"The past few months have been an amazing journey that has taken me out of my comfort zone. In a very short time, this adventure has made me grow as a person," Rigon says. He came to the University of Erfurt from Kosovo to study for a master's degree in Global Communication. In our campus blog, he talks about his experiences and impressions....
Who would have ever thought that I would be ending 2022 in a different country, with different rules and social norms from what I know, a new language to learn, and above all in a multicultural spirit with friends from all over the world.
It was one of those typical sweltering hot days of June in Tirana (Albania), I was standing on my career crossroads and realized that I wanted to change something in my life. I had a good job, completed my studies with an honor degree, but I felt unfulfilled. A burning desire to learn more and gain knowledge and experiences was within me. I started looking for a master's program or a traineeship abroad a few months ago, focusing mostly on programs that are more accessible to English speakers, fit my job carrier, and have a focus on global communication, politics, public diplomacy, advocacy, etc.
As a guy who was born and raised in Kosovo, isolated from the world for many years due to the lack of visa liberalization, I wasn’t sure where to live or where to go. All I knew about many places was from what I had read in books, heard from friends or what seen in the media. An inner feeling assured me that Germany, a dream for many young people from Wester Balkan countries, would be my second home.
I did many applications, was rejected in most cases and felt demotivated. I was about to give up until that day of June, when I was searching and came across the Global Communication master’s program at the University of Erfurt. Between a desire and skepticism to apply, I gave myself one last chance and just a few days before the deadline I submitted my application.
From submitting the application to arrival in Erfurt
My documents had been ready for a long time, but motivation letter took a while because I wanted it to be perfect before submitting. I tracked the application every day from the moment I applied until the response came. While waiting, I tried to learn about the history of the oldest and the youngest university in Germany with a unique profile in culture and social science. The program I applied for is a rare ones you can find in Europe. The learning modules of this program are related to what I want to do in the future and also the program offers and opportunity for fast-track to PhD.
A few days after the application closed in mid-July, I received the interview invitation. "This is your last ticket. Get it!" that’s what I told myself before the start of the meeting. After six days, just one day before I turned 25 years old, I received a letter in my email. Completely stunned, I read and re-read it because I couldn’t believe it. Everything seemed like a dream.
I had been selected as one of the future students in the master's program in Global Communication: Politics and Society. At that moment a childish joy took over me. Everything made sense after four years of trying to study abroad in a multicultural environment, I was finally succeeding.
I resigned from my job, postponed a planned trip and communicated with the International Student Office at the University of Erfurt, who assisted me on each step to follow, from the application for housing to the visa process. During documents preparation for enrollment, I was impressed by the efficiency and responsiveness of the German system.
Even though my first exposure to Germany was through the experiences and stories of Kosovo diaspora, whom in ’99 in the time of war came to rebuild their lives here. However, I wanted to have a personal experience and know the similarities and differences between our countries. Through a travel grant awarded by a German foundation, I was able to explore the country in August. From Tirana I traveled to Munich, from where I continued my trip to the European countries (Hungary, Austria, Netherlands, France, Italy). Despite the fact that I liked them, Germany made me feel differently. As part of this itinerary, I also visited Erfurt to explore the city that might be my home.
It was the end of August when I took the train from Frankfurt to Erfurt, overwhelmed with emotions typical of those that come to you when you are going on a blind date, I didn't know what to expect from this city. After I arrive at main station, on my way to the hostel, I saw unique German buildings merging so well with the modern architecture. This was my first impression of the city.
After arriving in hostel, I left my bag and started the tour immediately and soon got lost in small neighborhoods with colorful house facades in complete symmetry with each other. I visited the picturesque old town with its small squares where tourists were enjoying their afternoon coffees. For a moment, I asked myself: “Am I in Germany or somewhere in Italy?”. It seems like everywhere in this city you find a piece of history that has survived the times, from churches built in the Middle Ages to museums that deal with more recent history. Suddenly, I found myself at Krämerbrücke bridge, the longest bridge (125 m) in Europe of its kind. The unique bridge spans the river Gera and many old houses line its sides.
