It started as a one-way ticket journey to leave my home of birth and find a new home of heart. After passing 6.369 kilometers on land and by air, I landed in the early morning of Oct 6th 2017 at Düsseldorf Flughafen. To be honest, throughout the flight, I was still asking myself whether moving to a country where I’d have to start everything from the scratch was the right decision. Before starting it all, I was comfortable with my expert life in Beijing, however, my teenage dreams to study in Germany made it happen eventually.
As soon as I landed and checked out, I felt like I was nowhere in this world. I realized that I had already arrived in another part of the world and that I didn’t know anyone. I felt like a complete alien and had almost booked the next flight back to Mongolia. But somewhere deep down in my heart there was a little excited voice, saying ‘you made it till here Ari, so now carry on your journey and embrace the new experiences’. I took a deep breath, whispered to myself, “I can do it!” and headed to Duisburg.
Everything is different here – from the food to the schooling system. My classes are different, my essays are different, and my grading is different. Even how Germans number the floor is different from how it is in my country. My dormitory room was assigned in the 1st floor. When I first arrived to my dormitory, without knowing about the EG I mistakenly entered a different apartment.
Culture shock or a lesson for life
The things about German culture and lifestyle I had read before coming were mostly true and realizing them or facing them in reality was tough. In the first week at the university, we were welcomed and properly guided through well-organized orientation days, informative sessions, as well as language-advancing courses. But there is not so much support for international students regarding non-school concerned official documents such as the residence permit and other procedural issues. Especially for non-EU students like me, the first month is real madness,full of stress, business and culture shocks. Although things were not easy in the beginning, it got smoother once I settled things down.
Living on a different continent is a complete new adventure. It surprised me how people drink beer in the public transportation, at the campus and in midday. Beer is sorted differently and cheap, while a glass of water served in a restaurant might cost more. Germany has nine to 13 public holidays, and I enjoy German carnivals. On a train full of passengers to Düsseldorf I saw almost everyone from a kid to an old man, wearing costumes, singing and laughing together. It was so joyful to see how easily Germans break the barriers between them and others. All the experiences I am making are new lessons that help me see things differently and think differently.
New friends – new family
We all know that friends are important. They change our boring rainy days into super relaxing days with long-hour coffee talks. They make our homesick emo days into days full of laughter and sunshine. But how easy is it to find friends when we don’t know anyone? Well, for me it was not as difficult as I thought. The UDE offers an ideal multiculti environment. Socializing with my international classmates was quite easy at the start, and I soon expanded my social network by joining several student groups that organize events and activities; fun and good times guaranteed!
Those acquaintances who say a simple “Hello” later become good friends. It is amazing that almost everyone at my institute of East Asian Studies speaks more than three languages: English, German, one Asian language that was chosen for the major and their native languages in the case of international students. This builds a great opportunity for us to make language tandem partners with each other. For instance, I am currently learning Chinese and German, and I have got tandem partners for these two languages. Friends I made here are the biggest part of my stay and I am looking forward to meeting many more interesting souls.
Surviving in Germany without speaking German
New languages are always overwhelming. German is a difficult language to learn, especially if it isn’t practiced often, and it has rules that can be frustrating to get a grip of. Many international students are afraid of being misunderstood or of mispronouncing, that is why they shy away when talking to Germans. I could not learn any German before coming here, except two words: Hallo and Gut.
The fact is that Germany is a non-English speaking country and unsurprisingly you have to face some language barriers. However, in spite of some difficulties, especially at local offices and at the banks, I am so glad that most of the staff members at UDE are friendly to international students and speak very good English. Because I was interested in learning German, I immediately started learning it and was eventually able to have a basic conversation in German within nine months. It has made my life much easier since I know a little bit of German because it enabled me to get some ideas of what is been said and to express myself.
Being a Mongolian student at the university
Since the UDE is full of international students from all corners of the world, it almost doesn’t feel special to be a non-German. But it is so much fun to be from a country that people have almost no idea of, except its name. Mongolia has only three million habitants and not many Mongolians live in Europe.
As soon as people know that I am Mongolian, chances are two out of three people ask me something about my country. No wonder why, the majority of Germans probably only heard of Mongolia from the song “Dschinghis Khan” (1979) by a German band of the same name. I have been asked questions like “Do people ride a horse in the cities?”, “Is Mongolia an independent country?” and some people even made me burst into laughter with their funny questions. Anyway, I feel honored when people show their interest in knowing me and my country.
Being Asian, I am often considered Chinese or Korean and to be honest, it feels a bit annoying when strangers say Nihao (Hello in Chinese) to me on the street, which happened several times. But I guess I am getting used to this.
Student life: Campus festivals and activities
Let’s talk about what I am really going to miss after my graduation. There are many different activities the UDE offers and these are the great chances to get to know more people or start a conversation with your campus acquaintances. Stammtisch, for example, helped me to make some of my very first friends. There were dormitory game nights, dormitory BBQs, faculty BBQs and many more activities. Café Lingua is my favorite one because I can practice my foreign languages with native speakers, meet friends, and even play some games.
There are also many campus festivals and events, which easily showed me the differences between student life in Germany and in Asia (I can pretty much generalize it as Asia based on my study experiences and travels in most Asian countries). I couldn’t imagine drinking alcohol and dancing to Techno music at the university, but I really like the idea that it offers openness and freedom to students. In some years time if someone asked me what my best memories at the UDE were, I would probably talk about those campus festivals and student events.
Are German students hard to approach?
Socializing with the local students seemed to be more complicated, perhaps because of the “temporary” status of the international students. However, I have noticed that knowing a bit of German language helps to increase the chances of making German friends. From my observation, many Germans do not like to speak English, although they have good English skills, and when with friends they prefer speaking their mother language to feel comfortable and to make the conversation smooth.
This is the reason why international students often find it hard to make German friends. But if there is no language barrier, they are very friendly and easy to get along with. When I speak with my German friends in German, It feels like entering a completely different world. Once they break the barriers between foreigners they open up themselves more; and they make very honest and good friends.
Studying at the UDE is a great experience. I got to speak another tongue, learned about my good and bad sides, strengths and weaknesses, without even planning to. It is not only a physical journey but also journey of mind, heart and self, just like an emotional rollercoaster. But more than anything else, this journey has really made me grow up and be able to be 100 percent responsible for my own life – friends, decisions and steps taken all by myself are the biggest and the most wooing upside.
I am on a different continent – too far to reach my home and too far to be reached. When there is homesickness, nostalgia, or a cultural shock bothers me, I take a deep breath and tell myself “You made it this far and you can make it further still”.
If you want to get in contact with Ari, just write her an E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org