Just before I set off from my home in New Jersey to Frankfurt last August, I made a mistake. Frankfurt had been touted the most international city in Germany and very “English-friendly”. So I somehow imagined I would be stepping uninterrupted into the next chapter of the life I was living, plus some German comfort food, good weissbier, and all the trappings of a nice, well-to-do European city.
“Sprechen Sie Englisch?”
I was in for a rude awakening when I realized that outside of FS’s B-School style community, I was an illiterate, speech-impaired foreigner who apparently didn’t bother to pick up German before coming to Germany. Everything dealing with the outside world was in German, from bank notifications, to debit card activation instructions, to mobile phone contracts, to insurance company correspondence. I couldn’t help but ask myself in an exasperated tone, “Well, what the hell did you expect?”
Needless to say, first semester was tough. But when you’re thrown into the deep end of the pool, you freak out for a moment before realizing that natural buoyancy lifts you to the surface.
At times, the struggle was real. Besides the language barrier outside the classroom, it was a sweating affair trying to keep up in a rigorous finance program with a bachelor degree in geographies of globalization. The quarterly system here means miles of material are covered in every class, and not managing your time effectively is not really an option. In addition to the academics, the multitude of networking events and pressure of lining up an internship from the get-go added to the workload.
But, the sense of community was also real – and pretty amazing. I am continually floored by the amount of mutual support that my classmates show one another. This mutual support is part of the survival kit that I believe has been, and will be, instrumental in helping me succeed.
Not to mention, student life at the Frankfurt School is just plain fun. It is filled to the brim with frequent parties big and small, communal meals (often headed by our wonderful chef/ classmates of the pasta persuasion), studying pow wows, and late-night conversations about everything under the sun. An added benefit of such a diverse international community is that talking to people from such different walks of life is kind of a cure for my wanderlust. No plane ticket needed.
The language barrier is also slowly thinning. It starts off with no longer facing the language with utter fear. And then bit by bit, pieces of the conversations around you start becoming understandable. Anyone who’s been abroad will understand the thrill of having a 1-minute conversation with the lady behind the meat counter in her language. Yes, German declension has been my worst linguistic nightmare to date. But if you persist, I contest that it will add so many more layers of richness to your life abroad.
Second semester has already gotten off to a great start. Yes, I am still on the struggle bus with my coursework. But I would like to press the slow down button, because I fear the good times will end before I want them to and we will all be saying farewell at graduation.