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A storied and complicated country with a complicated and storied history, Germany has all the core elements a college student needs to have a fun, interesting and invigorating experience studying abroad. Regardless of which university in which part of the country you choose to study and reside, these core elements of Germany will hold true. Let's take a brief look at them.
Language is Your Friend
Immersing yourself in the German language may be part of your goal for your term abroad, or it may not. Regardless, you'll quickly find that even if you do learn more than just a little German, you'll rarely even be given the opportunity to practice it once people realize you're a native English speaker - most especially with younger people. In the words of one American student, 'I had studied German for almost 5 years, and rarely needed it.'
If you don't speak German, from a language perspective the most important thing is to get the knack for how to say written German words from a phrasebook so people will actually recognize them. Because sounds like 'sch' and umlauts and the like are never used in the English language, our ears are slow to pick up the difference at first. Listen carefully for those new sounds, and you'll quickly get the hang of it.
Be Close to Everything
What maps can show us but fail to make us fully understand is the matter of size. Germany is 137,847 sq miles - that makes it slightly smaller than the Northwestern US state of Montana.
One thing this means is that America is a very big country. If you've ever driven from New Jersey to Miami, or Seattle to Santa Barbara, or traveled southwest along Route 66, or anywhere else in America's enormous middle, you know and appreciate the size of our nation.
What we homebound Americans don't appreciate (and what maps fail to convey) is the opposite factor: many other countries are small. Imagine if New York and L.A. were in the same time zone, a 3-hour train ride apart. Especially in Europe, countries that have culture and personality developed over ages of time are nonetheless comparatively small. We can look at the map and see that Germany is small compared to the U.S., but not until your feet are walking German ground will you truly sense how close everything is, how cultural metropolises and old castles and vineyards and little villages are all, essentially, neighbors. And you are in their midst.
Travel Like Never Before
Depending on the length of your stay and how much traveling you plan to do on weekends and breaks, buying a rail pass may or may not be a good value for you. Also, domestic airfares in Germany are really quite reasonable, and if you're going to be on the train only sporadically, buying normal point-to-point tickets is the way to go. Seat 61 is basically the most complete European railway site out there, and it lists several questions you can ask yourself to see if a rail pass will be a good value for you. Also, the Deutsche Bahn website is amazingly complete and will show you everything you need to know about trains in Germany.
Also worth noting is how the trains in Germany take you to places next to Germany. As a student in Germany, you pack a small bag, head to the station, and before you've really gotten done appreciating how interesting and good it feels to be riding the train in Germany, guess what - there you are in Amsterdam. Or Paris. Or Vienna, or any one of the countries directly bordering Germany (Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Netherlands).
Immerse Yourself in Culture
So, then, Germany is at the center of the action in Europe. And the country itself has so much history and life, such a collection of distinct and storied culture that has existed for more than a thousand years. As a student studying there, you'll have the opportunity to experience Germany's diverse cultural and social scenes - one evening in one of the many theatre and opera houses, the next evening (or later that same evening) at one of the numerous all-night discos.
The college student experience will vary largely based on the university you choose to attend and the topic you elect to study; however, you can be certain that you'll have the chance for some intense study. If you choose to study language, it's not uncommon to be able to earn as much as 2 years of university language requirements in the course of one semester.
You'll have the chance to experience and interpret local sites of social and artistic importance with your fellow students. And quite possibly you'll be lodged with a local host family, which is truly a unique experience. If you do stay with a host family, bring gifts for them, as well as some photos and maps, and maybe a coffee-table book about your hometown for them. By doing this you acknowledge that they're offering you their home and a part of their lives - and when you're gone, they'll want to tell friends some great stories about your stay.
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