Victoria Genova – PR, Marketing & Events – Level 3
Kempten University of Applied Sciences, Germany
I would like to being this by expressing my deepest gratitude to Laura Stevenson from the Study Abroad Office in Queen Margaret University for giving me the opportunity to go on an exchange semester. I would also like to thank the International Office of Kempten University of Applied Sciences for all their support throughout the semester. Thank you Laura and thank you Nadine!
I am writing this, I would say letter, to everyone who has the potential chance and opportunity to go on an exchange semester. I come from Bulgaria and I am a current student at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh.
Coming here for my first year was a huge step in itself. I have always lived with my family in my home country and never really been out of my comfort zone too much until I graduated from high school. I always knew I wanted to study abroad and become independent and work on my dreams and goals. Therefore I had to make the big decision to go or stay at home. Of course, I didn’t contemplate too much as I was so impatient and excited to start my own life. I came here to Edinburgh with almost no “life experience”. By that I mean not knowing how to cook something different besides pasta and salads, which you all know is not enough. My parents have always taken care of me in that sense and I was fortunate enough to never worry about day-to-day things like this. Almost immediately once I arrived I realised this fact about me but I didn’t let it scare me away and give up on learning how to deal with my situation. I figured since I have gotten here, I’d only have to start slowly and read easy recipes. A few months later, I have already added six more meals to my “menu” without having to read the recipes. Now, this may seem like a stupid example to some of you, but imagine this in combination of not knowing anyone, leaving family behind and needing to find a job without having any previous work experience. Yes, compared to all that, cooking was the smallest challenge I had to deal with. This brings me to the reason why I am saying all these facts about me. I’m pretty sure there are others like me out there, who might be struggling with the same or similar situations and I would like to share my experience so far, and maybe I can help.
As I entered second year, I attended the lecture for the exchange semester that Laura Stevenson presented. It was great to listen to as well as very informative. She explained all about the potential countries you could go to and the criteria you’d have to meet. There were many countries you could look into and apply for such as USA, Canada, Australia, and of course Europe. I, myself, knew from the beginning that I would like to stay in Europe, because I always felt like I wanted to stay and live in Europe. Most other people were interested in Australia or the States, but that made me even more interested in the European destinations as it would make them more unique and less “discovered”. Initially I was very interested in the Parisian university. The whole idea of being in Paris for one semester seemed so beautiful and romantic in my mind, and I decided to choose Paris as my first option (out of three). In second place I chose Kempten (Germany), because I have studied German before and it would have been slightly easier for me. Third option was Saxion (Netherlands). Time to apply came and I was facing another important decision to make – should I go or should I stay? I had everything here in Edinburgh by the end of second year – friends, job, my lectures and just my whole life. I was already in my comfort zone again, just like I was before I came here. Me being in my comfort zone made me think about how much do I actually want to do it. I have all the requirements to be able to apply (good grades in first and second year and a few reasons why I should go). I wrote my motivational letter and applied, thinking that whatever happens I would be ok with it. I just decided to give it a chance, while I had the opportunity, and cross the bridge once I come to it. I applied thinking that I might not be approved. Soon after the application, I received confirmation that I had been approved! I felt so happy but at the same time a bit scared because I still didn’t know whether I should go or not. I decided once again, if I got so far, I am not backing down.
As summer was about to begin I started looking for flats in Paris, because the university there does not take any responsibility for the accommodation for the students. Let me tell you, finding a short term flat in Paris, which is somewhat affordable, is almost mission impossible. In case you want to go to Paris, you need some more serious preparation, which I underestimated slightly. Nevertheless, I managed to find a flat with the help of my mother, who has some acquaintances in Paris. I felt secure for the semester and I was having no worries but looking forward to this new adventure and experience which was coming up. However, this flat turned out to be a scam, which I only found out about two weeks before I was supposed to move in. For the following week I had been in constant communication with my home university and the Parisian university, trying to figure the situation out, but I couldn’t do anything for such a short period of time.
This was the time I had to make another decision. I had to go for my second or third option – Germany or the Netherlands. I chose Germany, and I was a bit skeptical about it. I always felt that Germany is not the right place for me, because I thought people there are way too reserved, strict and cold towards outlanders like me. Also, as I have done my research on Kempten, I realised it’s a small town south of Munich. I have always lived in big cities and I wondered what am I going to do there.
The International Office in Kempten University understood my situation and gladly accepted me, which I am beyond grateful for. Nadine Schmied helped me to find a flat quickly as possible and settle in.
As I went to Germany, I had a few days to move in and have a look around the town. I was nicely surprised by how close my flat was from the University and that it’s a 15 minute walk to the centre of Kempten. I have to admit the town was very beautiful and close to two airports as well as the gorgeous Alps, which I could see from my room. The first day that I had to attend the university for the welcome lecture, I felt so nervous and excited because I didn’t know anyone just yet and the other exchange students had already met because they arrived before me. I met everyone this day and I was welcomed to join them and get to know them. This was the moment I realised they all come from places very far away from Kempten. I met people from all around the world. We started travelling around together and going to parties all the time. We ended up having the same classes with some of them and we studied together and had the same exams. This made us feel way less stressed about the situation because we were all in the same situation. I began to get closer with them and we because friends for life! This is some of us on the first day.
Our first trip was to the Neuschwanstein Castle. Fun fact, the Disney castle that we see at the beginning of the Disney movies we all grew up watching is built after the architecture of the Neuschwanstein Castle. So yes, you do get to witness the real-life Disney castle.
