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Everything I learned in Germany (and why I am eager to return)

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As someone who had always loved adventures, I thought embarking on an Erasmus+ mobility semester would give me an opportunity to learn more about the world. Little did I know how much it would teach me about myself.
Mariana sitting by Lake Constance, saying goodbye to the ducks.
Sitting by Lake Constance, with ducks and a swan surrounding me.

It might feel like a huge cliché to start my last article the way I started my first. But truly, no other quote represents what I am feeling right now better than this one:

Here’s what everyone will tell you about studying abroad: it will change you. Deeply.
And that is the truth.
You won’t believe it, though. Not at first.
- Mariana

As someone who has always loved adventures, I thought embarking on an Erasmus+ mobility semester would give me an opportunity to learn more about the world. Little did I know how much it would teach me about myself.

 

I crossed out most of the items in my bucket list, but I gained so much more.

Heidelberg in the snow - me in the foreground, with the castle high above little houses.
Heidelberg in the snow

I got the opportunity to study in one of the best universities in the world, and the oldest in Germany. In Heidelberg, I was never allowed to sit comfortably at the corner: I was constantly challenged, both personally and academically, to leave my comfort zone and think. I did not only deepen my knowledge in my field, International Relations, but was able to grow in other areas, from Sociology to History to Translation Studies. I crossed out the goal of writing more papers and essays successfully.

I now leave the country knowing that I saw it. Truly saw it. Every weekend, I took a train somewhere. I found out that I am able to find my way without a map. From Berlin to rural southern Germany, I had a glimpse of the uniqueness of every state and city. No matter how big, Germany is anything but homogeneous. Every town has its cake, its traditions, its landmarks, and its rich culture and history.

The Sießen monastery in the snow
The monastery of Sießen in the snow

I forced myself to learn German at its most authentic version: out in the streets. I remember I was extremely shy when I arrived and felt the urge to switch to English every time someone approached me. Today, I am a different person – constantly making jokes, listening to music, reading the news, and rehearsing conversations in a language that is not my own. As a romance language speaker who has always loved learning new languages, German is a challenge, and a welcomed one, which I am eager to keep on pursuing even back home.

I became more aware of Europe, and of the world. I guess that is something that happens every time you travel – but being truly immersed in a different country, with such an international landscape, truly made a difference for me. I had never had the chance to speak with so many different people; from different countries, with different interests and perspectives. Not only as an IR student, but as a citizen, I feel like this experience really contributed to opening my eyes to the beauty of diversity.

In the Heidelberg Christmas Market - little colorful houses and wooden stands in the background.
In the Heidelberg Christmas Market

Among many skills that will surely be pivotal to my future, my Erasmus in Germany taught me that I can do it. Whatever I set my mind to. I overcame many challenges which, back when I was experiencing them, felt like the end of the world. And, because the world didn't end, I am here today, sharing my story, and everything I have learned with you. Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland - we will surely meet again in the future! And to everyone - teachers, colleagues, friends, family, administration from both ends - thank you for making a foreign country a home. Germany will always be a part of me.

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