Being a sophomore, I was chasing my dream to study abroad, at least for two semesters. There are quite a number of different exchange programs that connect schools in various countries but for most university students in Europe, it is Erasmus, a phenomenon unto itself because it has been around for thirty years now. For most, it is a semester abroad when you can take some of your time and make most of it by traveling to various destinations on the continent, along the way making new friends and having new experiences. Some study abroad with Erasmus because they want to increase their language skills in a more connected Europe that the alt-right loves to attack (more or less, I happen to fall into this category). Others just want to experience studying in a different system or country or a new culture. Some students live for parties, Erasmus parties, especially if they are in a big international city during their exchange semester. So even though there is one program that operates in Europe (certainly there are others), there are so many Erasmus experiences, ways of seeing and identifying these experiences that it is maybe possible that we define subcultures within the program.
ERASMUS actually stands for “European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students” — Just. Give me. A break.
One probable subculture revolves around Erasmus Student Network. ESN groups organize events, trips, and of course with no doubt, parties. Not only outgoing exchange students but also regular students partake in these activities, help incoming students find accommodation, sign up for courses or classes, and explore the city, campus. Most students build really strong bonds and friendships during their semester abroad.
All this craze, in the end, entice university students. They want to go and spend some time abroad for various reasons, led on by possibilities that have been diffused by ex-Erasmusees. I knew of Erasmus well before I started studying German at a prepschool. But it was a friend of mine as a freshman, who had done Erasmus in Poland, who motivated me with the idea of studying abroad, especially in Germany, giving hints about how it would help me improve my baby German. In my first try as a sophomore, I could not succeed in the exam well enough to be placed into a partner university, which, later on I realized, would turn out beneficial for me.
Fast forward to my fourth semester in Izmir. I showed up on the list of students that were selected as outgoing students according to a special grade point average of a language exam and current GPA. My name followed the university of Johannes Gutenberg Mainz. The faculty I was going to study was, however, not located in Mainz, which would later occur to me and a classmate from Izmir as an unpleasant surprise, who was also going to attend this school with me.
Once you’re nominated for a partner school, you realize that everything starts just now, checking the classes that you’re going to take, their compatibility, finding affordable accommodation, getting the visa (this applies to non-EU member states), getting every document signed by bunch of staff members, professors at both schools… You see everything is crazy. I am not to dive into greater detail here, because it is a whole topic unto itself and I’d need to write a thorough guide as our International Relations Office at DEU has done. (Mine, though, would be more realistic than a guide.)
This town is where we would study our Erasmus semester. After having read about Mainz for awhile, it took not much time until we realized everything about this faculty, FTSK, was different from the main campus. Even the website, FTSK has its own Buddy Project, its own Erasmus page, its own everything. Because this faculty is one hundred and nine kilometers away from Mainz. So every thing I thought about before coming to study at FTSK was all of a sudden void.
Then I searched about Germersheim, or Germersche, as locals name it. To be honest, the town seemed to catch no interest from me, even though I was somewhat curious. Reading about it online, I knew it was by the Rhine River, it had a very small population of twenty thousand people, and it is home to FTSK. One thing puzzled me, however, most, how would you travel to such a town that is so away from any international airport, which, of course, was a no brainer. It wasn’t so small that even DB would not operate here.
After a series of unfortunate events, we arrived in this small town. My first impressions of Germersheim was mostly about my first impressions of Germany, but it is a fact that those were genuinely my impressions of Germersheim. In the center of the town, I liked the smalltowniness of buildings, parks, cafés, pubs and even roads, houses that are close to and at Kirchenplatz are my favorite buildings in the town. I loved walking on the path along the creek when you pass the post office towards Amadeus, my favorite pub. Walking to the Rhein River, finding yourself in nature only after ten minute walk from the town center, going to the lake nearby (towards Sondernheim) and, most importantly, only taking fifteen minutes to go to class made me love this small place.
It took no more than a week to see most parts of the town and try most cafés and pubs. There is literally no night life here, no one should expect that from a small town, but it is the situation in most places in Germany, if you are not in Berlin, Munich or any other big city, as most businesses close at 7 PM. In Germersheim, Allegro, which is located at Königsplatz – town center -, is the best café to drink a coffee and study, or chat with friends. It has a cozy and comfortable atmosphere. You should not eat here, though. We had breakfast here twice after arriving, which was good but pricey. My favorite pub is Amadeus, whose only downside is that it is a smoker-friendly pub. You stink once you get in. But most places in this town allow indoors smoking. If you are in Germany, one of the best fast food you can get is obviously a döner. And Germersheim hosts five döner shops. The best döner in town is definitely served in K2. City Döner, which is very close to the university, has the best pizza. There is also a McDonald’s and a Burger King in town, but you have to walk to the Industriegebiet for a BigMac or a Whopper.
Finding accommodation was a last minute issue for us as we were sure that we would be given a room at university dormitory. But we were not. There are several Facebook groups where you can easily find a Wohngemeinschaft, or WG, which is basically a shared flat, and there is of course wg-gesucht.de. I opted for the other dormitory owned and operated by a local housing company. The dormitory is a bit far away from the university, a maximum fifteen minute walk, but it is very close to the main train station, from which it actually derives its name, Wohnheim am Bahnhof. The only disadvantage of this dormitory is that you have to pay a three-month rent as an exchange student.
This dorm is quite advantageous because of its closeness to the main train station, since Germersheim is small and you will want to travel. Lidl, a German supermarket chain, is also very close, so is Real, a German ‘hypermarket’, in other words, a department store in a supermarket form. Sharing a kitchen with seventeen people can be a hurdle but student life is far from perfect.
Erasmus has come to an end for me over a week ago. But I still cannot come to grasp that this wonderful experience has ended. A semester abroad is really more than just a semester not only because of challenging circumstances of adopting to a new language, faculty and country but also it brings students all across Europe and help them build new friendships, experience and each others’ differences, and see what unites us all. We all have grown to a newer (and, hopefully, wiser) version of ourselves. Germersheim is small, and it sure made every big thing smaller for us. I will truly miss it and everything we have had here.