Eventful. Or rather, ereignisreich, as they say in German. That is the one word I would use to describe my first week in Germany. But, as I waited in line with my fellow students in front of the orientation program venue, while absentmindedly going through my phone, as most of us do to avoid awkward introductions, I had no idea that it would be anything close to that. Even though we were huddled in separate groups of same language speakers, and I had yet to find mine, I felt quite at home. Despite all the differences you could so easily point out, I was surrounded by people carrying the same hopes and worries.
Deciding to attend the orientation program, rather than arriving directly at the beginning of the semester is definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made. There are a number of reasons. The most important one is that you receive much needed help throughout all the necessary processes that one has to undergo as soon as you arrive in Germany. These included: finding a room, officially registering yourself at the City Office (Stadtbüro), opening your student bank account, and applying for your residency at the Foreigners Office (Ausländerbehörde). We were also assigned tutors that are responsible for a small group of students. The tutors are actually university students that have been living in Marburg for quite some time. Having their first-hand experience with all the paperwork as they went through it themselves, I found, to be extremely helpful. Particularly, when raising questions about things that may seem as though there are obvious answers such as where the library is, or how you can get your new German phone number to work (trust me, it is not as simple as it sounds).
So a quick summary of the first few steps once you arrive (not necessarily in any chronological order, or order of priority):
- Receive your Student ID, also known as Semesterticket, which would enable you to use public transportation for free
- Purchase a German phone number
- Register your address at Stadtbüro
- Open/activate your student bank account
- Get your medical health insurance
- Apply for residency at Ausländerbehörde
While all of that sounds pretty significant, the highlight of my experience with the orientation program is the friendships I made. Just imagine walking into class on your first day of lectures in a totally new country, where people speak a different language from your mother tongue, and you know absolutely no one. For an introvert like me, the thought just gives me chills, but thankfully, this was not the case. One thing I discovered was that filling out forms for the Stadtbüro and Ausländerbehörde is a very fruitful icebreaker. If that doesn’t work, then a trip or a social event, which is usually included in the orientation program, is bound to do the magic.
So, if I were to add a 7th point to the aforementioned list, I would add making friends as a key step to your arrival, mine turned out to be pretty amazing.