Monthly Archives: August 2017

Final Thoughts for my Semester in Germany

My semester in Germany is coming to a close soon. In many ways, this study abroad experience has been similar to the time I spent in Taiwan. Yet, not surprisingly, I was able to learn many things about Germany and myself that I wouldn’t have been able to learn in Taiwan, let alone back in the States at OU. I think that one major difference is that I had the opportunity to travel quite a bit while in Europe. When I was in Taiwan, I didn’t do much traveling in general. It might be because I’ve already traveled there many times, so there isn’t as much of a novelty to exploring the island. However, if you’ve been reading my blogs you know that I did have a really fun time on one trip where I had the opportunity to visit many Taiwanese elementary and middle school students, including those that I taught, in the southern city of Chiayi.

Aside from traveling, the way the academic systems are structured is the next difference that I can think of off the top of my head. I’ve gone into quite a bit more details in other posts, but essentially the systems in Taiwan and Germany require you to be significantly more self-motivated in order to succeed (at least from an engineering student’s perspective). However, I believe that Germany’s undergraduate academic experience is even more pronounced in this regard. No homework is assigned, no homework is due. Each final is worth 100% of your grade, and that’s it. No midterms, no attendance (in engineering courses).

I think that experiencing the challenges in these systems has given me a new reason to work harder when I get back to OU. I will now appreciate all of the work that professors put into structuring their classes as well as other things that I take for granted more often that not. In fact, there are many things that professors in the US do that they don’t really have to, like actually have multiple midterms in each class which is plenty of work. Any professor could just decide that they would only have a final, and that would be the culmination of an entire semester’s work, just like the way they do it here in Germany. Of course, I’m fairly certain there would be an uproar among students to a certain degree if any professor did decide to do this.

The point I think that I’m trying to get at is actually quite simple. I expected to go into study abroad and have an amazing time traveling and getting to meet new people. Academically, I was prepared to be challenged by learning the same rigorous engineering coursework in different languages. What I really had no clue about at the beginning of this academic year abroad was that the path to getting these different experiences out of study abroad turned out to be, not surprisingly, completely different from what I expected. It’s almost like I had a goal right in front of me, and in order to actually get there I had to do a complete 180 and take what turned out to be a treacherous path to get to something that I thought would require little to no effort.

These blogs will continue after I get back to OU, although I won’t be studying abroad anymore at that point. I hope to continue to post about my experiences throughout the rest of my academic career (and maybe even beyond that). Although this whole blog thing is actually an assignment that I am required to complete as part of the Global Engagement Fellowship, I am infinitely grateful that it has motivated me to recorded my experiences while abroad, something that I am fairly sure I would not have done otherwise.

My Europe Travel Summary

I’ve decided that this blog post will be essentially a summary of the travelling I’ve done across Europe during my time in Germany. A few months ago I went into detail on my first few trips, including before my semester started in Belgium, Luxembourg, and quite a few cities in Nordrhein-Westfalen (the “Bundesland” or state of Germany in which I’ve been living). While the semester was mostly occupied by lectures and other activities, we did have a week between my orientation course and the official begin of the semester. In early June, there was also a complete week that we had off for a religious holiday. Of course, after my lectures and German class finals, I have around two weeks “free” before I head back to the States. I put quotations around the word free since, as I mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been busy preparing for my engineering finals.

Let’s start off with the places I’ve visited in Germany. I’ve been to most of the major cities in Nordrhein-Westfalen, including Düsseldorf and Köln (Cologne in English). Aachen is in the west of the state and lies near the border with the Netherlands. South of Köln is Bonn, which used to be the capital of West Germany and is famous for the Haribo brand of gummy bears. In the north is the Münsterland and its capital Münster. I was able to see the start of the Tour de France in Düsseldorf. Köln is where all of parties usually are (although you can party almost everywhere in Germany), as well as where I was able to see an amazing display of fireworks.