While the sun was going down that day in "Thuringian Rome”, I was appreciating this small city's history, architecture, and was falling more and more in love with it. I was happy that for the next two years that would be my second home.
Before coming again, I had to apply for a visa like any other international student. This process took its own time. Meanwhile, after a long time I went back in my hometown in Peja (Kosovo) and stayed with my family while waiting for visa to be issued and preparing myself mentally and emotionally. The university started in the middle of October, and I still was in Kosovo. the status of my visa was the same after almost one month: “Matter under review”. I lost hope.
Abruptly, in the last week of October, the German Embassy in Pristina handed over my passport and visa. Between enthusiasm for a new chapter in my life and a nostalgic feeling, I took the bus to Germany. From Peja, I traveled for 26 hours straight to Leipzig. The journey was challenging, but I had something to look forward to. On October 30, after traveling day and night, I boarded the train to Erfurt, where the dorm tutor was waiting to give me the key. Although, everything seemed like a dream, now it made sense.
Campus life and the spirit of multiculturalism
Day by day, I tried to settle in Erfurt. After years of living on my own, I had to adjust to living with a flatmate, which was not easy at first. Somehow, I am adapting to this new reality. The first weeks had an emotional roller coaster, loneliness, homesick and a nostalgia for my life before. However, getting to know new friends, attending classes, feeling the energy all over the campus got me out of these thoughts and feelings. I was gradually socializing more and trying to fit in my new world.
Since the first day when I arrived on campus, I immediately felt a spirit of multiculturalism. In the global communication classes, this is doubly felt because there are students from everywhere: Latin America, Asia, Africa, Europe, etc., with whom I am sharing the same journey. This is the beauty of being an international student because in a very short time, you get to know many new cultures and different mindsets.
Life in campus is dynamic. There is always something happening. For example, every Tuesday at the International Café, together with other students we "travel" to discover a new country, culture and try the authentic foods. So far, I've enjoyed traditional foods from Pakistan and the Philippines.
The city of Erfurt is friendly to foreign students, there are so many activities, opportunities and projects for everyone. One of which is the "Strangers become Friends" project with whose support now I have a host family. With my host mum we share beautiful moments, that is helping me to integrate in German culture, while also teaching and sharing my Albanian language and culture. Painting is one of my passions and through this project at the Migration and Integration Center together with a group of young men and women, we are learning Chinese painting techniques.
Christmas in Erfurt
The streets of the city are full of people, walking, laughing, chit-chatting, sipping glühwein. The festive spirit seems to have started earlier in Erfurt. The first snow of December gave the city even more of a fairytale atmosphere. While researching on Erfurt, I found that the Christmas market, is one the best in Germany, and I couldn’t wait to experience it. It exceeded my expectations and every corner of the city was lighted with Christmas decoration which was magical.
The cold hasn't stopped me and others from going and enjoying the Christmas atmosphere, trying different types of Glühwein, langos or a bratwurst.
The Christmas market in Erfurt is kind of the same as the “Festive Village" in main square in Tirana (Albania), where people gather around the Christmas tree, while capturing their best moments and sipping warm wine. However, in Kosovo and Albania, Christmas is celebrated mostly in the Catholic families, while New Year's Eve is celebrated in every family, where they cook different dishes like turkey, Russian salad, flatbread, pie, baklava, etc.
For the first time I am celebrating Christmas in Erfurt, away from family, but with friends from different countries. So far, I have learned a lot about the traditions and the way German families celebrate the end of the year, and in particular I have learned to prepare Christmas cookies.
Towards the future
These past six months have been an amazing journey, which has taking me out of my comfort zone. In a very short time this adventure has helped me grow as a person. I'm learning a lot right now, being more open to new experiences, and picking up a new language.
I don't even know where this experience will take me, but I just want to: Let it be!