An unfairly unknown city: My exchange semester in the Karlshochschule

Elvis Presley sang once “home is where your heart is”, and I could not agree more. After five months that changed my life completely I could say that a piece of my heart would always stay in Germany; therefore, Karlsruhe will always be my home.

The expectations when going into an exchange semester are always high. People talk about the parties, the trips, the people they meet, and the new experiences they live. But this semester was different for everyone, especially for exchange students. Little did we know when we took the airplanes to start our respective journeys that we would be living a global pandemic without the safety of being with our family. Nonetheless, as the saying says “if life give you lemons, make lemonade”, and I can say I made a hell of a lemonade.

Stay healthy, stay home

During the pandemic, Karlsruhe became my major comfort and my flatmates, my family. So, instead of travelling through Germany, I got to discover the beauty of an unfairly unknown city and really enjoy the life style in Karlsruhe. Afternoons in the Schlossgarten or reading books sitting in my window, sunsets in Günther Klotz Anlage or Turmberg or simply walks on the Tierpark were part of my daily routine while social distancing. With these circumstances, you get to learn how to enjoy being with yourself without going crazy.

Reading a book - Regular afternoon while social distancing
Regular afternoon while social distancing.

On the other hand, I cannot say that my typical “ERASMUS experience” – even though I am not part of ERASMUS per se – was non-existent. Eventually, and with all the precautions of the case, I met more exchange students that were in the same situation as me. People from France, Spain, Italy and of course Germany joined my small family in Karlsruhe, and I could not be more grateful for the circumstances that led to all of us getting to know each other.

Being born and raised in Peru did not allow me to experience global interculturality on a regular basis. In fact, I didn’t do it until my second year of university. So, being part of this group where I was the only non-European made me learn that (1) the cultural differences are left aside when it comes to have a good time and create memories for a lifetime; (2) cultural stereotypes are almost always not true; and (3) although there is nothing better than finally meeting someone with a similar cultural background, you should never miss the opportunity of experience new cultures and also to share yours.

“So, do you ride llamas?

When people think about Peru, llamas and Machu Picchu are among the first things that come to their minds. So, I was not surprised when a friend asked me if we ride llamas on a regular basis. Nonetheless, being that among the first questions related to my country I was asked, I could not stop thinking how little it is taught about Latin America in Europe. And also, how different was the situation related to corona in both regions.

Alpaca in Cuzco South America
Not a llama, but an alpaca in Cuzco.

Being away for such a long period of time in this situation was not easy. And I am so grateful with all the support I received from students, university staff and friends that directly or indirectly helped me get through these uncertain times. However, there is something in uncertainty that makes you missed your home more than ever, and I cannot stop counting the days until I am back with my family again. But I know that once I do, I will not stop thinking about when I am going to be back to Karlsruhe. The memories I created in this city are amongst the best of my life and I am leaving a piece of my heart with the people that I have met and the places where I have been. Growing up I would have never imagined I was going to experience a global pandemic away from my family. But again, I would have never imagined I was going to call “second home” the country that caught my attention since the first time I heard about it.

For future Karls’ exchange students, take advantage of every little situation you are going to experience in the university, the city and the country. Remember that the best bonds are made with some good conversation – and maybe some beer or wine; and also, that resilience and adaptability are one of the things that would help you get through this experience. Hopefully, you will not have to live another pandemic, but adversity can present in any moment. Stay safe and also open to everything. And finally, to answer the question: Nein, we do not ride llamas.

If you want to know more about Karlshochschule and the exchange experience, visit the page of the international office and they will gladly help you.

Article by Paula Negron *P.N. – International Relations, exchange semester.

Leave a Reply