Amen Ben Ahmouda is a student at the University of Ottawa and left Canada for four months to study in Mannheim, Germany, thanks to the Ontario-Baden-Württemberg student exchange. She has shared her experience studying abroad with SoGerman in a series of blog posts. 

WARNING: this post is going to be filled with nostalgia!

Despite being excited to be home, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the familiar emptiness of leaving behind the people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen and the culture I’ve grown even more fond of over the past four months. Looking back, I have spent three seasons in Germany (summer, fall and “winter” aka Canadian autumn part 2), visited 10 different countries and more than 20 different cities … not a hard lifestyle to get used to! Despite the challenges I mentioned in my previous post, every day was a learning experience and a new adventure.

So, here’s some advice I’d give future exchange students:

Spend extra time in your host city!

I get it, not every city in Europe will be as charming as Paris or as wild as Berlin, but your home city is your base, it’s the place you’ll call home at the end. It was only after spending three consecutive weeks in Mannheim in the middle of my exchange when I started building solid friendships and really appreciate what the city has to offer. Granted, Mannheim is one of those back-bench cities in Europe, but I’ve grown to appreciate it’s charm; from its lively Christmas marks (and delicious Gluhwein), it’s diversity, nightlife and traditional German bars, and delicious street food (which I am mentioning again because… it’s the capital of Döner!). Mannheim also has a sweet small-city feel… you can’t walk down a central area (ex: Paradeplatz) or the University (aka Schloss) without seeing a person you know… something that is common back home in Ottawa and was nice to have in Mannheim too. By the time my four months were almost up, I found myself bragging about Mannheim to exchange students from other cities … and I knew the city has left a mark on me forever!

A second advice I’d definitely give is to be open.

Say YES – to (almost) everything. Experience new things, try new foods, talk to strangers on the bus, don’t take people’s attitudes too personally and don’t take anything too seriously. One of the best experiences I’ve had came along with spontaneously saying yes… it pushes you to trust others more, learn a lot about yourself and what your limits are.

If you are in your host country to learn or practice a language: do it!

Since planning my exchange, I was so excited to be surrounded by the German language and German culture. But when I got to Germany, to my surprise, everyday Germans didn’t speak as slowly or as clearly as the old man from my A2.2 listening and comprehension CD (shocker, I know!) So, I was hesitant to speak to other Germans in German, let alone get my services in the local language. However, I realized time was ticking and if there was a time to start well, it’s now. By the end of my exchange, I noticed improvements (granted, I’m by no means yet fluent), but I was able to get my services in German, socialize with friends and tell airport security that I, in fact, did not have liquids in my carry-on.

Touching down in Montreal’s Pierre-Trudeau Airport heading to Ottawa, I couldn’t believe it has already been 4 months since I left home. But the long line-up to Tim Hortons, the polite/awkward half-smile exchanged between strangers, and the – 21-degree weather, it didn’t take long for the shift to kick in… I tried to keep a travel journal during my exchange, but between the traveling, school, and every-day commitments, I never had the time to do so. I have plenty of empty pages left in my journal and I plan on filling them up with future adventures…

Danke to:

– The Professors who contributed to my application to go abroad, by providing reference letters, recommendations, and advice

– The University of Ottawa and the OBW Exchange Program for providing me with the funding to do my exchange

– And finally, everyone who made this a memorable experience!


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