Monday morning Becca and I checked out of our hotel room and hailed a taxi to take us to the Mensa/Studentenwerk (basically their student union building) at Philipps-Universität. We arrived, checked in and then were sorted into four different groups containing other students participating in the pre-semester language course. Our group ended up containing five Americans (there are a lot more Americans doing this program that I would have expected) as well as people from Poland, Italy, the Netherlands and Japan. So, besides the preponderance of Americans, all in all, there’s a fairly good mix.
We had two sort of orientation leaders. Their primary job was helping us fill out some complicated paperwork to notify the German government of our presence and arrival. We also got breakfast together in one of the building’s cafeterias .
Perhaps the most important thing we learned this day was our housing assignment. When applying for this exchange program I had requested one of the dorms near the castle that crests the hill Marburg is located on – seemed like a cool idea, yeah? However I was not successful in these efforts. I am living in the Karl-Egermann-Haus, better known by the street it’s on, Fuchspaß. It’s about a 20-minute ride by bus from the university, which is another reason why I had tried to request a Schlosswohnheim – I knew they had dorms that were outside the main city and I wanted to try and avoid this. Alas, however, I was foiled in my efforts.
The room is certainly no thing of beauty, but it’s definitely functional, and that’s really all I can ask, right? They provided bedding for me, which is much appreciated. My building’s Wirtschafterin, (sort of like a den mother for your dorm building, as best I can tell) met me upon my entry (and also helped me carry my suitcase up to the fourth floor, bless her heart). She told me, I think, all about living here and different procedures (using the kitchen, washing facilities, etc.). She spoke entirely in German and I would say I only caught about half of what she said, but she seems very nice and I’m sure she will be patient with me if I have to ask her the same thing multiple times. She’ll be coming by tomorrow morning (I think?) to give me some additional keys – I get a sort of cubby in the kitchen to keep my food, which seems like a smart idea to me.
After finally getting to unpack my clothes and deciding which articles deserve to be hung on my ten hangers, I decided to head back into Marburg to a) see if I could figure this bus nonsense out (we were driven up to the dorm) and b) to scope out where I could buy food and to hopefully buy a hair dryer. I was successful on both counts and returned to my dorm with bananas, granola bars, shower supplies and a much-sought-after hair dryer.
Overall, I’m quite surprised by how much use I’m actually getting of my German skills. I think the prevalence of English over here was quite overhyped, at least in Marburg. I mean, I’m sure you could get by without German, but it’s not as though everyone I meet and converse with immediately tries to spoeak with me in English – if I want that, I almost always have to ask for it, and that’s something I’m trying very hard not to do. However, I do need to go open a bank accountzz and I will probably ask for English for that, simply because that can be confusing enough in English.
I do feel like my German skills are improving, even after just a couple days here. Being surrounded by people speaking German – and being spoken at almost solely in German – does wonders for your language capability. When I first arrived at the university this morning, I spoke very little German – I was very self-conscious and didn’t necessarily find the right words coming to me fast enough. Yet after a few hours I was speaking more and more in German, forming sentences with much less difficulty and much greater speed than before.
Still, it’ll take some time to fully immerse myself in the language. I still find myself reverting to English without consciously realizing it, such as saying please instead of bitte or thank you instead of danke. Those are small slips, yes, but I want to reach a point where German is my default language, not English.
The above was written yesterday – here are further updates.
Today pretty much all of us living in Fuchspaß were late, having unwittingly missed the 8:27 bus – the next one wasn’t until nearly 9:00 and that’s when we were supposed to arrive at the university. Luckily we were only late for breakfast.
Some representatives from different banks came and helped us to open new accounts, so I should have that finalized tomorrow. We also went to the Stadtbüro to register with the government. Most importantly, I finally have a phone which I will try to set up shortly, hopefully it works.
–Germans, or at least Marburgers, do not jaywalk. It doesn’t matter how sparse traffic is, they will not cross out of turn. This seems to be one of the quickest ways to identify yourself as a non-native.
–Marburgers/Germans are apparently very green/eco-conscious/cheap because plastic bags either cost you extra, precious euros or they are only available in tiny, paper-thin varieties. Canvas bags are the way to go, and I will remember that for next time.
–Döners are delicious. It’s some sort of Turkish falafel thing. I am not sure what’s in them but I don’t ask questions and I am happy.