My name is Michael Farrell and I am now a Senior studying German Language & Literature with History as my minor. I was lucky enough to take part in a year-long exchange with the Karls-Ruprecht-Universität Heidelberg in Heidelberg, Germany during the 2008-2009 school year.
Heidelberg is a city with a population of approximately 150,000 people which includes many small districts just like in the greater Fairbanks area. Heidelberg is considered a small yet accessible German town with the nearby hubs of international travel in Frankfurt (about 1 hour with a fast train) and shopping and industry in Mannheim (10 miles and 10 minutes north). A newer addition of a French TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) train route puts Heidelberg within 4 hours of Paris, France.
Heidelberg is strategically positioned in Germany and small enough for everyone to find a bit of peace and quiet on the Philosophenweg (Philosopher’s path) or at the Schloßruinen (Castle ruins). After WWII the American Army established NATO High Command for Europe in Heidelberg and despite the dissolution of the Soviet Union and reunification of a democratic Germany, U.S. soldiers never left Heidelberg. Those native Fairbanksans who travel to Heidelberg for extended periods of time will be able to reminisce as fighter jets, G.I.s and Texan tourists roam around a city they don’t understand and try to find people who “English Sprekin?”
The University itself is the oldest (1386) and overall top-ranked in Germany. A Harvard of Europe, this is where the trickiest, most sinister German lawyers come to hone their “skills” and is the scene of the book turned film “The Reader” (Der Vorleser). As well as law, the university has an excellent medical department with one side of the river Neckar dedicated to clinics galore including the hilarious sounding Kopfklinik [head (the body part) clinic] and the Schmerzzentrum (pain center).
As a student one lives in either the Altstadt (old city) or on the other side of the river (Neuenheimer Feld district) . Altstadt residences provide instantaneous access to the Untere Strasse (lower street), a street filled with pubs, bars, nightclubs, discos, one very respectable café (Tee oder Kaffee) and after 22:00 a large number of sloshed college students. The residences near the clinics mean that students must bike, ride the bus or take a taxi to the city (2 miles), but they also attract the envy of Altstadt residents with fancy rooms as well as essential medical services needed after a night on the town.
The German social health care system provides students, travelers, U.S. soldiers and citizens alike with indiscriminate, prompt and professional emergency health care regardless of preexisting condition and without credit card information at a cost of 10 Euros ($14) per month, causing the U.S. military to prefer to send wounded troops from Iraq and Afghanistan to German hospitals with English-speaking doctors rather than American run institutions.
Classes are held in both English and German, so many of the exchange students I met were not studying German, but rather a whole array of subjects such as: law, psychology, anthropology, music, business, etc. For me, striving to continue to learn German in such an international city where some residents only spoke or wanted to speak English was difficult – most younger Germans will answer you in English until you tell them to stop. With enough determination and a stubborn no English policy I was able to continue learning without the feeling that I was “immersed and sinking” in a foreign culture. It turned out that meeting people from New Zealand, Australia, Hungary, France, England, Chile, Spain, Italy, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, Serbia and many other countries gave me the feeling of being a “cosmopolitan” or “citizen of the world.”
As well as feeling global, weekends are a perfect opportunity to travel the European continent. Budget airliners such as RyanAir offer destinations from Dublin to Istanbul for as little as one Euro and the Deutsche Bahn train system is a quick and efficient way to get around – just make sure you get on and off at the right places! I was able to visit the Netherlands, France, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ukraine, Poland, Austria and many German cities in this way, but in the end I missed my car, my family and our small, friendly town enough to come back…for now!
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