As I said at the start of the series, some of my best Dortmund memories are from ERASMUS. Especially the first month (September 2015) with the cultural programme and language course. Like many others, knowing the time was so limited, I went to as many events as I could. This also allowed us to meet as many people as possible.
This was a great opportunity: I met many people in my age group from all over the world. On various events, journeys and trips, I learnt so much from them – their general impressions, their experience, how they feel about their prospects. The mix was seriously international: as well as those on my language course, there were also large French, Spanish, Italian, Mexican, Brazilian and Turkish groups there. A broad overview of the so-called “Millennial generation” or “Generation Y”.
For example, a favourite in Germany: Hiking (Wandern). This we did plenty, as it is traditional on Fathers’ Day. As well as being popular on other holidays and Sundays (when almost everything is at standstill). On these, we could have long, in-depth conversations about life and what the future holds. Towards the end of the time there, it became more bittersweet: “What the **** am I supposed to do with my life?” Some weren’t even sure where they’d want to live long-term, if forced to choose one place. Of course there was also the fear of becoming ‘spießig’ – suburban, philistine, conventional. A bit like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off if you’ve seen that.
Ditto for parties and weeknights at the campus bars (also great to converse and compare life back home…then worry you possibly said more than you should).
A major theme and idea I got was this: we’re in an era of greater uncertainty and less job security. Even compared to just a matter of years ago, we’re living in different times. Is it wise, then, to stick to one highly-defined long-term goal? Is it time to re-assess our priorities if this is the case?
Tools & Tips
Spots visited on Cultural Programme
Steinwache Memorial – former police station and Nazi prison, in the heart of Dortmund (directly next to the central station, Hauptbahnhof). Today a museum and tribute – to the victims and resistance.
Bergbau Museum – The German Mining Museum (Bochum) gives an insight into the Ruhr region and Nordrhein-Westfalen’s deep industrial history.
Brewery Museum Dortmund – another important part of Dortmund’s industrial history – beer! Sadly there are nowhere near as many breweries in Dortmund as there used to be, but the tour lasts a good 2 hours, and you can sample at least four famous Dortmund beers.
Signal Iduna Park – Borussia Dortmund’s famous football stadium, the Westfalenstadion. We did the tour which is again at least two hours, and enjoyed even by those not into sport.
Language Cafés & Local Student Councils – Check your local area, social media or online for a local café. Or more formally through sites & apps like Multi-Language Cafe or Yakety Yak. The TU, FHS and ISM Dortmund offered over a dozen foreign languages at all levels. And in the international group, there were speakers of over 30 languages – so if you’re learning a language, odds are there’ll be someone to practise with.
Basically just of continuation and expansion on the Intro post – understanding, communication, co-operation, accepting people for who they were. I’d always gone in with the mindset of this being about opening up, about questioning things. But this developed too:
Finding myself the only Scottish or British person in the group on many occasions, not only did I need to adapt to the different accents, cultures and languages, but almost think differently and be willing to revise long-held views and assumptions. Over time, this shaped a different worldview: a process of coming to my own conclusions and generating my own ideas based on first-hand experience. The diversity really supplemented this. Everyone brought something to the table – their takes, their perspectives, their personalities, all of which can turn out to be so different: a real sense of being and becoming someone. And at the end of the day? Realising many popular convictions, approaches and attitudes are really just your culture. Not necessarily underpinned by any great basis or truth – just one way of looking at a problem or situation.
Adding to this vibe: after one hike, we chilled in a lounge on Campus Süd. An American girl put on the Woody Allen film Vicky Cristina Barcelona – all the characters are in predicaments of some sort. There’s a real sense of ambiguity; that all in life is open to interpretation. So I was pleasantly surprised (it is a romantic comedy), but guessed many could relate. The Spanish guitar music stuck in my head for days after too.
Bringing everything together: this goes deeper when you have a go at the local language. At a certain point you realise it’s another way of interpreting the world around you – with different emphases and priorities in comparison to your native language.