idea that the holidays were going to be so long, so I was caught off guard and with little to do.

I made a list of things I wanted to achieve, looked for some work experience, I passed my driving test and relaxed. But the whole time, I felt a growing concern that it would be hard to get back into speaking German everyday when I came back.

After a very long 2 months, I booked flights and headed back for the start of the new Semester! And I found that whilst it took a few days for my spoken German to really come back, my understanding of the language hadn’t gone. In fact, it was easier than ever before.

This term I get to study medieval German- something that I would have never been able to do in such depth before. I am also learning more about Linguistics in Morphology and Language Acquisition. The options available to Erasmus students and more generally, German Studies students, is far beyond that of anything I’ve experienced. The sheer size of the University means that they are able to offer this level of variety.

For now, I am enjoying being back and studying again and will update with more Year Abroad adventures!

Culture Shock.. in England?

I am still in Germany, currently preparing for exams here.

The exams here are quite lenient. I only have one exam which is the same as the German students. The rest are either exams for the classes where we learn German, or are content courses which are held as speaking exams (in my case, one on linguistics, the other on literature). Thus, there is little in the way of writing for me, which is an odd thing to get used to after two years at Queen Mary.

I came home to Wiltshire (south England, near Stonehenge), which was my first trip back to the UK in four months. Needless to say, it was an odd feeling. The first time you realise you can understand every word around you without having to concentrate was strange..
The best way I can describe it is like white noise. The sound of English becomes grating and in its own way, foreign. When I am in Germany and I understand snippets of the conversations that are going on around me, there is a satisfaction that I am getting better- that my language skills are improving. When you can suddenly hear everything that’s going on and comprehend it- that just gave me a headache.

After Christmas I returned to Germany. The Christmas Market had gone and in its own way, it was nice, as the town had become really busy and food shopping involved making your way through crowds of people looking at the stalls.

For now, greetings from a very cold Germany.

Christmas in Bamberg

Christmas in Bamberg

Being Far Away

Today, I wanted to write a little about being away from the people you love. Not all of my blog will be practical tips!

It is an odd thing not being able to spontaneously go home. When I lived in London, 20 quid and 2 hours on the tube and train was all I needed to enjoy all the lovely things about being in my home town. Now, I have to carefully plan when I can fly back. I need to check dates, my passport, pay 5 times the amount just to be in London, never mind at my parents..

In an odd way, I am grateful for this time away. Whilst not being around familar people is hard (especially when a webcam takes four weeks to deliver and you are without skype), it is the one thing that truely makes you appreciate everything you have.

I will forever be grateful to those people who continue to be in my life despite me being far away. I love them even more for it. Absence has certainly made the heart grow fonder.

Why it’s hard speaking German…

For many people, it was the norm to grow up bilingual. And if, like me, you didn’t enjoy such a culturally rich experience, you may have an understanding of how hard languages can be. Learning a language as an adult is a frustrating experience, but one I am really enjoying.

I often get asked if I’m fluent. I always answered ‘no’, or that ‘I could get by’. This confuses some people- how can you be doing a degree and not be fluent.. ? Isn’t it just learning words?

It occured to me that many people have little or no experience of living abroad or learning a language. So, I have thought of a way to explain everyday difficulties when trying to articulate your thoughts and have translated a standard conversation that you may have in a bakery into direct English- word for word.


‘Greet God. Can I to you of help be?’

‘I would have gladly four rolls. What costs that?’

‘One Euro four and twenty. Is there extra there-to?’

‘No, thank you’

‘I wish to you a beautiful day still’


Speaking a language involves breaking all your word order rules that come so naturally. When I say it’s tiring speaking another language, I hope this clarifies why 🙂




Learning The Rules

A few days ago I found myself on my bike, on a cycle path that was blocked by a rather large group of German tourists. As I was carrying my heavy shopping and was slow anyway, I decided just to wait.. they would notice it was a cycle path soon enough and move out of the way, right?

They didn’t.. so I was left awkwardly peddling at walking pace.. my British brain couldn’t bring myself to ring the bell. That was far too rude, ordering people out of the way… or was it?

Then an older German gentleman said to me: ‘Sie muessen klingen’- You have to ring the bell. Suddenly my grammatic analysis came flooding back- was he being polite, was it a suggestion, was he demonstrating how appauled he was at my rudeness by his choice of verb? I quickly replied that it didn’t really matter, as I was slow on my bike anyway. And as I said that, the group of people coincidentally parted like the Red Sea and I went on my way.

