We arrived in Berlin on the evening of May 9, which happened to fall on the German Father’s Day. Therefore, the streets and trains were alive with rowdy citizens that were singing and chanting almost endlessly. This was the first time we were exposed to the German transportation system, both the buses and the urban trains. The urban trains were particularly impressive as the elevation of some lines allow you to get a great view of various parts of the city. Even though we did not even stay in Berlin for a full day, it is certainly a city that needs to be revisited. The Deutsche Bahn proved to be incredibly fast and efficient. Not only did it allow us to travel to Wuerzburg comfortably, but it also formally introduced us to the German landscape.
Thus far, Wuerzburg has proven itself to be a beautiful city. Our stay in the city of Wurzburg has been remarkable, so far. This is obviously a city that treasures and seeks to preserve their history. Rather than tear down landmarks and make way for new buildings, this city appears to have put forth great effort to emphasize their history by renovating their historic buildings and building around their landmarks. Although we expected to experience a significant language barrier due to our unfamiliarity with the German language, we have been proven wrong by the citizens of Wurzburg given that the vast majority speak and understand English.
The exchange students from last year recommended that we use a prepaid phone service during our stay in Wuerzburg. Therefore, we purchased an unlocked smartphone, which has been an extremely useful gadget as we have used it to take pictures, locate places using the GPS, browse the internet, etc. While T-Mobile does not have a strong market presence in the U.S., it is strongly positioned in Germany. Once you purchase a prepaid SIM card from T-Mobile, the €15 refill cards can be purchased from various stores in the city, such as the T-Mobile stores, Kupsch, Media Markt, etc.
Due to time constraints associated with our practicum, we have only been able to travel to two other cities in Bavaria: Erlangen and Bamberg. We used the Bayern Ticket, which is a pass that allows groups of people to use the Deutsche Bahn to travel to various cities in Bavaria at a discounted price. In Erlangen, we had the opportunity to attend the Bergkirchweih, which is an annual beer festival on a hill. In Bamberg, we got to do a little sightseeing of various landmarks and attend a wine festival in the historic city center.
To the students who plan to participate in this exchange program next Spring or Summer, we would recommend that they take much into consideration.
Prior to traveling
- Verify the weather conditions before traveling and pack accordingly. We were not expecting, nor prepared, for the cold and often rainy weather.
- Create a list of what you expect to experience during your stay in Germany.
- Talk to other students who have previously participated in this or similar exchange programs.
- Get to know the fellow students participating in your exchange program.
- Acquire an Ethernet cable (this is to access the internet in your dorm) and a voltage converter.
- Try to learn some basic words, phrases, or sentences in German. While this is not a requirement given that so many people in Wuerzburg can understand English, it helps a great deal when ordering food at a restaurant or buying groceries.
- If you plan to do some traveling, make a tentative plan of cities that you want to travel to, sights that you want to see, days that you can go, etc.
During your stay
- Get a prepaid cell phone plan. You have three options: (1) Unlock your phone (through your U.S. carrier); (2) Buy a disposable phone in Germany; or (3) Buy an unlocked phone (worst case scenario).
- Spend accordingly and keep a budget of how much you plan to spend per day.
- Since you will likely use the buses as your main source of transportation, familiarize yourself with their schedules. If necessary, take pictures of them and use that as your reference.
- Don’t be afraid to try the different types of food, regardless of your unfamiliarity with them.
- Socialize, whether it be face-to-face or through Facebook. The people in Wuerzburg are extremely friendly, helpful, and always enthusiastic about practicing their English skills.
- If you do travel, do not just target the major cities in Europe. There is no shortage of places to visit within Germany that are feasibly within traveling distance.