Since returning to the UK in the summer after spending a full year in Germany, I’ve found myself regularly playing the storyteller for curious friends and family. Reminiscing the places I visited and sharing anecdotes - usually from a WG party or one of the summer evenings my friends and I took ‘just a couple beers’ down to the riverside - has given me many opportunities to reflect on what made the year so special and enriching.
I have a great fondness for the places I spent a great deal of my time, but one in particular stands out. Was it Berlin, where I spent the first month of my year abroad experiencing life through the lens of artists and musicians based in the capital? Attending my uncle’s gigs in some of the coolest jazz hangouts and getting lost in the streets of Kreuzberg, discovering a new favourite coffee haunt every day, gave me a taste of my dream life I’d only believed to exist in books. Or was it Passau, the town I was fortunate enough to call home for the rest of the year? Right on the Austrian borner, this picture-postcard student city is where I made some of my happiest memories and formed the most beautiful relationships within my circle of friends there, who I now consider to be family.
Berlin and Passau undeniably hold two dear places in my heart. But always lost in my backlog of year abroad tales is Pilsting, the sleepy village nestled deep in the Bayerisches Wald and location of my British Council placement.
As a city girl with expectations of a year spent living my best cosmopolitan life, to say I was disheartened by this is an understatement. And once I learned that the school was so rural that my future colleagues were worried that I wouldn’t have a car, my year abroad became not only an anti-climax, but a logistical nightmare. Cities to me are familiar, sociable and comfortable. In the weeks leading up to beginning my placement, the dread and uncertainty had built up so much that I’d started to resent the little village. At the last minute, and after weeks of emails, I managed to secure an apartment in Passau (that’s another story) but it didn’t feel stable.
Now as I write this, I feel like I owe it to the town to give something back and talk about my time working there with the same enthusiasm that I have for the cities I lived in. My co-workers were so accommodating and flexible, who took me under their wings and treated me like a fully fledged member of staff. The locals were some of the kindest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting; namely a father and son bus driver duo! As a result of my long and tricky commute, they offered me free journeys to school (with all of the children I taught!) which allowed me to practice my German, learn about the area and try to get to grips with the Bavarian accent and dialect. It’s amazing how something I was dreading turned out to be the loveliest possible outcome of my year abroad.
Everything about Pilsting made being ‘the English girl’ something special. I wasn’t lost, nor was I left to my own devices to play the role of the clueless outsider like I’d anticipated, sticking out like an annoying addition to the tiny town. Every walk into the Marktplatz after work to wait for the bus, I was always greeted with at least one ‘Hallo Anna!’ from somebody. I’ll never forget that.
By Anna Donkin