First and foremost, the best advice I could give would be to heed all advice/preparation that Katy Lane gives you. All the “work” is for your benefit and eases the transition into what will be a difficult and changeful experience. Initially, I had intended to take a cab from Frankfurt airport to Vallendar. After running into another exchange student at a different school in Germany, she helped me realize how expensive a cab would be. I made a split decision and decided to take a train to Koblenz and get a cab from there in a means to save money. The only thing I neglected to take into account was that I had no preparation for this alternative route. Had I followed Katy’s advice, I would have been much more prepared to take on this seemingly minute challenge.
Recommendations: Plan a mode of travel and stick to it as you will skip out on a lot of headache and anxiety. Also, have an ample amount of Euros on you and do not try and use the currency exchange at the airport as the exchange rate was 1.34 to 1 when I went and they tried to charge 1.54 to 1. Give your bank a heads up and have them give you Euros before you leave.
As soon as me and the other exchange student parted ways, I was lost. I realized rather quickly that the best way to ensure my safe arrival would be to humble myself and ask a bountiful amount of questions to strangers. I can’t tell you how many times I asked to make sure I was in the correct train station and that I was on the right train and finally, what stop to get off at to end up in the desired area. One of the first positive things that I noticed while navigating my way to Koblenz, was how helpful strangers were to point you in the right direction. The beautiful thing about Germany is that most natives speak English or enough to get you in the right place. Finally, I arrived in Vallendar at WHU and was overjoyed to say the least.
WHU is a located in a quaint town called Vallendar with a beautiful campus. The inside is strewn with history and has almost a medieval feel concerning their architecture. One of the more unique things you will learn about WHU is that the university hosts most of its parties in an ornate room where many of the company presentations are held. Summed up, WHU constructed a place to host these company meetings and to be respectful of Vallendar’s community, opened it to host WHU parties in a means to not disturb Vallendar’s residents.
The first poignant emotion that came after being let into my room in GoethstraBe 8 (InPraxi) was that of being home-sick. Katy gives you a great chart about many of the emotions that entail studying abroad and the truth behind it is surprising. Being someone I’d consider very “independent,” I was surprised how much of a struggle the first few days were. I believe a lot of it had to do with the two day lay-over before orientation, where you will make a lot of friends, but regardless, I was a mess for those two days. I believe this is an important aspect of traveling abroad similar to mission trips and the like. I was severely emotional but found a deeper sense of appreciation of people, family, and A&M that I believe I wouldn’t have had I not come here. I realized how invaluable people truly are. The appreciation I gained through that tumultuous period is something I look to bring back to A&M.
Recommendations: If you are afraid of this period of hardship, study abroad with others you know as I went alone. Also, make sure you are fully prepared to not have wifi for a few days so bring a good book or go out and travel to kill time. It is truly a difficult time, but the depth of appreciation is worth the hardship I believe. Make sure to go shopping and figure out where you can get materials you need as it is surprisingly difficult without the known stores such as Walmart. You’ll notice that to use a shopping cart, you must have one Euro coin to unlock it that you will get back after returning it. Also, you must pay for your grocery bags, so bring some in advance. For shopping, go to ALDI or LIDYL (cheaper stores) or REWE (more expensive/closer) and ask around for various other needs.
Finally, the orientation came and everything instantaneously got better. Being able to talk other students going through the same thing helped massively. Also, you will be surprised with how quickly you form your niche within the students. A surprising observation was how students from the same country naturally formed groups. I found myself in a group of students from USA as well as Canada. I have been blessed to get close to a group I deem the “Hong-Kong Crew” and love learning about their culture. Regardless where you end up, the orientation is fun and interactive. WHU has a group called the VIP (Vallendar Integration Program) that is tasked with answering your questions/ showing you a good time and updating you with events going on at WHU. The VIP initiative is very well organized and I would recommend you use them and your designated tasuchie (Name for International students) buddy. This photo was the initial room we all gathered in during orientation.
Following orientation, our group went to Koblenz right away to get our sim card set up. Koblenz has a stunning mall and will have nearly everything you could desire for your stay. Below is a picture of the popular mall Saturn within Koblenz.
I would recommend traveling with a group as the busing schedules and etc. can get confusing. A few important things to note: Germans hardly drink water or have water fountains! They also do not give water out for free. Also, if you order water, make sure to ask for “stilles washer” which means tap water or you will get sparkling water every time! Sparkling water here is huge! Another thing that stuck out to me was that beer is often cheaper than water at restaurants! You will notice that the German culture, at least at WHU, is very keen on beer and bread. There are delicious bread shops scattered throughout Vallendar and also another item that is very popular here for college students, the Kebab. It is not a normal kabob, but a swirly hunk of meat sliced and coupled with various vegetables stuffed in a piece of bread. It is very cheap and popular option among WHU students.
Recommendation: Go to IKEA and get all the home appliances there. I got a French press for ~5 euros!!!! Also, the coffee is exquisite and cheap here, if I do say so myself. I use splenda back home and they have this nifty tablet dispenser of something that tastes similar to splenda. Get a water bottle and carry it with you at all times or you will feel massively dehydrated.
School finally started and it is massively different to say the least. First off, you will have half as many days at class. I usually have Fridays off and more often than not, another day off. This is not to hint that they do not take school seriously, as that is absolutely not the case. WHU is very small and competitive. The student’s take school very seriously and study rigorously but are understanding of the tauschie’s desires to travel and etc. Another surprising difference, is that there is not tutoring abroad or office hours, unless requested, and no homework to benchmark your progress. There is one test typically at the end of the Quarter (one semester has two quarters) and that determines your final grade as well as the fact that your grade is on a bell curve with the other students in the class. Therefore, it is much more individualistic with your best bet being to ask another student for help, if you need it. The best part about this is that it opens up the door to travel. Also, the case studies are much more interactive than back home. The groups meet much more often and it is a great chance to experience a different kind of collaboration. WHU does a great job stressing the group work.
Recommendation: Do not take WHU’s acclaimed hard classes and research the courses you intend to take before enrolling.
After getting situated and settling in, I decided to first travel within Germany and go to Koln (Cologne). I went to their famous cathedral that towers over the city and go inside and stand in awe at it’s grandiose stature and history. We made sure to go out to eat at the local places and tried their renown Kolsche beer. I was struck by how much more often you would run across gorgeous statues or pieces of architecture just by walking through Germany’s cities. I neglected to realize how rich in history Germany really is and it has been wonderful to witness all of the landmarks that make Europe unique. Below is a picture of Koln’s DOM (Cathedral).
The following weekend, me and a few friends decided to travel one of the most history rich cities in Germany, Berlin. You need at least two days and I would recommend three to take advantage of all that Berlin has to offer. From the 1/2 off museum passes because of being students at WHU, to the various landmarks that Berlin has, you will need an ample amount to time to experience it fully. Our group decided to purchase the museum passes being 12$ and also made sure to see the renown places such as the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Wall, and Holocaust remembrances. Below, you will see a picture of one of my favorite museums.
Thus far, the trip has been incredibly changeful. I’ve never been more appreciative of my girlfriend, parents, and other friends that I more than likely took for granted. I also will leave with a greater appreciation for A&M that I could not have gotten elsewhere. I believe everything happens for a reason and am excited to see why I was put here and how I can leave an impact and Aggie imprint. Gig Em!