My first major trip outside of Germany was Italy. There I had the opportunity to visit most of the famous central and southern Italian cities. The next weekend I visited a friend of mine who studies in Zürich. After spending a day in the financial capital of Europe, I was able to spend some time at the lake near his parent’s house in the western part of Switzerland. My next stop was Geneva, which is in the southwestern point of Switzerland and probably my favorite city in Europe.

My other major trips were to famous cities in the countries Österreich (Austria), France and Denmark. For the trip to Österreich, I traveled with the same company that I traveled with to Italy. We visited Hallstatt, and town with a stunning view of the lake surrounded by mountains next to it. Salzburg is a city not far away from the border with Germany, and we had the opportunity to see Mozart’s birth house from the outside.

On my day trip to Paris in France we started by visiting the Eiffel Tower. Yes, I know a lot of people will complain about me only taking one day in Paris. And yes, I will visit the city again in the future if I get the chance again. Our next world-famous stop was the Louvre. A collection of some unique roman sculptures was followed by an amazing display of countless paintings, large and small, famous and yet-to-be-discovered. Of course, we had to see the Mona Lisa, although you couldn’t really get a good view of her since she is constantly surround by a dense semi-circle of desperate tourists trying to get the proverbial selfie with her.

My last major trip before the end of my lectures was to Copenhagen in Denmark. As a college student on a budget, my first observation was that everything in Scandinavia is significantly more expensive than in Germany. Of course, it being a tourist didn’t help much either. We took a boat tour, saw the famous Little Mermaid statue, and had some fun walking around Tivoli, one of the oldest amusement parks in the world.

This post obviously wasn’t able to touch on every single place I visited this semester, but it should suffice as a decent overview of my travel-packed weekends. My last blog of the semester will be up in a few days!

Academics in Germany

While I am enjoying my time at my host family’s home, my days are still busy as I have my finals coming up. After an entire semester of lectures, discussion sessions, and office hour visits, all my knowledge has to be displayed on one test for each of my engineering classes. While it is to be frank quite stressful, I know that I only need to pass them. My strategy now is to work through all the old finals that are available, and asking my TA’s when anything comes up that I don’t fully understand. At this point, all I can do is review the lecture slides and complete as many practice problems as possible.

It’s actually been also quite a bit of work trying to figure out when I am actually going to take my finals. The regular dates for my engineering exams finals are all at the end of August, and I obviously stay until then since my Fall semester will already have begun back at OU. At first my plan was to take them both at the end of July, but this wouldn’t give me much time to prepare for them. The next option was to take them both on the same dates but then have an OU professor proctor them when I am back in the States. This is how I am still planning to take one of my finals.

The other will is actually coming up next Monday, the day before I leave Germany. The professor told me he would rather have me take the final while I am still in Germany. My Best guess is that his reasoning is to prevent the test from accidentally being released to other students. Right now I am in full gear for this upcoming final, and the TA has even been nice enough to offer me separate one-on-one office hours since I am take the final a bit earlier. This is really useful since the classes are large and there are only two TA’s at the regular office hours who are always overwhelmed by stressed out students and their questions.

I am infinitely grateful for all of the people at the Ruhr University here in Bochum that have supported my through this challenging semester. One thing I think I learn more and more as I get older is that working with others makes tougher tasks easier in most cases. A mistake I made in Taiwan was that I didn’t make as much of an effort to seek out help from TA’s and professors. All of this knowledge I have gathered from my year studying abroad in two different countries will help me immensely as I prepare for my transition back to OU.

I am aware that the transition back to an American university will not be easy by any means, but I think that after an entire year abroad, there is a significant part of me that is excited to finally be back at OU soon and to be able to learn all of the new concepts in English (not a foreign language). I’m also aware of what is knows as reverse culture shock, and I am preparing for this as well as other challenges that await me when I get home.

The next blog will be up soon!

