Hey zusammen! I’m Jamauri. I am currently a member of the 38th cohort of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals, an international fellowship funded by the German Bundestag and the US. Department of State.
This is my second time talking about my experience during the program. If you haven’t already read my introductory post, feel free to check it out here! This post will be focused on my life during the study phase of the program in Cologne.
The life of a university student in Germany
After finishing up my language school phase at the end of September, I packed my bags and moved from Saarbrücken to my final placement, Cologne. Cologne is the 4th largest city in Germany and is situated in the north in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. For my university phase, I enrolled as a guest student studying Information Systems at the University of Cologne, one of the largest public universities in Germany.
Studying in Germany is fairly cheap. Most universities do not charge tuition fees and students are only required to pay a semester contribution that covers certain fees such as travel passes and student unions, and other administrative costs. One of the biggest differences that I noticed between universities in Germany and the US is there is a lot less “hand-holding” in Germany. Whereas it’s common for US Students to meet regularly with an advisor to map out their degree requirements, it’s quite the opposite in Germany. German students do have access to advisors within their departments, but the responsibility of planning courses and graduation requirements generally falls on the student themselves. Outside of supporting academics, universities in Germany generally do not provide oversight over student organizations, housing or other aspects of student affairs that are typical in the US.
This semester, I took four courses in total. Two courses in English and two in German. My most interesting class was a course in English focused on Design Thinking. Design Thinking is a non-linear method that allows a team to understand potential users, reimagine problems, and create innovative solutions. During the semester, I was placed on a team with four other international students from Sweden, Taiwan, and Hungary. Our conclusive result at the end of the course was an outline for a university podcast hosted by the International Student Office at the University of Cologne. The origin of the podcast came from a question posed at the beginning of the course: How might we ease the transition to a new country, culture, and university for exchange students to ensure that they are able to make the most out of the opportunity? After combing through our networks and interviewing our international peers, we concluded that a podcast would be a modern way to pass on relevant information to incoming exchange/international students.
Upon moving to Cologne, I also moved in with my new host family. My host parents, a retired couple in their 60s, welcomed me with open arms. Prior to retirement, both worked as German teachers at the local Gymnasium. They both have been instrumental in my German learning journey. We eat breakfast together every morning and even find the time to have Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake).
One of my most rewarding experiences has been attending a church here in Cologne. I joined the church’s youth group which consists of students, young professionals, and other young adults from the Cologne area. It was a bit daunting at first because everything was conducted in German, but it was incredibly important to my immersion experience.
The CBYX program requires participants to complete forty hours of volunteer work at a local organization. To complete my requirement, I volunteered at Active Zone, a local café and youth center that’s funded by the Evangelical Free Church in Cologne Ostheim. Every Friday, the café opens its doors to homeless residents in Cologne. These residents are free to dine and relax all free of charge each week.
A Florida Man Experiences the Holidays in Deutschland!
Christmas is a big deal in Germany! Every year, millions of people flock to Christmas markets to buy gifts, drink Glühwein and relax in preparation for the holidays. Christmas, or Heiligabend, as it’s known in Germany is traditionally celebrated by most families on December 24th. On Heiligabend, I cooked potatoes and beef and with my host family, and we exchanged all sorts of gifts. I even got to try my hand at baking Christmas cookies!
On New Year’s Eve, I headed to a friend’s apartment, and we watched the fireworks from the balcony as we ushered in the New Year.
To say, I’ve been busy would be an understatement. Every day is something new here in Deutschland. That’s all from me now. Next time, I’ll be talking more about the next phase: The Internship phase!