de-DEen-US

Erasmus: My year abroad in England


Dear diary,

I probably had one of the best years of my life during my time in England. Yes, I know, that's a phrase you hear from everyone. But it's true! For me, England was like a break from my everyday duties. I had to do far less for university than in Germany. I was able to do a lot with new friends or go out partying. I didn't feel guilty if I spent a day just watching Netflix series. And I had plenty of time for sport. In short: I had few worries and commitments and could simply live my day as I pleased.

I also met a lot of new people. I was also able to travel a lot. And the most important thing: I learned something for my life! For me, the two semesters in England were an experience that I wouldn't trade under any circumstances.

Back in Germany, I'm always asked questions about my time abroad. No matter what the question is, I always give one answer: “Definitely go abroad, take the experience with you!!!” But this answer doesn't answer all the questions. That's why I'll try to answer the most important questions about my Erasmus stay below:

WHY DID YOU SPEND TWO SEMESTERS ABROAD AND NOT JUST ONE?

It was clear to me from the very beginning that I wanted to spend two semesters abroad. Even before I traveled to England, I thought that I could only really get to know the language and culture during a longer stay. And in hindsight, I can actually agree with that.

I learned an incredible amount in the first semester, while what I learned really took hold in the second semester. What's more, an amazing number of German-speaking Erasmus students spent a semester abroad at the University of Hull. As I had a lot of contact with the Erasmus students at the beginning and I was at the University of Hull with a friend from Germany at the same time anyway, we still spoke a lot of German in the first semester. It wasn't until most of the Erasmus students went back home after a semester that we really made contact with our English friends and flatmates. This allowed the English to really settle in.

I also spent a lot of time partying with my Erasmus friends in the first semester, while I had a lot of time to reflect in the second semester. This time in particular was incredibly important for me to work through problems, develop new perspectives and, above all, become more mature (I talk more about this in my blog post “Solving problems by traveling”). So the second semester allowed me to develop my personality.

The fact that everything can take a little longer is mainly due to the time component. Students who only go abroad for one semester usually only stay abroad for the duration of their studies, so they are usually only abroad for 3 to 4 months. However, because I studied in England for two semesters, I was also there for the semester break of the first semester. So I was abroad for 9 months straight away. So the second semester doesn't just give you twice as much time abroad, it makes a significant difference in terms of time. Of course, this extra time helps you to settle in better and gain a deeper insight into the host country. Often you have only settled in after one semester and are then torn out of your environment again.

As a law student, the year abroad also meant that I had to study a year longer overall. Because of the peculiarities of the legal systems, I couldn't get credit for the courses abroad. This meant that my state examination was postponed by a year. This often puts some students off. Instead, they only want to go abroad for one semester and then start preparing for the exam at the same time as their fellow students, so that they can then benefit from the free extension. However, this also postpones the state examination by six months. You also have enough time abroad to repeat exam material. Plus: When I came back, I had time off from May to October. So I used this time to prepare for the exam. So it doesn't really make a difference whether you spend one or two semesters abroad. But the extra semester will make a difference from a linguistic and personal perspective. Among other things, you will take a lot with you that will stay with you after your studies.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE ENGLAND? HOW DID IT COME ABOUT THAT YOU WENT TO THE UNIVERSITY OF HULL?

I learned exactly three languages at school: English, French and Spanish. I was best at English after my a-level, which is because I learned English very early on and it's a very simple language. Therefore, it would probably have been more interesting for me to learn French or Spanish in more depth. However, I still often felt insecure in English and it is most important for me to speak English fluently for my future career. That's why I really wanted to go to an English-speaking country so that I could speak the language better.

However, the University of Hull was not my first choice! At the time of my application abroad, Heinrich Heine University only had three partner law schools in English-speaking countries: Suffolk Law School in Boston (USA), the University of Hull (England) and a private university in Australia. I would not have been able to afford the private university in Australia. I would have had to pay high tuition fees. The same applied to stays abroad at universities that were not partner universities of HHU. That's why I could only choose between Boston or Hull. My first choice was Boston. At the time, the USA and a city as big as Boston simply appealed to me more. Unfortunately, there were only two places available there, for which a lot of students from my semester had applied. So I only got my second choice: the University of Hull.

