OU Global Engagement Fellowship

Experiences & Reflections

Month: June 2017

My Semester in Germany So Far

Here’s a quick update on how academics are going for me right now!

My schedule this semester is essentially four main classes. The first two are engineering classes: Grundlagen der Strömungsmechanik (Fundamentals of Fluid Mechanics) and Grundlagen der Regelungstechnik (Fundamentals of Control Theory). The other two are German languages courses: Fachsprache Technik (Language for Technology) and Allgemeiner Sprachkurs C1 (General Language Course).

The two engineering classes are more challenging than the German classes, especially since a lot of self motivation is expected of engineering students in Germany. While in the US we have several midterms and homework weekly or biweekly that all count towards the final grade in a class, here your entire grade is only based on the Klausur (final). That’s right: 100% of your grade in one sitting. If you’re sick that day, that’s just really bad luck. I’m sure however that they do make exceptions based on other things that might be out of your control.

Aside from the terrifying aspect of grading, the classes themselves are interesting and well organized. For examples, every engineering class has at least one lecture and one practice session per week. While the lectures serve as background knowledge to understand the logic behind solving new problems, the practice sessions are where we learn to implement assumptions into solving more complicated scenarios. In the US it is really up to the professor what the ratio of theory and problem solving is during lectures.

Another important distinction between engineering classes in the US and Germany is that here the class sizes are very large. At least at OU, upper level engineering courses usually never exceed 75 students in each section. In fact, there aren’t really sections for engineering courses, and each semester one professor teaches all the students who wish to take a certain course. While it does seem more efficient to have less faculty responsible for lectures at any given time, the drawback is that it is quite hard to ask the TA or professor questions during lectures. However, in general the professors here are very organized and do a great job of presenting the material to such a large crowd of students.

Now on to my German language courses: these are structured much differently than the engineering students since they are offered to international students. One similarity is that the Klausur counts for almost all of your grade at the end. On the other hand, the classes are much smaller and the professor expects the lectures to be more of a discussion. In fact, one of my German professors told us that she didn’t think we should call them lectures, since lectures are essentially a one-way dialogue. While the language courses require far less effort in terms of in-class learning and homework, they are still invaluable in allowing me to improve my written and spoken German.

The semester is flying by and I’m making new friendships all the time while learning about the German culture. Before I know it, I’ll be back at the regular grind for the Fall 2017 semester at OU!

Trip to Italy

Last week I went on a trip to Italy with a student travel company called ‘Studifahrten’. Here is a summary of what I did and got to see.

The trip overall was great, but let me just get the only downside of this trip out of the way: the long bus rides to and from Italy. We traveled all the way from Dortmund (next to Bochum) to Mannheim and then to Stuttgart. After picking up all of the other students we were finally on our way to Italy.

Our first stop was La Spezia/Cinque Terre. We got off the bus at La Spezia and took the train to the five beautiful towns of Cinque Terre (cinque = five) since no cars/buses are allowed there. All I can say is that the cities next to the sea looked amazing in the pictures before we started the trip and were even more so when we were actually there. Although the towns themselves weren’t that large, almost every corner had a unique view of the buildings on the hillsides or the sea to offer. While the first four towns were quite similar, the last one (Monterosso) was basically a beach resort for what seemed to be mostly Americans. To illustrate my point, one of the local bars was playing country music! From the last point we took the train back to La Spezia and quickly hopped back on the bus.

I was quite late by the time we got to our hostel outside of Rome. Everybody was extremely exhausted and we quickly settled into our rooms. After a great night of sleep we woke up early to take as much advantage of the day as possible to see famous capital of Italy. Upon arriving in Rome, we first took a quick bus tour to get a feeling for the layout of the city as well as learn some basic historical facts. The bus dropped us off in front off the Colosseum and upon entering I was not disappointed by the sheer size of the former fighting arena. The well-known monument is very well preserved, and I was not expecting a large maze in the center. I had always pictured a flat surface on which the gladiators would fight each other.

We visited many more interesting building throughout the day, but possibly the most interesting part of Rome and our last stop was the Vatican City. It is quite unique in that it is officially the smallest country in the world, but based on the massive flow of tourists in and out it is essentially integrated into the capital. After waiting in line for about an hour to visit St. Peters Basilica we were able to marvel at the most astounding display of grace and reverence I have even seen in one building. One of my favorite parts was seeing the Swiss Guards in their fancy outfits standing guard at various point in the Vatican. Unfortunately we were too late and weren’t able to see the Sistine Chapel and many other points for that matter in Rome, but we were able to get a good overview of the city and see the most important attractions by the end of a long day.

After another well-deserved sleep at the hostel, we headed for Pompeii and Naples in Southern Italy. I had actually visited Pompeii before when I was little (around five or six), but it was nevertheless a treat to be able to learn about the ancient city again now that I could actually understand and remember everything the tour guide said. The funniest part of the tour was me remembering the Roman roads as wider. Now that I’m an adult, the paths throughout the city didn’t seem to be large anymore. Of course, I love pizza and decided to have it right after our tour of Pompeii and also in Naples, the second stop of the day. The bus first stopped right next to the sea where we were able to take some photos of the Mediterranean and Mt. Vesuvius behind us. Afterwards we took a quick tour to learn about the city and then relaxed for the rest of the day.

Yet another night passes at the hostel, and before we know it we start the long trip back to Germany. However, we still had one more stop in Italy. The city of Siena is unique in that the current buildings and their architecture still resemble those of a medieval city. In the center there is a large square (Piazza del Campo) which holds an annual horse racing competition between members of the city. The Siena Cathedral is the major attraction and has influences from Middle Eastern architecture. The city was a nice bonus to the trip, and before we knew it the journey back to Germany had begun.

Overall, the trip was well worth the price tag (not only money, but exhaustion from long bus rides) attached to it. Although it lasted a bit longer that I would have liked it to, I now have amazing memories and new friendships. Europe still continues to amaze me not only with its diversity, but with the convenience factor of being able to visit so many places in a manner of days. After a fun trip I am ready to tackle regular studying and lectures back in Bochum!

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