Imogen's time in Dresden
Applying for the Dresden Trust Scholarship was something I never really imagined myself doing, and something which began to dawn on me as the time began to draw near; aside from having not been abroad in a good few years owing to the pandemic, I had – despite having studied the language for four years prior – never set foot in Germany. Various plans to visit the country had had to be thrown away for different reasons, and so my hopes of spending some time improving my spoken German had been dashed.
For me, I spent a lot of time doubting whether or not I’d be able to get by with my knowledge of German, with a somewhat warped sense of my level in the language. To a certain extent I could speak the language in a classroom (though still with my doubts even then), but in my mind that was under very specific circumstances, in which there were no real stakes, and what we were talking about would never really live up to the pressure of real conversation. The lack of any real comparison to what German sounds like spoken in real life, and an inclination to convince myself I wasn’t good at it made the prospect of doing an exchange one of clashing emotions; I was terrified of the awkward pauses where I wouldn’t be able to respond or people might laugh, but I wanted so badly to do it, because all I wanted was to achieve fluency.
My stay in Dresden was definitely challenging, but what surprised me was that that was mostly due to factors other than the language. What I quickly found was that the listening element came easily; you begin to notice the hordes of phrases which are used and re-used, no matter the context: the patterns, and the filler phrases. And in terms of speaking, of course it wasn’t perfect, but I was understood, and I spoke so much German over the course of three weeks that – whether or not I really felt it at the time, with certain doubts about whether or not I was improving creeping in – I think a lot did change. In my skill in speaking the language, but also, more importantly, in the way I felt comfortable doing so. That was what made me start thinking, though I know I’m saying a lot of things incorrectly, the fact that I can understand what’s being said and I can give a response would arguably mean I am fluent to some extent.
And I think I’ve started being less harsh on myself because of that.
The location itself was beautiful, a city with a very strong sense of progressiveness amongst certainly the younger generation, though from what I heard it seemed generally the same across all ages. I hadn’t known what to expect, but I was still interested to see how it was different in the sense of culture. And it did feel very different, often in a more subtle sense, one that’s difficult to articulate, but certainly also in the more visual ways: the clothing, how the city looked, the politics, what people would go to do after school, the friendships.
Truly, the hardest part was the social aspect, mostly owing to my personality. I don’t tend to spend long stretches of time with people I don’t know too well, so I was very much outside my comfort zone. But I don’t regret it at all; the entire experience was something I knew would be difficult for me, but one that I had such a sense of achievement for having done.
The cultural aspect was incredible. It was an insight into the life of people my age, living parallel to me and my friend group in the UK, and that insight is something I know you can’t replicate without spending time getting to know the people there.
Not only did my stay in Dresden give me more confidence, it reminded me of why it is I want to study languages, and what it means to do so. The sense of an alternate identity when speaking another language is electric, and it’s the ability to communicate with all of these people with who, without that ability, you wouldn’t understand anything of, or have the capacity to find anything out about them. It felt surreal to be known by the people I met in Dresden. Though I don’t imagine I’ll have impacted their lives to a huge extent, often just being quiet and listening along, I think a few people will remember me. And that, for some reason, feels so powerful.
You can read Imogen's Versöhnung essay here