So you've chosen to spend your year abroad in Germany?
The next decision is where abouts? It's a big place after all.
As we all know, the decision of where to spend our year abroad is one of the most important decisions of the eagerly awaited 'best year of your life'.
When searching for internships or universities, the number of options are huge. However, with the Language Assistantship programme, the decision is not entirely ours and we are forced to remain open to many possibilities.
Although we can pick a region, we are not guaranteed to be granted this choice for our year abroad. We also have no say in where exactly we will be placed, which can be unnerving to say the least. This is why students find security in choosing popular or recommended areas. In Germany, those tend to be Bavaria, Berlin or just the West in general, because geographically it feels the closest to home.
I operated rather differently: my choice of region was influenced heavily by the fact that my family lives in the Czech Republic, and rather unsubtly, I decided to pick a region as close to my home as possible, therefore the East. This seemingly cowardly choice ended up opening my eyes to the stunning and under-appreciated regions of the region.
Here are just a few reasons why you should consider the East as a contender for your year abroad in Germany destination:
Let’s start with the big one. As students, the cost of things is a significant factor in our day to day lives. Whether it’s affordable pubs, supermarket bargains or cultural events, there is a clear difference between the East and the West. A difference every student would appreciate, I’m sure...
Even though East Germany seems like an unknown – and therefore scary – region, let’s not forget that Germany’s capital and best-known city is located in the East. This means that, when travelling from most major cities in the East, Berlin is a perfect day-trip destination.
Accents and dialects
As linguists, we naturally strive to improve our German communication skills as much as possible on our year abroad. Wherever it is you choose to go in Germany, there will be some way of speaking that you will bring back with you. A big advantage of my Bundesland, Sachsen-Anhalt, for example, is that the German spoken here is very easy to understand, and probably one of the closest accents to the Hochdeutsch that we are used to.
Speaking as a resident of Magdeburg (the capital of Sachsen-Anhalt), I was pleasantly surprised at the patience and willingness of the locals to speak German to a non-native. Upon arrival, dealing with banks, German civil offices and travel centres can be stressful, to say the least. At no point did any of the employees at these institutions switch to English, despite hearing that German was not my first language. This helped my confidence in speaking German to natives massively: despite having to ask to repeat a few sentences or explain a few words, I was able to tackle all my administrative duties in the target language – a task which before moving here seemed almost impossible to me.
Just because you don’t know their names doesn’t mean that they don’t exist! The East is filled with great cities such as Halle, Magdeburg, Dresden and Leipzig (one of the most famous German Christmas market destinations).
Yes, Berlin has a remarkable history and sights such as the wall to prove it, but so does the rest of the East. For one, you get to hear the stories of those who endured the GDR regime imposed onto the East after World War II. On top of this, delving further into the history books will reveal the unique historical qualities of regions such as Sachsen-Anhalt: it is the Bundesland of the Reformation, with Lutherstadt Wittenberg being located right here. Seeing the door onto which Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses in 1517 should definitely be on every German student’s must-see list.
Whether you prefer the Deutsche Bahn or a bargain Flixbus, East German cities are connected by all means of transport. With the Eastern border near you, you are free to experience not only German territory, but also sneak a peak into other neighbouring countries such as the Czech Republic or Poland.
Instead of saving pennies on offers for food we only buy because they are on offer, try considering the bigger expenses, such as rent. Prices for a one-bedroom flat near the centre of Leipzig average out around €490 per month, whereas in Munich, prices average around €1094 for a similar place. Moreover, the actual search for a flat, even in the capital of Sachsen-Anhalt, can be much easier than elsewhere in Germany, with many student WGs offering rooms at very reasonable prices.
Let’s be honest, you are far more likely to visit places in Germany that you have heard of. The beauty of the East lies in its unexplored and mysterious nature. If you live in Bavaria, you will hardly discover all these gems, but if you live here, you will be able to entdeck all these secluded and unfrequented destinations, such as the Harz mountains.
In summary, don’t let your lack of knowledge of a region become the reason you eliminate it from your choices. Just because you haven’t heard much about it doesn’t mean there’s nothing there! You might be surprised just how much is waiting there for you.
Good luck and I hope you enjoy your year abroad in Germany!