Ultimately, however, I'm almost happier that I studied in England. Because studying abroad in Boston would have been much more expensive and I wouldn't have received Erasmus support. As a result, I was able to travel a lot more in England and get to know the country. I probably wouldn't have been able to do that in the USA. In addition, my friend Kim was also accepted at the University of Hull, so I was able to travel to England with her. Our year in England brought us so close together that I wouldn't have wanted to miss the time for the sake of our friendship. Looking back, I also think that England has a very special charm that has found a place in my heart.

HOW DID YOU FINANCE YOUR YEAR ABROAD?

A huge advantage for me in terms of funding was the Erasmus support. I received financial support of EUR 9 per day through the Erasmus program. Calculated over the entire time, this was not a small amount. The support depends on the destination country and the university's financial resources. For England, it has unfortunately been discontinued due to Brexit and England's withdrawal from the Erasmus agreement. However, you can get Erasmus support in any (other) EU country. I would therefore consider traveling to another European country instead. As far as the English language is concerned, Malta and Ireland and probably the Scandinavian countries are the right places for you. Many Eastern European countries are also very interesting! A stay in Spain, Italy or France also makes a lot of sense, as you will learn both the local language and English there!

Apart from that, I looked for a student job a year before my stay abroad and saved as much as possible. Unfortunately, my parents weren't able to give me much support, so I had to rely on the student job and saving money. For me, this meant that I had to go without something here and there. But the savings paid off in full when I was abroad!

In the end, my finances were made up of Erasmus support + my savings + child benefit + a small amount of support from my grandma. Calculated as a lump sum, I had around EUR 10,000 available for 9 months. That sounds like a lot of money at first, but around EUR 5,400 of that went on rent (around EUR 600 per month for a small student room in a hall of residence). In addition, the cost of living in England is more expensive than in Germany. And I wanted to enjoy my year abroad. That means I traveled, went partying and did sports. So the money quickly became less. But my financial resources (especially my savings) actually lasted right to the end! I just had to budget properly here and there. But that ultimately taught me something for the future!

WHAT DIFFERENCES DID YOU NOTICE COMPARED TO GERMANY? WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU HAD TO CHANGE IN YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE?

Every country has its own peculiarities! That's why I think you'll notice differences in every country compared to Germany. Even if you “only” go to another European country or to one of Germany's neighboring countries. However, you will notice far fewer differences to Germany in other European countries than in Asia, Australia or the USA, for example.

Nevertheless, I did notice some differences to Germany in England. It starts with the fact that cars in the UK drive on the left, whereas the majority of Europe drives on the right. This is an adjustment for the first few days. The way the cars drive also determines your own way of crossing the road. Kim and I almost got hit by a car once or twice because we were looking out for cars in the wrong direction. Also, the transition from England back to Germany was strange at first. Back in Germany, I twice had the situation where I wanted to drive out of a one-way street and first had to think about which lane I was driving in...

The worst difference for me, however, was the food! The English are not exactly known for good food. We didn't even last a month eating in the cafeteria of our hall of residence. The food was just way too greasy and unhealthy for us... That's why Kim and I didn't adapt to the English food. Instead, we always cooked our own food. We usually got everything we needed in the supermarket. Only here and there were certain foods that were not available in Germany. For example, nobody in the supermarket in Hull knew kohlrabi. There were also only stock cubes and no grained stock for seasoning. However, we were very lucky that the Co-op around the corner sold delicious “German Rye Bread”. Not even my best friend in London had that! Fortunately, we didn't have to swap the good German bread for white toast. All in all, we were able to maintain our own (German) eating habits very well!

But there are also some positive differences that I noticed. The English are more polite in many ways! The English don't know how to cut in line. That's why there is always a nice queue everywhere, for example when getting on the bus. Everyone enters the bus one after the other in a relaxed manner without pushing. And when the English get on the bus at the front, they greet the bus driver nicely first. How many people would do that here in Germany? That's right, hardly anyone. That's why I got a surprised look when I greeted the bus driver back in Germany. I also noticed that the English are much more advanced than us Germans when it comes to homosexuality and diversity. I regularly came across two men or two women snogging and holding hands. Nobody gave them a dirty look.