It is a little talked about fact, that blending into a society is often more subtle than expected. It was confusing to me, that a stranger was encouraging me to do something that I considered quite impolite. But here he was, finding what I was doing to be impolite. Why wait, when you have a perfectly good bell to use?

Slowly but surely, my actions and mannerisms are changing to become what many British people may find to be rude. But what is important is not that I am considered rude by British standards, but that I am being a polite member of my new German society. It may be embarrassing at first to make these mistakes, but you can rely on a stranger to let you know what you’re doing wrong. Learning from your mistakes doesn’t just apply to language. Sometimes, you’re saved by the bell.

Arrival In Germany

I have arrived in Bamberg, Germany!

Its been three weeks and 2 days since I got here and I can honestly say it is the longest 3 weeks and 2 days of my life!

I have spent the time blending into and adopting all things German: I have a bike, I recycle and I go to the bakery for fresh rolls most days. It’s a wonderful way of life.

I have picked a bakery that I like, which is on the way to the university. Its expensive, small and the dough is undercooked. But I go there most days, because when I didn’t know how to say ‘pretzel’, I asked and they told me. It’s wonderful having the confidence to ask what something is called in German. People are willing to teach you their language, because you’re willing to learn it.

I have also discovered that I just so happened to have landed in a town which has a peculiar love of tea.. It’s very odd and my British brain still dislikes being served ‘Kaffeesahne’ (coffee cream) as a milk replacement..  Also, as much as they may like tea, they can’t bake scones. Not that they don’t taste good… they’re just not scones.. they are biscuits at best.

All I can say, to anyone thinking of going abroad is do it. And believe people when they say its amazing. Not every minute of every day will be amazing. But a significant percentage of it will be and all the little niggles are entirely worth it when you’re looking at this view from your bedroom window…



The Art of Year Abroad Packing

To roll or not to roll.. ? The advice varies on whether to roll clothes or fold… Does rolling reduce creases? Save space…??

The internet offers a variety of tips and tricks and I’m even starting to develop my own. So far, the best advice I can give is to use vacuum bags. I have currently managed to reduce my entire wardrobe to a carry-on hand luggage bag!

I have also managed to find small things to take as sentimental items/decoration. Mine include pictures, coasters and my Newcastle United Football Club scarf. These are all easy to transport, small, light and will hopefully make my room a little more like home.

Packing for a year abroad certainly isn’t easy. Most articles and ‘This Morning’ segments are to do with holidaying and generally tell me to use travel sized bottles and plan my outfits so that they can be worn at the beach and at the buffet all-inclusive dinner. This is less helpful when you’re in a German town heading out to university.

Here are some of my own tips that I’ve stumbled upon:

1) Think about what you need for Uni (if you’re going): canvas bags can be a better and smaller alternative to rucksacks and try putting all your important documents into a folder that can double up as your university folder.

2) Take full bottles of toiletries, rather than half used. There is nothing more demoralising than the realisation you are packing a bottle half full of air. Oh and a pack of tissues or a toilet roll is an essential.

3) If you can, use small sachets of coffee and sugar and individually wrapped tea. For me, home is where I can make a cuppa and put it on a coaster. Small packs of UHT milk can be found really cheaply and will bridge the time between arriving and being able to pop to the local shop for milk.

4) Think about what food products you’d miss. See if there are alternatives in the country you’re going to and if not, you can justify taking them! They are a small home comfort. For me, a bar of Cadburys chocolate or digestive biscuits shall be going in my bag…

5) Plastic mugs/plates/bowls/cutlery are great. Light, cheap and pretty much unbreakable.


On that note, I’m going to end this segment of my blog, having realised that three of my five tips involve tea paraphernalia.. (feeling very British)


6 days to go. Will update from continental Europe!


Still Awaiting the Year Abroad

As my Facebook feed gradually fills with final ‘going away messages’, tagged at the airport, followed by pictures of my friends new abodes, I can’t help but feel restless.

It is two and a half weeks until I head to Gatwick to join the rest of my year group on a 10 month stay in Germany. This excitement however, is met with an unwillingness to pack, debating the pros and cons of travel sized toiletries and working out when to cancel my phone contract. Sorting out banking, exchanging money and making last plans with people you might not see until Christmas are all things that I wasn’t expecting to have to do. I also spend far too much time trawling through the Year Abroad Handbook, a helpful 148 page guide to living abroad and all the various troubles, bureaucracy and paperwork that comes with it…

Although it is only Germany, it does feel like preparing for the North Pole. Every eventuality is factored into the approximately 12 separate packing lists I’ve made up until now. A final list has yet to be decided upon..

Also, I’m planning how to transport tea and coffee over there.. You can take the girl out of Britain….

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