One of the things I’m most proud of is the fact that I went hiking, like proper hiking, for the first time in my life. First we went to Unterer Gaisalpsee, which is a lake up there in the mountains. On this hike I realised I have a fear of heights, which I never knew about myself. It was a really difficult hike for me, as I have never walked such advanced paths for my “level” of hiking. In this very moment I understood that I am already there with everyone else and there was no going back. I was lucky to have some experienced hikers in our group, who supported me throughout the whole time and told me everything was going to be alright. It was a lot to process at the time, because again I was thrown so far from my comfort zone and I had to deal with it there and then. Once we reached the lake I sat down, took a deep breath and felt like I’d accomplished a great victory!
I guess you can tell by my facial expression, I was struggling!
Can you tell I was exhausted?!Water was 10 degrees for the ones who are wondering
The more advanced group continued to the top and I wondered: How on earth are people able to do something like this? Nevertheless I was extremely proud of what I achieved this day and felt very empowered. And yes, I promised myself that I’ve had enough if hiking for quite some time ahead.
Three weeks later … the university organised a two day hiking trip to another mountain. As you can imagine, my first reaction was a DEFINITE NO and of course all my friends said YES, WE’RE ALL GOING! There was no further discussion on this topic, because I knew I didn’t want to stay at home alone while the other are having so much fun, even though it wasn’t that much fun for me. This time we went to the mountain called Hochgrat (1834m). We started from the bottom of the mountain and hiked to the very top. Once I reached the peak of the mountain I broke into tears because I made it to the top! Never in my life did I believe I would ever walk to a mountain peak! I was so overwhelmed and proud! All my friends came to give me a hug and tell me how proud they are of me. The next morning we woke to see the sunrise, which was so beautiful!
Among all the hiking we also went to Oktoberfest in Munich, where we had to dress in the traditional clothing of Bavaria – Drindl and Lederhosen. So we took the train early in the morning and went to Munich, where everyone was already drinking bier at 7.00am! Once we reached the main tent people started walking towards me and one of my friends to ask if they could take pictures with us. If they only knew we weren’t even German! We spent the whole day there, going on the roller coasters and having so much fun!
We also went to Amsterdam for four days. The trip was organised by the University and it was very affordable, in a really good hotel. Some of us ended up renting black bikes and we participated in the busy Amsterdam cycling traffic, which was something very new to me. We managed to see the city from a completely different perspective, we felt like locals. The drizzling rain didn’t stop our enthusiasm from cycling because we knew we could never get the same day back.
Since we were in Amsterdam, I made everyone join me in the Van Gogh museum and get to witness some of his most famous paintings and listen to the stories behind them and get to know more about his life in general. This experience really made us feel the atmosphere in Amsterdam.
Back to Kempten and studying for the upcoming exams …
I know it’s not the most interesting part for some of you to read, but I believe the following information might be helpful to those of you who decide to take part in the exchange programme. the German educational system works slightly different than the one here in Scotland. German students start their semester in October and finish at the end of February. Then they have a month holiday and continue with their second semester from the beginning of April until sometime in the summer. Therefore, all the exams you might have will be in January. Attending lectures in Germany is not obligatory, but I strongly recommend it, as you’d need to know what is happening in your subjects in order to do well in the exams afterwards. I found the lectures leaning more towards the theoretical part instead of the practical. This means that most lecturers, if not all, expect you to know the theory they teach. My friends and I spent hours studying together and apart and each of us helped the others. Another important thing to know is the library hours. Our library works 24/7, but in Germany you can use the library only during the day and it has strict opening-closing times, which become longer when the exam season comes. Germans expect you to have good time management abilities, and if you don’t you will learn really quickly. Once you finish your exams it takes roughly a month for them to be graded.
While I was in Kempten, from the beginning, the university offered us two weeks of intense German language courses every day. I strongly recommend taking those, because they will come in handy once German people surround you everywhere. You also receive credits for attending these classes. I decided to continue taking German classes throughout the semester, because I wanted to further develop and improve my language skills. In these classes not only do you learn the language, but you also get to understand the German culture better, which is very interesting and it might be completely different to the culture in your country.
Throughout the whole semester me and my friend Chris (from the USA) were asked to take part in creating an advertising movie for the university in Kempten from the perspective of exchange students. This was an amazing experience, because we got to work with regular students of the university and have so much fun while filming. We felt like real, valued actors at the time!
As my exchange semester was coming to its end, I started feeling very emotional, because I developed such great feelings towards all these people that I met and Kempten. I really found it hard to believe that this whole semester was about to finish soon and nothing like this would happen ever again. I became so close with the other exchangers and felt loved and valued among so many people at the same time, which I’ve never had the chance to experience before. I have to admit; saying goodbye to my friends was one of the hardest things I had to do. We couldn’t help it but cry and tell each other how much we love each other. By the time I left, many people have already gone home and the ones who stayed came t send me away. They gave me the best presents I ever received! My best friend Isa made a book full of pictures of our memories with incredible letters and notes on each page. I also received a book, which funny enough talks about coincidences and how we meet the right people at the right time in our lives. It was the right time for me to meet these people. I don’t know if I should call it destiny or a simple juncture, but something makes me believe there is something more behind it, that I end up being at the same place and time with people from completely different countries, cultures and backgrounds. I have definitely learned so much from everybody and I hope I have contributed with my knowledge and experience.
I will never forget this absolutely, hands down, the best time of my life and I will always keep everyone in my heart, wherever we all end up living in the future.
By this “letter” I would like to express my feelings and experience and encourage everyone to do the same! Believe me it’s worth it! In my opinion, many students underestimate staying in Europe for the exchange semester and they shouldn’t You get to travel so much and get to know so many different places and experience the true beauty of Europe. An again … this is the one opportunity you would never get to do again in your life. Take the chance while you’re given the opportunity and don’t miss out on something that will change your life in the best possible way!