The Best Decision I've Ever Made August 26, 2019

By (Manchester University) - abroad from 07/31/2016 to 07/26/2017 with

Achievement Study Abroad - Two Countries, One Amazing Program!

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Studying abroad was, by no exaggeration, the best decision I ever made. I learned a language (which escaped me for the prior 6 years of my language study), multi-cultural competency, how to communicate important information in the presence of a language barrier, as well as some unexpected skills along the way, such as: how to read city maps, how to budget, how use public transportation, how to book travel and accommodations, and even photography (courtesy of Kris Riggs). Apart from the skills mentioned above, studying abroad made me much more self-confident in my ability to handle stressful and ambiguous situation as well as helped me recognize my passion for language. As a direct consequence of my experience abroad, I have been inspired to pursue a career in teaching English as a foreign language abroad and to study other languages in my spare time (as of now, French and Japanese).

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? None

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Courses were challenging, but there was plenty of support whenever I needed extra help.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Kris is very knowledgeable and capable of handling administrative and cultural issues - also

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I lived in a FREAKING CASTLE.

* Food:

Almost everything I tried over there was incredible - especially Julietta's cooking!

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I've never felt more at home than when I was in Marburg; people even started to mistake me for a German. It was awesome.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

The insurance certainly worked while I was there. I had a few health issues during my year, and while the system felt a little user-unfriendly and weirdly complicated, I ended up being reimbursed for all of my costs and saw doctors without being financially burdened.

* Safety:

I felt very safe in both Vienna and Marburg. I wore my backpack behind me for the majority of my stay in both cities and was never pick-pocketed once.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

I could write on this topic for hours. I suppose part of my overwhelmingly positive experience was being in the right place at the right time of my life; but in the best way possible, I got more than I bargained for in my experience abroad. Living in the castle with a community of almost all native Germans was, for me, the perfect blend of dorm and host family accommodations. Although nobody in the castle is related by blood, being part of such a unique community and supporting one another through personal and academic struggles forms very rewarding bonds between members of the community that I haven't been able to find anywhere else. Additionally, other perks of living in the castle include frequent group activities (such as bi-annual castle-wide excursions to the country-side), group lunches Monday-Friday prepared by the castle chef, and bi-annual homecoming parties, where past castle residents are invited back to catch up for a day and night of activities (I was lucky enough to come back to Germany a year after I graduated in the castle, and it was just as cool, if not better, than when I was a current resident!). As far as studies go, I certainly felt a sense that I was able to control how much I wanted to challenge myself. The Philipps-Universität Marburg offers classes in both German and English - so if you don't feel confident enough in your abilities to study advanced topics in German, you can (for many, but not all classes) opt for a potentially less stressful course. However, if you're up for a challenge, I would definitely recommend taking any course you can in German (it's a great opportunity for advanced vocab)! Even if it ends up being too much (which happened to me in a Developmental Psychology class taught in German), I certainly found giving classes taught in German worth my time. In addition to taking courses in German to English translation, literature, and poetry, (which were provided by instructors via the program - another cool perk of the program) I also decided to take a French class taught in German; and while that was definitely overwhelming for the first half of the semester, it was a super rewarding experience, and my French improved a staggering amount given the minimal language knowledge I joined the class with. Another unexpected perk of studying there was how much down time there was between classes (usually classes last around two hours but only take place once a week). Coming from a standard American institution, I had much more free time than I was accustomed to, which allowed me to travel, visit and hang out with friends, or simply slow down and enjoy some of my hobbies. After adjusting, this extra downtime was definitely a huge plus for me. Finally, in my experience, Kris functioned as the glue for all the awesome parts of the program. Whether it was helping me to sort out idioms or difficult to translate bits in German or idle chat over a coffee, his availability was a hugely positive influence. I honestly cannot recall a single instance where I was in need of help and Kris was unable to help me sort out the issue. He even invited all of us students over during the holidays for a meal and company so that we wouldn't be alone (and damn, can Julietta cook - honestly some of the best food I had while I was over there). Given all of the individual parts and pieces together, I actually can't imagine having a better experience. If I could do it all over again, I would certainly do so: again, and again, and again.

Finances

* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

With the meal-stipends provided, my personal costs were so low (given I don't eat out much) that I actually ended up saving enough money to extend my stay 3 more weeks.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? Probably 50 - 60 Euros a week
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Don't eat out too often! It drains your pockets pretty quickly. If you need something to eat on the go, definitely opt for Döner - they're less than 5 euros, super filling, and taste amazing.

Language

* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

If you live in the castle, you have to speak German or you won't be able to keep up. That was a fantastic learning environment.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Fluent
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? Somewhere between beginner and intermediate level
How many hours per day did you use the language? 10+
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? The best single tip I can give for this program is to apply to live in the castle. You won't find a more encouraging, rewarding, or fun group to live and learn German with (I would say the castle community was about 80% responsible for all of my language development while abroad). Other than that, branch out from your study abroad group! Also, having international friends is a rewarding experience; but only if they don't speak English with you! Separate yourself from people who want to speak English if you're serious about improving your language skills.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
  • Apartment
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • International Students
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
  • International Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • The castle and the castle community of students
  • The program director (Kris Riggs) and his family
  • The food
* What could be improved?
  • As far as the program and director are concerned, I actually don't have any complaints.
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I knew how inconsequential it would be to my friends that I was making language errors when trying to interact with them. For a while, I was held back by the fear that I would come off as looking stupid or unintelligible, and so I sat in the corner of events frequently in my first semester until I felt confident enough to join. On the one hand, I only lost out on time interacting with people; but on the other hand (especially as the program draws to a close), the time you have left starts to feel very finite and as though it escapes you the more you try to hold on to it. Although I've always had a bit of distaste for the phrase, this program really is more about the journey than the destination.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!