Elise - Universität Mannheim

B. Business Management
Semester 1, 2016

Academic experience

I had mostly electives remaining so I was lucky enough to have the flexibility to study an assortment of courses. I studied Marketing Management Decisions (MKT 351), Organization and Human Resource Management (MAN401), Modern Chinese History (IDV402) and a German Language course in A1.2. 

The structure of courses is somewhat different in Germany, but not so much that you'll find it a difficult transition. Many subjects have 100% exams, which was new to me. This did require some more heavy-duty study towards the end but it was also refreshing not having to worry about much assessment until the end of semester, which left lots of room for travelling and other fun stuff! You will notice that there are different types of classes; usually Lectures, Seminars and Intensive courses. Lectures are the most similar to your standard UQ course - one large lecture accompanied by a smaller tutorial class each week. Seminars usually only have one class time during the week and are smaller, more collaborative classes in which you are expected to contribute and participate in discussions. They will often require more intermittent assessment, such as weekly contributions. Because of this, I would recommend a balance of Lectures and Seminars so that your assessment might be more spread out. I did not discover intensive courses until I had already arrived so unfortunately, I couldn't participate in any. They are basically condensed courses that happen throughout the semester - the entire subject spans from around one week to a month. The beauty is that you get it over and done within this short time, which means less work in the surrounding weeks. The downfall is that during this time you may be especially busy, and often the classes for these courses are all day on weekends so as not to intrude on your longer-term classes. Have a good look at the assessment that you're expected to do when looking at your courses. Management and Marketing courses seemed to be quite manageable, but I had friends studying subjects in politics, history and economics which were very intense and heavy on assessment. 

Personal experience

The personal gains that you discover on exchange are enormous. I would recommend it to absolutely everyone on that basis alone. First and foremost, I developed life-long friendships with people from all over the world; after your semester abroad you will probably have a couch to sleep on in just about every country in Europe (which I took advantage of a number of times while travelling as a poor student). 

Studying in Europe means that you're in the backyard of so many other countries, which makes travelling incredibly convenient, cheap and easy! Germany is especially accessible to the rest of the continent, which gave me the opportunity to explore London, Amsterdam, Milan, Dublin, Budapest, Barcelona, Paris, Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, Heidelberg and more small towns surrounding Mannheim. 

Leaving home, being alone in an unfamiliar city, travelling solo and adapting to a new culture are all incredibly daunting concepts - but doing so broadened my perspective on the world, introduced me to so many different cultures, forced me to leave my comfort zone, and to learn to be resourceful, flexible and open to new experiences.

Accommodation

You have the option of living in student or private housing, both of which have their own benefits and downsides. I lived in Hafenstraße, which is a student housing complex just outside the inner city. Student housing has a strong social aspect because there are so many students living there, many of whom you will meet in classes and at events. People have parties in their rooms and in the communal Party Room, and in summer they sit by the river at Hafenstraße, sunbathing, drinking, listening to music and just being generally summery. The rooms and equipment are very, very basic in student housing, and generally smaller than in private apartments. It is pretty much luck of the draw as to whether your room includes a bigger kitchen, common areas and how many roommates you will have.

Private housing is more reliable in this sense because you are able to view your specific room and learn the details before signing a contract, whereas with student housing you just sign up for a room and get what you're given. Student residences like Hafen, G7 and B7 are well located, but other places like Ulmenweg are more remote and require public transport to get into the city. I personally wish that I had chosen private housing instead. The bedrooms in Mannheim apartments are absolutely massive, they are far more flexible in terms of location (get a place in the Quadrate if you can) and the prices can be very similar and sometimes even cheaper than student housing. With that being said, a lot of people really love student housing, it really depends on your preferences and, unfortunately, your luck! If you do want to find a private room, go on the website WG Gesucht, and make sure the room is furnished!

