After a short summer filled with anticipation and internal battles over how many floral blouses I really needed to take, I arrived in Mannheim two weeks ago, clueless, optimistic, and slightly terrified. I’d chosen Mannheim mainly because of its convenient term dates and proximity to France and despite following every Mannheim-based Instagram page I could find, I had no idea what to expect from the city, the university, or the people.
Sitting in my room on the first night, I felt like I’d been picked up and dropped in an alternate reality. Everything felt different. Emergency sirens were loud and alien outside my window, everything smelt weirdly nicer than it does at home, and the prolonged German heatwave meant the air was blisteringly hot. I was living in a new country but for the first few days it felt like a new world.
When I pictured my first week in Mannheim, I pictured an immediate immersion in the German language. This wasn’t exactly the case. The first week was a welcome week for international students, meaning that I was mingling with students from pretty much every country except Germany. From South Korea to Italy to Brazil, I’ve made friends with students from around the world, and probably practised my French and Spanish as much as I’ve practised my German. There are over 700 exchange students lost in Mannheim, marvelling at the cheap alcohol, weird bread, and ghost-town Sundays. This makes Mannheim such a colourful tapestry of cultures; being an exchange student here is a truly international experience and it makes life so vibrant and interesting.
The least interesting experience of being a Mannheim fresher has been squaring up to German bureaucracy. Germany may be famous for its love of beer, sausage, and pretzels, but there’s one thing missing from that list – paperwork. After spending a fortnight here, I’m coming to realise that filling out forms is a national hobby. It takes the magic combination of a form, a signature, and a passport to do get anything done in Germany. After enrolling officially as a University of Mannheim student, a Mannheim resident, and managing to obtain student ID, an email account, and a freshers’ goodie bag (squeal) by turning up at the right desk with the right documents at the right time, I will never be intimidated by admin ever again. However, I doubt it’s over. Just like Aldi stores, there’s always a form lurking around the corner when you live in Deutschland.
There’s also always fun to be had as an exchange student in Mannheim. I’ve crammed more socialising and exploring into two weeks here than I would do in a whole term at Warwick. Being in a brand-new place brings an even more intense sense of freedom, and boundless possibilities. My new friends and I have already done a day trip to Heidelberg, as well as trying out Cuban bars, shot bars, and edgy cafés and restaurants. Even the most mundane things here can feel like an adventure, like doing a shop in a German supermarket, or catching one of Mannheim’s many trams.
I can feel myself falling in love with this city already, and as lectures and lessons start to begin and friendships grow stronger, I can’t wait to experience everything else that Mannheim has to offer (and blog about it, of course).