You Just Got Accepted... Now What?
First off, congratulations! I remember how excited I was when I received the acceptance call. CBYX is probably the only thing on your mind right now. I promise August isn’t as far away as it might seem. Your exchange year will be here before you know it, so in the meantime, there are some things you can do to help prepare for the transition and time ahead.
I know, I know. Dumb advice, right? You’ll hear this a million times before you leave from your organization and the alumni. It seems cliche, but truly the more German you know before you get here the easier things will be. Start now. You’ll beat yourself up later on for not working harder to learn more or you’ll be surprised to see the amount of German you know truly isn’t as much as you thought. Every single person I talk to agrees that they wish they knew more German before arriving. If you don’t know where to start, work with colors, numbers, the weather, and simple vocabulary to get you going. If you have some German knowledge, work on your grammar or expand your vocabulary. There’s always something to learn and now is the perfect time to start.
Figure out your school plan
It’s important to notify your school of your plans before you leave. Make sure to set up a plan with the school, and I recommend putting it in an official write-up. Many of my friends faced troubles with their schools back in America upon arrival in Germany, with some schools backing out of pre-made plans. This is especially important if you will be completing your Senior year on exchange, potentially threatening your graduating credits. This sounds scarier than it actually is, I promise, but it’s just to be safe. Start planning out how you’ll receive credits if you need them or make sure you’ll be able to complete the missing credits when you get back.
I graduated early since it would’ve been my Senior year and it truly was the best decision I’ve made. German grading is on a different scale and it’s much stricter. Even as a straight-A student in the USA, you will not show that level of performance in Germany. If you can avoid receiving credits while abroad, I’d recommend that.
Saving and Budgeting
Budgeting is much tougher than it seems, solely because there’s so much you won’t expect to pay for until you’re here. Save up as much money as you can before arrival. I’m a frequent traveler here and Deutsche Bahn tickets can be quite pricey. Going out with friends, buying snacks, and staying busy cost me much more here than it did at home. I also packed quite terribly, so I had to buy warmer and new clothes as I grew out of the things I brought. Budgeting has surprisingly been a challenge for me due to these unplanned costs. Even with buying my own food and paying for activities with friends at home, I was unprepared to add the costs of groceries, toiletries, and other needs into this. I wish I had made budgeting a habit before arrival, especially as someone that has a monthly budget to follow.
Look for a host family gift
While you probably won’t get your host family until shortly before you leave, you can get them a gift without knowing them. Souvenirs from your hometown or trinkets from your culture are great ways to share a piece of your life with them while also showing appreciation for their efforts. It took me a while to find gifts I liked, so looking sooner rather than later gives the best opportunity to find a gift.
Pay attention to yourself now
An exchange year will be hard. Work to find healthy coping mechanisms that you’ll be able to do while abroad. It’s important to have little things just for yourself, like journaling, reading, or exercising, that can keep you distracted from homesickness, anger, or frustration.
There will be times on exchange when you’ll be bored and not sure what to do. Can your hobbies be done in a new place? Is there a hobby you’ve wanted to try that you could start in Germany? I wish I had thought about this a bit more before I got to my host community and realized most of my hobbies weren’t applicable here.
Work on your mindset
Honestly, the best way to get through an exchange year is to keep an open and optimistic mindset. Start agreeing to things you normally wouldn’t now because you sure will have to in Germany. Try something new. When frustrated with your parents, treat them like a host family and solve the issue without arguing. Practice talking to new people to start breaking the fear. The more you can open your mindset now, the more you’ll be able to assimilate later.
I know how excited you are right now to get to Germany. I promise you’ll do great if you carry this excitement with you. I wish you the best of luck and, once again, congratulations!
I have now been in Germany for nearly two whole months. Two, exquisite months full of new experiences, friends, and most importantly; snacks. This post contains (in my opinion) a definitive guide to some of the best German snacks!
Take a look into a hectic - but amazing - week in Germany. This post covers some of the highlights, from attending a concert in Bonn to watching Barbie, to climbing to the top of the Cologne Cathedral. The post also includes some advice on how to handle homesickness and the activities I use to help distract myself from those thoughts!