Living in a New Language

Expansive View of German Community
Author: Brodie Hay, VIU BSc Computer Science

Barrier or Opportunity?

My biggest fear by far about going on exchange was the language barrier. Before I left on my exchange, I had travelled to Germany the year before for about a month, and during that time I was only able to attend a week of German language classes. So it is safe to say I was going in pretty green!

I did try my best to support my initial learning through mobile apps, but I really believe that to learn a language and actually have it stick, you need to be immersed in it. It can't just be something you think about for 10 or 15 minutes a day and then forget about. Lucky for me, one of the first things you learn to say in German is to apologize and ask if the person you are speaking to speaks English. This sentence was definitely a life saver.

"Choosing to go on exchange and getting out of my comfort zone was one of the best things that I have done in my pursuit to grow as a person, especially going to a non-native English speaking country. It allowed me to meet countless new friends, gain new cultural perspectives, and it has put me well on my way to becoming a global citizen."

Walking into a shop or restaurant and just starting to speak English was a really great way to get a blank stare and lead to utter confusion on both sides. Many German youth are at least somewhat educated in the English language, but there are also a lot of people who are not. This is especially true in the service industry. So, what I found to be an invaluable skill was trying my very best to speak any German I could.  If I got in over my head, I would apologize and politely ask if the person helping me spoke any English.

Brodie Overlooking Local Scape

With my method, you may find some common ground of both knowing a tiny bit of the other's language. Worst case scenario, they may know a colleague that speaks some English, or you can always fall back on google translate.

Other invaluable resources that I had at my disposal were:

1)    A friend I trust that is German

2)    My host university actually had a buddy system and a peer “tutor” system that gave me a German buddy to show me around my new home and give me tips about the city,

3)    My host university also had tutors, who assisted all of the exchange students in registering in the city and getting our student visas.

Of course, such services may vary between schools and if you are going on exchange in a native English speaking country you may not need as much of a support system. However, if this is something that you think you would like, I suggest doing your research on the schools that you are interested in attending!

If there is the possibility of a buddy program I highly recommend it, it gave me such a piece of mind while getting acclimated to my new surroundings and it was especially helpful during the craziness that occurred right before having to come home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

 Brodie with Mountain View

Overall, I believe that choosing to go on exchange and getting out of my comfort zone was one of the best things that I have done in my pursuit to grow as a person, especially going to a non-native English speaking country. It allowed me to meet countless new friends, gain new cultural perspectives, and it has put me well on my way to becoming a global citizen.

- Brodie Hay, VIU Exchange Student,  4th Year BSc in Computing Science

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