Keeping Up With the Internationals

Imagine being stuck alone in an apartment at this moment in time, thousands of kilometers from the comfort of your home. Sounds good? … No?
Well, that’s the reality for many students studying abroad right now. How are they holding up? What surprises came with their situation? And is it worth for you to jump into cold water and do the same? Seeking answers to these questions, I talked to Alex from Belarus, Lan from South Korea and Loreen from Jordan over Zoom, who momentarily are all living in Mainz. Here is what they had to say:

When did you come to Germany and what are you currently studying?

Alex: I arrived here in Mainz on 27th February and I am currently working on my final project to finish up my graphic design studies!

Lan: I am a fourth semester Communication Design student and have been living in Germany for three years now. The first two years I spent in Berlin before moving to Mainz.

Loreen: I came to Germany on 1st March and I am an 8th semester Design and Visual Communication student.

How far away from home are you right now?

Alex: That depends on the starting point. If you count it from Minsk, Belarus, the place where I was born and lived for 18 years, I guess around 1,500 km. if you choose Warsaw, Poland, where I lived for about 7 years, it’s got to be around 500 km closer.

Lan: My hometown is Busan, South Korea. Flying there would take you about 10 to 11 hours. (We looked it up; the distance is about 8900 km.)

Loreen: I don’t know! I am from Fuheis, a city very close to Amman, the capital of Jordan. I’m taking a wild guess saying that it’s about 4500 km from here.

Why did you choose HS Mainz, Germany?

Alex: It was a mishmash of choices that led me here… When going to the UK or Wales didn’t work out for me, it was a good recommendation of a friend who had been studying here, that convinced me. Otherwise, I would be somewhere by the seaside like Portugal, Italy or Spain!

Lan: It was more of a coincidence than a decision! Because I really enjoy art, I took an interest in studying Fine Arts after coming to Berlin. When that didn’t work out, I applied to study Design at different universities around the country and HS Mainz was the one I got accepted into.

Loreen: I am studying at the German Jordanian University in Amman and it’s mandatory for me to visit Germany for a whole year; one study semester as well as an internship.
Mainz was in first place of my top five list of cities I wanted to go to because of the recommendations of other students at GJU!

“I came here with an open mind (…). I was thinking about the fun things I can still do rather than about the things I will be missing.”

How are you doing, studying abroad at a time like this?

Alex: I had the dream to understand what it’s like to live in different European countries to choose one to move to. My initial goal when going abroad with ERASMUS was not only to study and acquire as much knowledge as possible but to make new connections… Of course, human interaction isn’t the same right now. You can’t sit in a class and chat about something completely unrelated with the person next to you. But it also really surprised me to see how engaged other students are during online classes here.

Lan: First of all, I am living alone. Because of that it’s naturally harder for me to keep in touch with friends and class mates. Another thing is that even though I have been learning a lot of German, the language is still a challenge. I find attending a class and keeping up with everything that’s being said difficult – especially if it’s held using Zoom.

Loreen: Before coming to Germany, I was told that the Covid situation here was really bad and that I should expect to just be stuck in my apartment… So, I came here with an open mind and zero expectations. I wanted to make the most of my time here and was thinking about the fun things I can still do rather than about the things I will be missing. I got to meet people living in the same dorm as me, some ERASMUS students and also a few other Design students through group projects. We sometimes take trips to Frankfurt or take a walk by the river Rhine.

“Even here in Belarus, we stopped using that!”

What are some unforeseen difficulties you had to overcome, or chances you were able to take?

Alex: The Internet! When I couldn’t leave my dormitory because of quarantine in February, I was only left with a LAN cable that didn’t connect to my laptop. When talking to my mother she said “Even here in Belarus, we stopped using that!”. That made me realize that Germany isn’t this super advanced country I imagined it to be.
The second hardest part for me not knowing anyone and especially not knowing the language. When I moved to Poland, I at least knew the language part. But here in Mainz I have experienced professors in online classes, who are switching back and forth between English and German just for me. That’s something I find sweet and I am really thankful for!

Lan: Deep down I am a homebody! I like the comfort of my own place and because of that staying home during the current Covid situation is probably easier for me than for most people.
On the other hand, it’d obviously be very hard for me to visit my family at the moment. The last time I’ve been to Korea was one and a half years ago. That was also the last time I saw my parents. If I flew there now, I would have to quarantine for two weeks before being able to meet them.

Loreen: Were there struggles? Yes… it was my first week in Germany and I had to use my pajamas as a blanket and pillow because those things arrived late. If that had happened in Jordan, I would have likely been upset. But my mindset going abroad was “everything will work out if you just wait for it” and that helped me to care less which is really untypical for me. I’m proud of myself for that! I also worried about making German friends but it turns out that worry was unfounded. The first friend I made was through just asking a girl on the street if it was going to rain soon because I know that German weather can be very bipolar! I later found out that she’s my neighbor and we have been in contact ever since.

“Neither going to Germany, nor studying (…) were things I had planned out”

Anything you want to add (to someone currently considering if they should go abroad)?

Alex: Don’t be afraid to do something that has never been done by your family or friends. Something like going abroad is a huge milestone. Personally, it changed my life. I believe, it can open many opportunities, not only as a designer but as a person.
But especially for a designer: The more you see, the more inspiration you get.

Lan: Neither going to Germany, nor studying to begin with were things I had planned out. But when I quit my job, my parents encouraged me to travel. Going abroad, I was able to make a fresh start and I would definitely recommend doing it!

Loreen: In Jordan it’s common to live with your parents until you get married. So, I knew living alone in a foreign country was going to be a big step. But my excitement about going to Germany grew even more when I went on a two-week university trip to Paris It was my first time, meeting design students from all over the world and learning about their understanding of graphic design. As a designer myself I knew then that I will go back to Jordan with many new impressions and visions by the end of my semester abroad. That’s why I am encouraging my sister to do it too; it doesn’t matter where you go, you will learn something new.

Die Fragen stellte Kaja Wagner.