Year in Germany – Part I

*This is a blog post detailing a past trip. The post refers to my year abroad in Germany that I undertook between the summers of 2016 and 2017 (6 years ago at the time of writing). Therefore, details shall be a little foggy, but I have written the post for completeness. Ensuring Everitts Adventures captures everywhere I have travelled.

Being British and having grown up in the United Kingdom, I was fortunate enough to spend many family holidays in Europe. Visiting places such as Turkey, Greece and Cyprus. We also spent a considerable amount of time in Spain. With my parents having worked hard to be able to afford a little apartment in Andalusia, Southern Spain. During my secondary school years, I would spend every school holiday here. It was a wonderful time and I have many happy memories from it. Chances are this early exploration is one of the reasons why travel is so ingrained in my identity. Fast forward in time and having just completed my first year at university I spent the summer in America, first working at a summer camp, before travelling the East Coast for a month. On returning to university for my second year, I was confronted with the task of securing a year-long work placement. This was to be completed between my 2nd and 3rd years of study. I knew there were a few opportunities to undertake this abroad and it was instantly my goal to secure an internship in a foreign country. I had an interview for a company in Canada (a country I am still very eager to visit) but ended up securing myself a job in Germany. I was absolutely delighted and couldn’t wait to explore the country, one I had then never been to. It also gave me the chance to venture further afield, exploring more of Europe. A continent right on my doorstep but one I had only scratched the surface of. The company W.R. Grace & Co was a chemical manufacturer from the US with their European Headquarters based in the historic town of Worms. Worms is located 45 minutes south of Frankfurt and situated on the River Rhine. It’s a lovely little town and I was delighted to learn I would be calling it home for a year. 

I will go on to detail my year in Germany and the many places I visited in this and subsequent blogs. However, I first wanted to set the scene, as these initial details give the background for all my subsequent retrospective blogs concerning Europe. While I managed to tick off most major german cities during my year in Deutschland, I also managed to tick off 9 additional countries. Worms was the perfect little base, having its own well-connected train station, plus an international airport in Frankfurt just 40 minutes away. It was so easy to explore Europe, catching a cheap flight for a long weekend in Warsaw, Poland or jumping on one of the ICE trains and spending a few days in Paris or Amsterdam.  It has to be one of Europe’s biggest strengths, the ease at how much you can experience and the broad diversity within such a relatively small geographical area. To help emphasise this it’s worth noting that pretty much every country in Europe could fit within just Australia alone. This concentrated diversity cultivates such an amazing melting pot of culture and ideas. As well as so many beautiful cities and natural landscapes to explore, a mere few hours from each other. 

Bridge over the Rhine into Worms
Bridge over the Rhine into Worms

I was certainly keen to make the most of my year, leaving the UK on the 28th of August 2016 full of excitement for what lay ahead. Thankfully I also wouldn’t be venturing alone. Two lucky students get recruited from the university by Grace every year, meaning I would be sharing the experience with Brad. Brad studied chemical engineering at university whereas I was studying chemistry so I didn’t know Brad at all other than the brief interaction we had during the interview process and then the WhatsApps we had exchanged before moving to Germany itself. I couldn’t have asked for a better bloke to share the experience with. We both got on really well, had lots in common and it was certainly nice having a friendly face and someone to hang out with during the evening at our little apartment in town. 

Fortunately, most of the administrative stuff had been taken care of by the company. Such as finding us an apartment, helping us set up bank accounts and registering at the local German government authority. It does make me sad to think how easy it was to just move my life to Germany for a year and work there. Due to the UK still being in the EU at this time I didn’t require any visa or special paperwork to undertake the year abroad and I do think it’s a truly devastating thing that those students who come after me won’t have the same easy access and opportunities as I had. Or anyone for that matter. It also means moving forward, I can’t just up sticks and work in one of the other 27 EU member states which just seems a real shame. The more you travel, the more you meet people from different countries. The more you realise, we are all the same, people just want to be happy, have basic living standards met and opportunities for themselves and their families. I think isolating ourselves in this ever-globalising world is a real shame. And I truly believe the world would be a better place if as many people got to experience and meet as many other human beings from different locations as possible. It generates such empathy and compassion for those of different backgrounds. After meeting people who at first seem so different, you soon realise that at our core we really are all the same. 