Budget

The Wasserturm (Water Tower) in Mannheim
The Wasserturm (Water Tower) in Mannheim

Mannheim is such an affordable city, especially in comparison to Brisbane! Rent is slightly cheaper, I paid 326 Euros a month but I know others who paid around 250. Food is far more affordable, especially if you go to the less ritzy places. Cafe Vienna is a Mannheim institution which will be recommended to you by every single student who has lived in the city - it has meals for around 5-7 euros and they give really decent servings. The service is so slow but it weirdly adds to the charm of the place. You will be overwhelmed by the number of Turkish kebabs on offer (known as Döner), which are both delicious and incredibly cheap. Grocery shopping should be your main source of food if you're looking to save - the best discount supermarkets are Aldi, Lidl and Penny. Don't shop at Rewe, CAP or any Bio stores because they are insanely expensive.

You can buy a semester ticket to access public transport all semester for 155 euros. It allows you to catch any train, tram or bus in the Baden-Württemberg region for free, which is a really excellent deal IF you plan on catching public transport regularly. The city is tiny, I never caught the bus or tram to uni because it only took me 20 minutes to walk there. I ended up catching a number of trains to Heidelberg, Wissembourg, Stuttgart etc. but I definitely didn't spend 155 euros all up. Travel ate up the most of my money, without which I could have gotten away with taking over about $10,000. So, use that as your base figure and add whatever you want to spend on travel. I took $20,000, which covered a decent amount of during-semester travel, shopping and a month of travel after semester finished.

Professional development and employability

I definitely gained a lot of confidence and people skills on exchange. You don't have the safety net of knowing anyone in the city so you are forced to build relationships from scratch, network and put yourself out there. These translate well into communication skills which are essential in the professional realm. Coordinating all of your own travel, being totally independent and setting yourself up in a new city requires development in organisation and resourcefulness. You will also inevitably have to solve problems totally independently and tackle unfamiliar obstacles. This makes you more capable of and far more open to embracing challenges and taking new approaches to problem-solving.

Highlight

The highlight was definitely the friends that I made, which seems like a cliche answer but, as always, the people make the experience.

Top tips

Travel:

  • Use RyanAir for flying, or check skyscanner.com which sorts flights in terms of price. You will mostly be flying out of Frankfurt Hahn airport, which takes two hours to get to by bus, so check the bus timetable before booking your flight to make sure you won't have to wait in the airport for 6 hours because the bus arrived way too early
  • Flixbus or Postbus is super cheap for buses, especially if you catch one overnight
  • Trains via Deutsche Bahn are a little more expensive than buses, but they normally run at better times, take less time and are much more comfortable if you're willing to pay extra. Plus, sometimes DB does 19 euro sales for trips all over the continent, so keep your eyes peeled on their website! And always book a seat on the train - it may be 4 or 5 euros extra but that's better than standing for an entire 3-hour ride to Paris or getting kicked out of your seat by an angry German whose name it is booked under.


Things to do in/around Mannheim:

  • Luisenpark is super beautiful and has a cheap entry (4 euro for students), go during summer and you'll spend a whole day in there!
  • You are allowed to drink in public in Germany, so buy some 2 euro wine and sit outside the fountains at the Wasserturm to do something a little different from your typical dorm parties
  • Go to a hockey game at SAP Stadium, Mannheimers are absolutely mad about it and the atmosphere is insane 
  • Hafen 49 is a club that opens during summer and has parties that go from the afternoon to about 10 pm. If you live in the student housing next door you get free tickets so take advantage if you can!
  • Heidelberg is about 15 minutes away on the train and it's the most beautiful little city to explore. You can get to it on your Baden-Württemberg ticket for free!


Making friends:

  • Do the Winter/Summer Academy! It's a month-long language course before semester starts, chock full of exchange students/potential friends! You have class during the day and then you can go to excursions in the afternoons and on weekends. It's the best decision I made, really worthwhile. 
  • Sign up for a VISUM buddy. Mine helped me so much getting set up in the city, and he introduced me to people and invited me places which was really helpful.
  • Go to EVERYTHING that you can and don't be afraid to reach out to people to ask them to hang out! You never know when or where you might meet the people that will become your friends for life
  • Join the VISUM facebook page - they organise events and post them up there
  • Go to Stammtisch - it's on every Monday night from 8 pm at L3 and it's basically just a time for students to hang out, meet each other and share a beer
Elise - Universität Mannheim