It’s been a month and a few days since that day when I first set my foot on the sunny ground of Freiburg, but for some reason it feels like it has barely been a week or two. The time is flying with an unimaginable speed and I have some advice to make sure that you don’t waste it.
1. Develop a studying routine
Provided that you chose a reasonable amount of courses (some people choose way too many and are not able to deal with it afterwards), you will have a relatively big amount of time left on your hands which you must divide between studying for your university courses, independent studying (independent German studies, writing Long Essays/Dissertation preparations/ Etc) and free time activities.
When you are still at the beginning of the year and there are so many distractions and new things to explore, it can be hard to force yourself to organise your studying time well. Obviously it’s much easier with uni courses since you have to constantly prepare for the seminars, do your homework, write various assignments, etc. However, when it comes to a more independent type of studying, i.e. working on assignment which has its deadline after nearly a year or doesn’t have any deadline at all, it gets more complicated, since it seems that there is so much time on your hands that you can do it at some point later… However, as I mentioned before, time flies really fast and ‘later’ can quickly turn into ‘to late’.
Therefore, I would advise to try to develop independent studying habits right at the beginning of your year abroad. That’s what I’m currently trying to do and I’m sure it will save me some time stressing out in the summer when I’ll have to finish my English Literature Long Essay, pass the second semester exams and show Freiburg to my friends and family who are planning to visit. My way of doing it is devoting a certain amount of hours for it every week. For example, currently I have a minimum of 3 hours per week which I devote to Long Essay research and another minimum of 3 hours per week for individual German study (working through a grammar book, learning some new vocab. etc). Since my Tuesdays and Wednesdays are pretty much free, I’m making a habit of devoting myself to independent studying on those two days.
2. Explore the nature
Obviously sitting in your room all the time throughout your year abroad is not the best idea. Freiburg is located at the border of idyllically beautiful Schwarzwald and if you have a Semesterticket it’s simply a must to “make it worth it” by traveling around. From personal experience I can say that most hiking paths are very well marked and other hikers are usually very friendly and happy to help out in case you get lost, besides, asking for directions or giving them to fellow hikers is a very good way to practise your German
(and to hear some interesting German dialects…).
If you don’t fancy exploring on your own and haven’t found any people who’d like to join you yet, there is an option of using Studitours https://www.swfr.de/veranstaltungen/studitours/. From personal experience I can say that they seem to be relatively well organised and visit some really nice places. The downside of that, is that usually there are a lot of people in every tour (especially at the beginning of the semester and when the weather is nice) which involves waiting for everyone all the time and crowding in public transport.
If you lack ideas where you could go, here are a few (I will leave finding out further information about them to your googling skills): Schloßberg, Schauinsland, Feldberg, Schönberg, Ravennaschlucht, Zweribachwasserfälle, Titisee, Schluchsee…
One of the things I really miss from Edinburgh university in Freiburg is societies. There are a few Christian groups, an International group, a couple of groups for people of certain nationality, a choir and that’s pretty much it… There are no societies focused on interests and hobbies (e.g. photography, literature, hiking or anything like that…) which makes it much harder to discover people with similar interests.
What is quite popular here is having parties. Seriously, it seems like there are parties constantly all over the place. So if you are one of those extroverted party people, I’m sure you are going to thrive and find a lot of people who enjoy that as well. However, if you are not too fond of that sort of activities, finding some friends is a much more complicated endeavor.
Being a person of the second type, I’m still looking for people with whom I could talk about Tolkien and swords and go to the mountains, however, I can give a few tips on that matter:
1) Take part in the International Welcoming week events at the beginning of the semester. It will give you an opportunity to meet a lot of exchange students who are in a similar position as you are;
2) Go to a tour or two with Studitours. Walking around and exploring with a bunch people you do end up talking with at least a few of them and exchanging contacts;
3) If you are a Christian, find a church and a home-group (Hauskreis). A church would help you to get connected to a home-group or a home-group would help you to get connected to a church. There are even a few churches which have their services in both German and English (e.g. Calvary Chapel, Gemeinde der öffenen Tür…). Furthermore, there a few Christian Student organisations in the University (e.g. smd-freiburg, campus für Christus, etc);
4) Don’t get too depressed sitting in your room and missing your friends and family. That’s not going to help in any way;
5) Take part in at least one party. A party doesn’t equal a party and who knows, maybe you’ll meet someone interesting.