First Week with Host Family

I have now stayed with my host family for a week. I think these two weeks were a really good decision for me, especially since I was looking for full immersion in the German language this semester. My family has shown me a few places around where they live, and it has become more apparent the longer I live in Germany that they love nature. During the week everyone was busy, so we only had time to watch a few things on their TV or play a card game. They showed me the famous “Dinner for One” sketch that they all watch on New Year’s Eve.  It is quite entertaining, but I’m still not sure why it became so popular to the point that they watch it every year.

 

On the weekend, we finally had quite a bit more time to explore the local area. Since the region traditionally used to revolved around mining, they had to deposit the leftovers from the mining process somewhere. What they ended up with a what is a called a “Halde” in German. The top has been covered and plants grow freely all over these hills. There are paths all across each hill, and we took an hour or two to enjoy the fresh air and amazing view from the top of the hill.

 

We also visited a special event called the “Cranger Kirmes” in the nearby city of Herne. I didn’t know this before they told me, but apparently this “Kirmes” or festival is the second largest of its kind in all of Germany, right behind the famous “Oktoberfest” in Munich. The place was packed with people, and I headed directly for what I later found out is the largest portable roller coaster in the world! After that we people watched for a while and went for a few drinks at different stands. We also had the chance to see some amazing fireworks before heading back home after a long day.

 

Yesterday, my host mom and I biked around the city of Recklinghausen (where they live) and enjoyed the nice weather. My host dad is currently traveling for work and will be spending three days in Berlin. He’s a trainer for a call center at his company. Because he is a trainer and not actually one of the callers, his schedule is a little more flexible. For example, he still has to let his boss his schedule for the week, but he is free to show up at work anytime between 8 and 10 am each morning.

 

Speaking of schedules, Germans love them. While it may not be true for all German families, my family seems to have their schedules, even on a normal day, figured out quite well in advance. They always would prefer to know if I will be back for dinner each day, and if so what time exactly. While it is a little more work to have to coordinate everything the night before, it does mean that they don’t have to wait on anyone too long since they then know approximately when they are meeting other people.

 

That’s it for this blog. The next one will be up soon!

Moving in with my host family!

This week I moved to stay with my host family for the rest of my time in Germany. After spending more than four months in my student dorm near my university, I am excited to be able to get a better feel for regular life in Germany. While staying in the student dorm is convenient, many of the students there only speak English (or another language) and are often busy with classes and exams. Now that I will be staying with a German family for the next two weeks, I already feel more at home!

The family I am staying with lives around one-hour north of Bochum. I’m still going to campus everyday since I am in the process of preparing for finals which take place a few weeks after lectures are finished. Even though the commute is significantly longer, I have the opportunity most mornings to have breakfast with the family. When possible, I will travel with the father and he will drop me off at one of the subway stations nearby his workplace.

I’ve only been with this family for a few days now, and I can already say that unsurprisingly some stereotypes relating to Germans are true and some are outright wrong. For example, Germans are known to be straight to the point when they talk, almost to the point of appearing rude in certain cases. This is certainly true with this family, as evidenced by our attempt yesterday to decide what we should do after dinner. They were decisive enough to quickly decide on a card game.

Another common stereotype is that Germans are not friendly or are downright cold. While this may be true for strangers, I have found that once I get to know anyone here on a slightly more personal level (which entails having spoken to them more than a few sentences) they are willing to answer everything to their best knowledge. In fact, I have found that they are very thorough in answering any questions I have for them. For example, I asked the father of the family yesterday about his video game collection and what he thought about his games, and he said something about every single game on his shelf! I feel like most Americans would simply make general comments or only comment on a few games.

Even though I have been busy the last few days wrapping up a few things and moving from my student dorm to my host family, I am immensely grateful for the change of environment. I think it has allowed me to clear my mind in order to prepare for my upcoming finals here in Germany. More importantly, I am excited to finally be fully immersed with the language around me now that I also can always speak German at home!