Having said my goodbyes and arriving at the central station in Munich, I was not sure what to expect of the year ahead of me. I had set goals such as integrating myself with the locals, improving my German and taking advantage of Munich’s central location to travel around Europe. Each of these goals was given attention throughout the year and was a stepping stone in helping me to develop as a person.
A sobering start to my year abroad was arriving at my accommodation towing a beastly suitcase and realising there was no reception desk, or anyone around to unlock the door to the building. Having called up the accommodation office, I was sent on a wild goose chase to find an administration desk which didn’t exist before, which was closing in 15 minutes. This is where by pure luck I stumbled across the caretaker. He turned out to be the person I was meant to get my key from, however to this day I still don’t know how I was meant to get into the building which I needed my key for, in order to get to the caretaker’s office, to pick up my key. This was my first and definitely not my last issue with accommodation in Munich. Having decided to do a second semester of studying rather than an internship, I needed to find accommodation for the next semester. Unfortunately in Munich, demand greatly outstrips supply, so expect to fight off a herd of people for a skeleton of a room with no furniture, and be prepared to encounter several scam artists attempting to con you out of your freshly acquired euros.
Seeing Ludwig Maximilians Universität (LMU) for the first time was impressive, particularly with the grand looking fountain by the entrance and the old architecture. This was a great contrast to the modern style of the University of Exeter. We are given the responsibility by LMU to put together our own timetable and this flexibility allowed me to attend several lectures with the aim to drop a few after a few weeks. Another advantage of this flexibility was being able to easily take up more credits during the second term, which came in handy after two of my exams clashed and I was therefore forced to drop one of the modules!
The disadvantage of this was the amount of uncertainty there was when it came to exam season. We were not given a set exam timetable; instead it was down to us to find out exam times and rooms from the lecturer nearer the time, particularly as it was subject to change. However, all-in-all I did like this responsibility as we had a lot of freedom.
Travelling to nearby countries soon became the next item on the agenda, after exploring the University and the city of Munich. In the winter season, the nearby ski resorts in the state of Bavaria and also in Austria were frequently visited by my new found friends and me.
In Munich the snow sports culture was very visible, particularly as people carrying skis or even a pipe for freestyle grinding, which was the length of a train carriage, were making regular appearances. Whilst on my year abroad I was happy to be rid of the English Channel as this meant easy travel to Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Belgium, Italy and many other countries. A great deal of cuisine testing was done in the name of cultural exploration, as well as the visiting of famous historical and religious artefacts.
As my first semester in Munich zoomed on, I noticed that I had explored the city superficially and therefore wanted to start looking past all of the obvious tourist attractions and dive deeper into the fabric of Munich. To begin with I made do with TripAdvisor and Yelp to find places to visit and cafes to try out, but for someone who is interested in the truly hidden aspects of a city, this did not suffice. I wanted to know where the local street art spots were, if there were any abandoned places to get some good photography shots of, and also any unusually themed restaurants, which can get lost among the local kebab shops which are included in TripAdvisor’s extensive search result list. This is where the idea for Hidden Munich came from. Along with my co-founder Tom, we set to work on wandering through the streets of Munich taking photos and writing up reviews to go on our Facebook page.
It wasn’t until we took to Instagram that things really started to take-off. Within the first month we reached 1,000 followers on Instagram and we were beginning to have local companies interested in advertising with us. A year on, we have over 9,000 followers on Instagram, have been accepted to pitch to investors as an alpha Start-up at Web Summit; one of the world’s largest tech conferences, and we are moving into 20 countries around the globe. We are also currently developing an application which we hope to have a finished beta version of by the summit in November.
So what did I take away from my experiences from my year abroad in Munich and what advice do I have to give? The improvement in my German language skills is one of the biggest successes I will take away from my year abroad experience. This is something that I managed to develop much further by communicating with customers in German due to Hidden Munich. Setting up the business also forced me out of the ‘Erasmus bubble’ which is all too easy to get trapped in, and encouraged me to meet a huge range of people from start-up owners to developers. When it comes to advice, some might find it comforting to have their accommodation sorted before coming out on their year abroad however, I personally would advise against this. I have seen too many people arrive here in Munich only to find no sign of their ‘landlord’ and having to come to terms with never seeing their 1,000 euro deposit again. Instead, I would suggest coming out to your respective city a little earlier than planned and making sure you meet the property owner in person and requesting a tour around your accommodation. Although studying is important, you also need to make use of your year abroad by travelling. Travelling to surrounding countries, but also travelling and truly exploring within the city you are based. My final piece of advice is to use the change of scenery to stimulate your creativity; whether that be taking up a new hobby, learning a new skill, or even trying your hand at starting your very own business.