He studied abroad at the Technische Universität Darmstadt in Darmstadt, Germany and completed their International Research Experience Program.
IF NOTHING ELSE, DON’T FORGET TO PACK…
A water bottle. Europeans have this weird tendency not to drink water, so it’s hard to come by. You won’t find many drinking fountains, and you won’t be served water at restaurants. So if you want to stay hydrated, you need to take care of it yourself. (For those wondering what Europeans normally do in restaurants, the answer is either go dry or order a drink.)
ON SECOND THOUGHT, LEAVE AT HOME…
Sweat pants. They’re seen as pajamas in Germany and not public wear.
WHERE TO LIVE:
I ended up in the student dorms (Wohnungs/WGs). I know other international students that got houses, but I don’t know how they finessed that. As WGs go, Karlshof was filthy and dilapidated, but my building is getting rebuilt from the ground up, so you may have better luck. Nonetheless, Karlshof only has one bus running to it, and that’s unlikely to change. Berliner Allee is well maintained and has good metro connectivity (2 buses and 2 light rail), but it’s on a busy intersection and people like to party.
BEST PLACE TO EAT:
Traditional Hessian food, traditional German beer. It’s delicious, and the place has a nice atmosphere. Try the Apfelwein; it’s a Hessian specialty that’s kinda like cider.
BEST CULTURAL HIDEOUT:
Not sure if it’s a cultural hideout, but Suppkült Elisabeth is an out-of-the-way place that serves great soup.
MUST-TRY LOCAL DISH:
Döner kebap. It’s a Turkish expatriate dish, kind of a gyro-salad-sandwich. The meat is cooked on a vertical spit. They’re sort of a fast food that’s not particularly unhealthy.
BEST PHOTO OP:
Neither Darmstadt nor its parent city Frankfurt are known for being photogenic. Although Darmstadt’s central square, Luisenplatz, is neat and kind of the “proof you’ve been to Darmstadt” photo op.
My student residence permit. US citizens are allowed 90 days’ free travel in the Schengen Area. To stay longer, you need to apply for a student residence permit, which entails a couple trees of paperwork and running all over the city for various documents (matriculation confirmation, health insurance confirmation, blocked bank account, etc.). I didn’t have everything ready in time for the first meeting with the Foreigner’s Office (Ausländerbehörde) in mid-May, so I had to stay until the next meeting in July before I could legally leave the country. Worse, for part of that interim I was technically living illegally, so I couldn’t risk going through passport control to go to a conference in Austria.
German SIM card. I used AldiTalk. Like everything else in Germany, it’s a bureaucratic nightmare to set up, but you can’t rely on wifi.
MOST INTERESTING CLASS:
I only took one class: the mandatory intensive German language course. It was fine. The rest of my time was as a student research assistant.
MOST MEMORABLE TRIP:
Going to the Wave-Gotik-Treffen music festival. See my favorite artists all day and dance all night. The whole city of Leipzig went out for us. City authorities set up a special bus line for us, there were gothic pastries and gothic ice cream, the Egyptian Museum even had free admission and tours. Of course, if gothic/darkwave/industrial isn’t really your scene, probably best to skip this event.
BEST LOCAL EVENT/HOLIDAY:
Darmstadt’s Schlossgrabenfest was fun. Didn’t really care for the music, but there were lots of carnival games and food trucks. And lots of free stuff, including cool hats andwine samples.
FAVORITE LOCAL WORD/SLANG:
I’m fascinated by how Germans co-opt English, and German’s compound noun system makes for some interesting combinations. Near as I can tell, bullshitbingo is corporate/market buzzwords.
IF I COULD DO IT OVER AGAIN…
Don’t study abroad in your last semester. It meant spending even less time with friends who I knew would soon scatter to the winds.
Miscellaneous other tips:
- Most buildings, including your residence, don’t have AC, which sucks. You could buy a fan.
- Internet in the dorms is limited to 120 GB/mo. Wifi is not provided; you just get an ethernet jack. You can hook up a router, or many laptops these days can project their own wifi hotspot.
- You’re probably used to a cell data plan in the 2-4 GB range. This is really high by German standards, where 0.5-1 is more typical.
- It helps to learn the Euro coinage. The one place the stereotype of German efficiency is borne out is loading your groceries in the grocery store. You can feel the eyes of the cashier and the next patrons boring into you as you fumble with your change. You could buy a Euro coin holder like this and turn the tables on them.
- Speaking of which, Germans pay for nearly everything in cash. Few places accept plastic.
- Germany uses a mix of Type C and Type F power plugs. A Type C plug will fit into a Type F socket, but not vice versa, so buy Type C plug adapters. Also, Germany runs on 220-240V, so double check that your devices’ power supplies can handle that. Most can, but for those that can’t you’ll either need to buy a power converter or go without.