April 1, 2014, by Guest blog
Get stuck in as much as you can
I think I was one of many who was initially worried that my Year Abroad could be quite lonely. The truth of the matter is that it can be, but it’s up to you to be proactive and get involved in as many things as possible. This not only allows you to practise language skills, but also to make new connections and experience more of the national cultural.
I had searched around on the internet for some kind of sporting activity to take part in. I found a football club which were searching for new recruits and was based quite near my work. Although it was daunting to have instructions screamed at you in German, it was definitely a fulfilling experience. My language skills became more versatile and I was able to make friends within the team. Not only did this involve games, practise sessions but also birthday parties, get-togethers and post-match celebrations.
Before leaving, we had been prepped by the Year Abroad team about the Volkshochschulen (a kind of adult high school) and the opportunity to take part in courses offered by them. The VHS in my town had a variety of evening courses on offer ranging from literature studies, painting to language learning. I enrolled in a language course and found it an extremely interesting experience to be taught another language in German. Naturally, there were some difficulties when I didn’t understand the German explanation or the target language but in a way this enabled me to consolidate my German language skills. This was also another great way to meet people who have similar interests as me.
A final ‘extra-circular’ activity I decided to take part in was volunteering. Although I work 40 hours a week, I am able to leave punctually on Wednesday evenings to take a 20 minute train to the Asylothek. The Asylothek is a community centre providing refugees, asylum seekers and those currently living in Germany in similar circumstances with the opportunity to improve their German skills. The centre also offers children a place to play or receive help with homework, as well as anything else requiring German language skills. Not being a native speaker I did have some worries about this but I quickly found that I was able to play my part within the friendly group of other volunteers. As well as making connections with the other volunteers, it was nice to befriend some of the participants and help them with their steps integrating into German culture.
In addition to these suggestions, I have noticed that just by paying attention to posters or flyers there are many opportunities available to attend events which enable you to make new connections. Whether that is schedule for live bands at the clubs, or discussions and talks at the local museum or library, there really is a wealth of choice out there. That being said, on treacherous 8 hour train journeys, it’s surprisingly easy to strike up a conversation with fellow passengers too. People here are generally very friendly and do not mind if you are a nervous speaker or make mistakes. As I previously said, it would be extremely easy to sit at home all day but by taking part in different activities and meeting new people, you really can get the most out of your Year Abroad.
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