But I digress (stupid Brexit). I remember the first few days settling into life in Germany, the weather was really hot. Like 35 ℃ and the apartment wasn’t very good at staying cool. I looked everywhere to try and purchase a fan, but due to the hot weather, everyone else had done the same, making it impossible to buy one. Also, coincidently during our first weekend in Worms, it was the town’s yearly festival Backfischfest. Here lots of people come together to drink local wine and beer, have fun on the amusement rides and sample traditional german food. Brad and I went along to the festival and had a really good time. It was such a great way to sample our first taste of german culture and we had a blast. Neither of us spoke a word of german at this point. But we were still able to communicate with loads of people (Germans have a really good comprehension of English). We did maybe slightly overdo it on the local german wine though. The following morning I had the most horrendous hangover and once again the apartment was roasting hot. Even all these years later I can remember just how bad I felt and the heat didn’t help. Every 30 minutes I had to cool myself down with a cold shower. 

  • View of Backfischfest from a distance
  • Blurry photo of a German bottle of wine

I soon settled into life in Germany falling in love with the place. The people were so nice, I loved the culture, the food, the cities and the traditions. I just loved being fully immersed in a new place and getting to understand a completely new society. Starting work was also great. Everyone at the company was so lovely. During work hours I was assigned my own research project and developed a lot of my technical and transferable employment skills. But equally, I was given a generous holiday allowance. I was entitled to 30 days off, plus the 12 public holidays that the region celebrated (different regions in Germany have slightly different public holidays). And then finally I was able to accumulate an extra 5 days off by essentially just staying at work an extra 15 minutes each day. Which was mainly due to the bus schedule anyway. So overall I had a total of 47 days off. Many of the public holidays fell on say a Tuesday or a Thursday. So I would take an extra day to give myself a full 4 days’ leave. Which I put to full use going off to explore a german city or nearby country. 

As mentioned, a final point worth noting is I moved to Germany not speaking a word of the language. On arrival, I think I knew about 3 words. Although a little daunting I was really excited to see how much I could pick up in a year. Being fully immersed is certainly the best way to learn. If you want to master a language I think it’s the only way. It’s like throwing yourself into the deep end of a pool, the only option you have is to swim. Although positive and negative, most Germans spoke really good English, so being a native speaker it was always easy to revert to. Which at times was great but as my language journey progressed I do wish I was forced to use german more. For example, say I only spoke Spanish before coming to Germany, it would be impossible for me to get by without having to speak german all the time. Whereas with English to fall back on there was always a safety net. Really a blessing and a curse. As well as living in the country for a year I also enrolled on an intensive language course at the local night college. For about 9 out of the 12 months, I had 12 hours of language lessons a week (on top of my 37.5 hours of work). There were around 10 students in the class a mix of all backgrounds and nationalities. Brad and I were the only 2 from England, with others coming from, Poland, Syria, Turkey and even a lady from Thailand. A little naively I had assumed the class would all be taught in German and English. But clearly, with that mix, there was no way. The whole class was taught in german right from the start. I know it sounds mental, learning a language you don’t speak in that language, but it was actually a great way to learn. The first few lessons I wasn’t so sure but looking back now as a whole it was perfect. The way the course was structured, the books we worked through and the teachers we had were great. As the months rolled on my comprehension of German got better and better and upon leaving the country I was certainly at a solid intermediate level (B1 on the CEFR framework for anyone interested, I also completed a final year course getting myself to B2). I’ve tried my best to retain it but sadly as with most things, it’s use it or lose it and I doubt I’m at quite that level anymore. I’d love to go back one day and become as good as fluent though. You really get to understand a culture so much more through its language and quirks. By all means, you can sample a place and get a feel for that kind of stuff by visiting for a few weeks. But living somewhere for 6 months a year and surrounding yourself with the locals cannot be beaten.  

In the blogs that follow I will detail my various travels around Germany and wider Europe.  It really was a wonderful year. For a sneak peek of what I got up to check out this video I produced summarising the year-long adventure. 

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