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Studying Abroad isn't Always "Sunshine & Pancakes"

Updated: Jan 26

This month on the blog, I really want add more voices and perspectives than just my own. So, I asked some of the amazing travelers that I met during my adventures abroad to share their stories.


Throughout their stories, they will tell you a little bit about themselves, what motivated them to travel, a highlight and a lowlight from their travels, as well as offer some advice based on their own experiences.


My hope with this series is that you find something, or someone, you resonate with that motivates you to take a leap of faith, this year, towards expanding your horizons abroad!


For our third entry in the series, we have the bubbly and effervescent Selma!

 

Selma

Hi everyone!


My name is Selma Osmanovic and I am one of the DAAD Young Ambassadors for 2023-2024 season!


Hannah and I met at the conference in New York and quickly bonded over just about everything. I am so grateful to have made such an amazing friend through this experience, and am thrilled that I get to make a contribution to her amazing blog!


To explain a little bit about me, I was born and raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here, I grew up in a bilingual Bosnian-German household and at the age of 12, I moved to Canada with my parents!


I am now a student at the University of Manitoba and I still live with my parents in Winnipeg! Once I started university, I rediscovered my love for Germany and the culture. I'm currently in my 5th year of a double honours degree in Political & German Studies!


I love what I study and am so so so thankful for all of the experiences I was able to gain with the unwavering support of my German professors. They played a huge role in my study abroad experience, especially as I was among the first to go abroad after COVID (which made it all 10x more nerve-wracking!).


Gorgeous fall night view

For my studies abroad, I attended a DAAD short language course called “Academic Life in Leipzig” back in September 2022 at the interDaF (Herder Institut) of the University of Leipzig. After this course, I moved to the University of Greifswald where I studied for the 2022 fall semester as a part of the University of Manitoba's International Centre Exchange Program.


While I did not have much choice in going to the University of Greifswald, due to the Univeristy of Manitoba and the University of Greifwald being partner-universities, I was able to put my top 3 preferences down for the short DAAD program, and I got my first choice!


I chose to go to Germany, not just because of what I study, but also because I have close family ties through my parents and extended family. While on the one hand, I really wanted to reconnect with these extended family members (which I did, and I am so happy that I made that first step), I also wanted to experience Germany academically, and on my own.



Since I grew up in a bilingual household, I grew up watching German TV. This exposed me to German culture essentially since I was born. As a result, I often felt left out from my peers in Bosnia. To no fault of their own, of course, I just didn’t always get the references they were making, the jokes they were laughing at, or the music they were listening to. So, going to study in Germany felt like a personal growth goal that I just felt like I needed to do!


I think I really had the full, well-rounded experience in my studies abroad because it wasn’t all sunshine and pancakes.


While I had the most amazing experience in Leipzig in September, thanks to my amazing family members, the excitement of finally traveling after COVID, and the excitement of oh my God I am really studying abroad in Germany. I also had quite a tough time once the excitement died down and I moved to Greifswald.


I was really looking forward to traveling by train, which might sound silly, but we don’t really have those in Manitoba. I was so looking forward to going out with friends and not having to worry about who the designated driver was going to be, and how we will find parking.


View from the bus

Again, might sound silly, but going out in Winnipeg seems to be focused solely on how to get to xyz and how to get home, since our public transportation isn’t the best.


I got to experience all of this in Leipzig! It was exactly the experience I was craving, I made so many friends, the dorm was so nice, and everything was so fun, awesome, and amazing!


Then I moved to Greifswald, which is a tiny coastal university town by the Poland border, and it didn’t have any trains or trams, just 3 bus lines.


I am sure you can figure out how huge of a pit I had in my stomach the first weekend I spent there completely on my own. No friends, no family, just my new roommate and I.


I had a very hard time making friends because people tended not to hangout on campus like they did at my home university. Since the town is so tiny, everyone just went home after class, so I tried going out to explore on my own. I walked around and looked at things I wouldn’t otherwise look at, I got a library membership, I went to museums, I went to the farmer’s markets, but I was definitely lonely.



I think everyone who goes to study abroad has this worry in the back of their head and we tend to brush it off thinking ‘oh I am sure I am going to meet someone, I always do’. That’s what I thought! But then, I didn’t! Everyone I met was super nice and friendly, but we just didn’t become friends.


View from inside the university

Things got better once school started! I loved my classes, and I generally thrive when I have classes to attend, readings to do, random things to look up for background information on what a prof was saying, etc. Things were okay!


I also feel very lucky that my roommate was also an exchange student from the UofM and was nice enough to let me tag along with her friend group. Without her, I don’t think I would have gone out at night at all! But overall, I think this made me reflect on myself a lot. I really got into journaling and I really let myself feel the feelings that I had to feel.


I realized that I am actually really into cleaning (which I will deny if brought up by my parents) and I really enjoy people watching! Since my parents have the same birthday, I started making them a birthday box, knitted scarves for them, and watched a lot of TV shows while I was doing that.


I wish I had heard of other peoples' ‘less than perfect’ study abroad experiences before I went abroad. I think what hurt me the most personally was, not the fact that I was lonely during my studies, but that I felt like I was the only one feeling that way.


All I saw on my phone were people with their amazing traveling reels, "how to visit 3949292 countries in a weekend", "tips on how to pack your entire belongings into a tiny kanken backpack", "39398282 tips and tricks on how to solo travel", etc. But not every study abroad experience looks like that, and THAT’S OKAY!!!!



I am SO glad I went to study abroad, and I am so glad that my experience looked the way it did! What was meant to happen happened, and I also don’t think I would have enjoyed the instagram-perfect-constantly-traveling-experience. It’s just not my thing!


European walkway

I am also from Europe, so the typical Canadian/American "OMG I am in Italy/Spain/France" Europe experience doesn’t really interest me since I’ve seen most of that when I was very little.


So, yes, I could have done with more friends, but I still met so many amazing people and I learned so much from them. I hope to cross paths with some at some point again!




If I have any advice for someone who is going to study abroad, it's that loneliness is a big part of the experience and that it is okay! Make sure you have a strong support system back home, schedule call times or check in texts because ‘forgetting’ to text your mom back when you’re really lonely is very easy and often times they don’t want to bug you or bother you by texting a lot, so make it a commitment and stick to it!


Find an activity that helps you work through your feelings, whether that is journaling like me, jogging, listening to music, going for a walk, reading, painting, etc. You will, more likely than not, be exposed to a lot of feelings which maybe you avoid in your usual life or were not exposed to before, and finding a way to work through these is very important!


German homes

Also remember that you are there to study! There is nothing wrong with spending a few evenings in the library looking through the shelves and seeing what is available. Chances are, what they have available is very different from what your home university has! Make use of these resources, don’t take them for granted!


My conclusion is, your study abroad experience is what you make of it! The good, the bad, and all of the in between. Try your best, get out of your comfort zone, and take everything as a learning experience! Chances are, you will appreciate your experience so much more if you are prepared for anything!


Good luck, and happy travels!


 

Thank you so much Selma for sharing how your study abroad experience challenged you and helped you grow into the amazing person you are today. I know others will feel less alone in their struggles abroad thanks to you!

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