Alexis Kelly Germany
I have now been in Germany for about six weeks, and while it has been challenging to adapt to a new language and culture, it has so far been an incredibly rich and fulfilling experience. I spent all of February in Cologne taking a German language course, which was made possible for me through a CUSE grant. As all of the classes at the University in Heidelberg will be in German, this course at the Carl Duisberg Center helped me to feel much more prepared to take college-level courses in a second language. Living and immersing myself in Germany and carrying out everyday interactions in German also certainly helped me to gain confidence in my speaking abilities. Though I have made countless errors, it’s very satisfying to be able to see my improvement every time I have a conversation.
During my time in Cologne, I lived with a host family and spent my free time exploring the city and the surrounding area of Northrhein-Westphalia. Some highlights included seeing the Kölner Dom (a beautiful gothic church right in the middle of the city) and visiting many wonderful museums. My favorite was the Ludwig Museum, which has an impressive collection of modern art with an emphasis on local and German artists, but I also enjoyed the Roman-Germanic Museum and the Chocolate Museum located right on the Rhein river. Another high point was being in Cologne during Carnival, which takes place in the week leading up to the beginning of lent. Though festivities take place all over Germany, Cologne has the largest celebration. Even though Carnival was pared down this year due to the pandemic, it was very fun to see the entire city dressed up in costumes and parading through the streets. While in Cologne, I also took weekend trips to Bonn, the former capital of West Germany, and Düsseldorf, the capital of Northrhein-Westphalia.
At the beginning of March, after a short weekend trip to Brussels, Antwerp, and Amsterdam, I arrived in Heidelberg for the beginning of my pre-program with American Junior Year Abroad. Several other participants in the program also come from Notre Dame, but it has also been wonderful to get to know students from different colleges across the U.S. On our first day, we all took a pledge to only speak German with one another, which has been challenging, but we constantly support one another and help each other to express what we want to say. Heidelberg is also incredibly beautiful, and we have been blessed with lovely spring weather here, which makes it easy to spend afternoons strolling along the river and getting to know the city. Some highlights so far have been seeing the Heidelberg Castle, hiking in the hills surrounding the city, and window shopping on the high street in the Old Town. Heidelberg is also very much a college town, with the university facilities scattered throughout the city, and it has been fantastic getting to know some of my counterparts at a German university. I live in a dorm with a German roommate and meet often with a tandem partner as part of a German-American exchange program, so I am certainly immersing myself in the local culture! I am also currently taking an intensive German course through American Junior Year Abroad in order to prepare for our university classes.
This time has not been without its challenges, and in many ways my study abroad experience has been more difficult than I expected. With language barriers and lingering restrictions due to the pandemic, many things have been difficult to navigate. However, I feel very fortunate to have support from Notre Dame and the American Junior Year Abroad staff, as well as from the other students in my program. I have already learned so much about myself and my abilities when confronted with challenges, and I am sure I will continue to grow in many respects during the coming months.