The prospect of leaving school and diving into university life was always an exciting one for me when I was in Junior College. I imagined that the university years were going to be very different from my years in school, since I would get to learn new things, meet new people and experience new places. Little did I realise at that point that I would eventually spend five years in Germany learning about a different culture that has now become part of my own, meeting people who are now some of my closest friends and experiencing beautiful places that have now become my second home.
Like many a Singaporean student, I was advised to apply to study at the typical British universities well-known to most people in Singapore. Even though the thought of studying in Germany had briefly crossed my mind when I was in Secondary School, when the time to actually apply had arrived, I chose to cast in my lost with the big UK names. The whole application process was seamless, and within a couple of months, I had received acceptance letters from all the British universities I had applied to. There was just one problem – I seemed to be quite confused about what I wanted.
Despite having made the decision not to study in Germany, I had sent off to the UK applications for joint honour programmes involving German and a second subject, the latter of which being different in every application. In other words, the one consistent thing in my applications had been German and everything else was clearly quite negotiable in my mind. Thankfully, more than one person pointed this out to me, and after some deliberation, I eventually seized the chance to apply to several universities in Germany while the German university application window was still open. This was a big step, and I even had to officially reject the British university places I had gotten before I knew the outcome of my German applications. Yet looking back, I am more than glad that I chose the path less trodden and set off in July 2009 to study German linguistics and eventually translation studies in the beautiful town of Heidelberg.
I struggled a lot when I first got to Heidelberg, faced with the grit of daily life away from family and friends and plagued with questions about who I really was and what I really believed in now that I felt so displaced from my linguistic, environmental and social comfort zones back in Singapore. Barely two summers later, however, I stopped needing to fly home every semester break, and this mainly had to do with the people in Heidelberg I had come to know and love with time, and whose care I had received in so many ways.
When it was finally time to return to Singapore from Heidelberg after 5 bittersweet years, it was difficult to say goodbye, and it was especially difficult to say goodbye to that many people: to my endearing flatmates who took care of me when I was ill, to the old couples who adopted me every Sunday for lunch, to the girlfriends with whom I shared many evenings and afternoons cooking, cycling and sharing life, to the international students who had come from China, Taiwan, Japan, Nigeria, Luxembourg, Poland, Belarus, the USA and England, to the children I used to babysit, and to the women from church who were 20 years older than me but still somehow had time for me.
2 years on, we think of Germany all the time, I and my Australian husband, whom I met in my 4th year in Heidelberg, and I’m quite sure each of our experiences Germany will continue to linger in our memory for a long time to come.