By Cornelia Sennewald (Originally published in Culture, Issue 17 May 2016)
Before I came to Birmingham, I was not the person I am now. I had started studying English and Art at the University of Cologne in order to become a teacher. In September 2015, I was granted the opportunity to continue my studies at the University of Birmingham. I entered into a new adventure which changed my way of thinking and living deeply.
Even though the cultural differences between Germany and the UK are not so pronounced, there were a lot of aspects of day to day life which were new to me. I was surprised when the cashier at the supermarket asked me how I was and felt uneasy when someone apologised for something which was not their fault. While many other international students praise British punctuality, I found that they cannot keep up with Germans on this level. However, their general politeness and helpfulness exceeded what I had experienced so far.
In comparison to Germany, the living standards in the UK are lower in terms of the quality of student accommodation. The first day I walked through the student area to arrive at my house, I was initially surprised about the compact design of the houses. However, I quickly came to regard my new ‘home’ with fondness. After all it is not the residence itself but the people you live with who determine your quality of life here. My four housemates, also international students, were amazing – especially my housemate Khalfan who is half Kenyan, half German. Over the months we have really bonded and now he is like a brother to me. I have learned a lot from him, ranging from how to cook exotic Kenyan dishes to being exposed to new perspectives on life. Having him as a housemate and getting to know new fantastic friends are truly a blessing.
Even after the first semester – three months in Birmingham, I felt I had just settled here and begun to fully immerse my-self in the experience. I could not imagine going back to Germany so soon, but my Erasmus scholarship was about to expire. The choices I had left were either to pay for the next semester or to go back to Germany. When my parents offered to sponsor another semester of study, I felt privileged and overjoyed. The next day, however, I started to wonder whether it was really worth the money. Several courses offered here can also be taken at my home university. Yet, a full year at UoB would be much better for my CV than one term and I would reach a higher level of English. Even believing that academic progression only would not be worth the money, it was a very difficult decision to make. It was about much more –personal enrichment through cultural exchange with friends from various countries, exposure to new ideas, contributing to societies, trying new things like dancing and modelling, and mastering the trials and tribulations involved with accommodation issues and university structure.
Not everyone has the chance to extend their studies abroad, and I’m thankful for this opportunity. My time in Birmingham has empowered me in many ways, which I hope to convey through a drawing I am creating of the University. (See Cornelia’s beautiful drawing online)
Studying at the University of Birmingham is not only academically fulfilling, but offers amazing friendships, increases self-confidence, and broadens horizons, exposing me to new possibilities for life and work. Like many, I am still on the path to finding myself. Life is a journey – one cannot plan everything, but with the perspective gained from experiences such as this, I feel better equipped for the road ahead.