Vallendar, Germany: The People
For one, my move-in day was the 2nd of January. When I stepped off the plane onto a wet tarmac in Frankfurt, I was still riding the high of the holiday season, and of seeing friends I don’t often see. That soon evaporated into a different kind of thrill.
Traveling long distances with three large pieces of luggage is naturally exhausting; when you’ve slept on a WOW Airlines budget flight with no leg space, that exhaustion tends to hit you harder. Stepping off the train at the adorably small station in Vallendar, I was aching to meet some people that I could speak to and understand. Namely, my fellow exchange students. In that weakened, post-flight state, I immediately latched onto the people I met at the platform and spent several hours with them that very first day. It was exhilarating to meet people with whom I clicked, and to encounter a great diversity of fellow students who had up until now led completely non-intersecting existences.
And I have hardly seen them since. Because one of the biggest challenges that they don’t tell you about is the nebulous nature of the friend-making period, and how long it can really take to discover a stable group of people you want to spend your time abroad with. Two months in, I can finally say that I’ve found my people. In our travels and our studies together, we’ve bonded in a way that only taking risks such as an exchange program can propagate. On top of that, the hardships we encounter as non-natives of Germany (e.g. communication troubles, buying the wrong thing at the supermarket, getting lost) has served to harden the glue.
Finding a solid friend group abroad has not for lack of effort. It’s easy to meet up in this very small town of 8,000 people, but it’s also very easy to stay at home for Netflix and snacks when you live in a single apartment. As someone who is not a strong extrovert, leaving my room to hang out with fellow exchange students has been a series of active decisions, and whether it’s to go for an Aldi run or to hike up to a hilltop restaurant (favored by locals!), it is almost always worth it.