Heidelberg, Germany - beautiful, traditional, unique, small, studenty
I had nowhere to stay when I arrived, so I had to find accommodation by myself - this can be very difficult in Heidelberg. It's probably worth going over in the summer for a couple of days and finding a WG with German students (use www.wg-gesucht.de). There’s a pretty good social life considering it's a small town - there are many very nice cafes and restaurants, not to mention countless bakeries. Not the town for you if you like clubbing though. The locals are friendly and as the uni is possibly the best in Germany, students come from all over the country. There are lots of tourists too but this shows what a lovely place it is. People from all over the world visit Heidelberg for a reason. Each weekend the university organises an excursion to a different German town. This is intended for the international students and doesn't cost much at all. It's very well-organised and there's a tour of each town, but you can just spend the time exploring for yourself. I visited Köln, Tuebingen and Stuttgart. On other trips I also visited the Ostsee, Muenchen, Berlin and Bonn. I joined a Studentenverbindung (a traditional student social organisation). It was a real challenge and commitment but I lived and spent a lot of time with Germans. By doing this I feel my language improved far more than if I'd just spent time hanging out with the Erasmus/English students. All the options for the year abroad have drawbacks: if you're an assistant you'll HAVE to speak English, if you're at uni you'll meet lots of English people/Germans who want to speak English and if you're at work you might not meet many Germans in the office to socialise with. At the end of the day it depends on how much effort you put into learning German in your own time – so make the most of it!
Useful local word: ‘Gell?' - used like 'oder?' at the end of a sentence.
What not to pack: Pots and pans.
What to pack: Good winter clothes - Germany is freezing in winter.
Couldn't have done without: Open-mindedness.
Word of advice: You won't get fluent by just being there. This is a common misconception. It doesn't just 'happen'...ask the fourth years! You have to go out of your way to make friends with native speakers and get involved with activities outside of work/uni/school. You have to be prepared to try new things and get involved with anything where you'll be speaking German!
Laurence, German and Politics, Bristol University