There are certainly more differences between Germany and England! But I didn't have to adapt much in my everyday life as a result. And the few things that I did adapt to (like queuing or saying hello to the bus driver), I really enjoyed doing! What I found most interesting was immersing myself in a new culture and getting to know other ways of thinking!

DID YOU HAVE ANY DIFFICULTIES DURING YOUR TIME ABROAD?

Puhhh, when I think about it, I can't think of any major difficulties. However, this could be largely due to the Erasmus program. As an Erasmus student, you only have to fill out a few forms and the universities do the rest for you. This means that there are no major difficulties in terms of organizing your stay abroad. I didn't have any major problems with the language either. After all, I didn't start from scratch. So I may not have understood something here and there at the beginning, but I was able to explain it relatively quickly from the context, by asking questions or with the help of a translation app. Overall, everyone was always very helpful. If I had any problems or questions, there was always someone to talk to, whether it was the Erasmus representative, the professors or group leaders, the staff in the hall of residence or just a fellow student. And if need be, Google could help me! So I didn't have any major problems that arose.

I can only think of one event that I would classify as a difficulty! My friend Kim suddenly fell ill in England and had a really bad earache (as it turned out later, she had a tympanic effusion). So we made an appointment for her at the doctor. When we arrived at the doctor's, a nurse took a quick look in her ear (despite the appointment) and said: “If you're still in pain in a week, come back again”. Fortunately, Kim was then able to contact her ear doctor in Germany, who diagnosed her over the phone and sent a medication to England through Kim's mother. The medication made her feel better straight away! So that was another situation that we were able to resolve relatively easily. So always keep calm and, if in doubt, just change your mind here and there!

HAVE YOU HAD ANY LINGUISTIC MISUNDERSTANDINGS FROM TIME TO TIME?

If you're not a native speaker, you'll probably never be without linguistic misunderstandings in a foreign country! But at least in English, I haven't encountered them too often. On the one hand, this may be due to the fact that I started learning English at elementary school. On the other hand, I was always keen to learn a lot in terms of language and therefore preferred to ask/look things up more often.

Which I personally found rather more difficult: Getting humor and emotions across in the right language. Sometimes I didn't quite understand an English joke. Or I couldn't tell my own joke in a funny way. In addition, serious conversations or conversations about the emotional world can sometimes be misunderstood due to the language barrier. Sometimes the only thing that helps here is a long explanation.

WHAT ARE THREE THINGS YOU ONLY LEARN DURING A YEAR ABROAD?

I have learned a lot! But I'll never know whether I would have done it any other way. But I do think that a longer period abroad has a decisive influence on the following three points:

1. Language: this point is probably obvious. You can certainly learn a language well at (language) school. But in my opinion, you only really learn a language abroad or through communication in the respective language beyond school.

2. Reflection & development: This is something you can certainly learn in other ways. However, I think that an experience abroad helps the process of reflection immensely. On the one hand, it is often easier to reflect because of the distance. On the other hand, many new experiences flow into the reflection while abroad, which ultimately leads to personal development. I could clearly see this in myself and also in several close friends who had been abroad! All of them have developed in a certain way that I couldn't see in those who stayed at home. (See more in-depth information on this topic here).

3. Open-mindedness/ broadening your horizons: By spending time abroad, you not only get to know a new culture, but also new personalities with different views. If you deal with this openly and critically, it can significantly develop your world view, your empathy and your understanding. For example, I can now definitely understand some of the opinions and actions of a British friend, even though I don't share them with him. But understanding is the first step towards good communication and a good relationship!

Overall, my Erasmus time was a really easy, carefree time in my life. I often think back to it and miss it very much! Therefore, I can only emphasize again that I can definitely recommend a stay abroad - whether during or after school or during or after university or maybe at a completely different time in your life! Not only will you get to know a new culture and language, but you will also develop your personality and become more independent!

If you have any more questions, feel free to get in touch with me via email, Instagram, TikTok or Facebook! I'm happy to answer any questions and am always happy to help! Until then, I wish you all the best and maybe even a great time abroad!

xx Chiara