Hessen State Universities (Germany)
STUDY ABROAD TESTIMONIAL - Lachlan
In July to August 2019, I took part in a four-week Hessen-Queensland Exchange program in the city of Fulda in Hessen, Germany. Through the International Summer University experience, I made new friends from all around the world and immersed myself in a completely different culture. I would highly recommend the program to any prospective students looking for a short-term, inexpensive option to participate in international study.
Fulda was roughly the same size as Rockhampton in terms of population, with comparable levels of infrastructure and utilities. The Fulda University of Applied Sciences was a bit different to the North Rocky CQUni Campus, mainly in that the large cafeteria was a key area for many students to meet for daily lunches. Apart from special events and lunches however, most of us in the program spent our days at a different building for international students near the main bus station in town. Thus, our daily schedules involved taking a morning bus to the main station, then walking to where our classes were held at 8:30 each morning. At 11:45, many of us would take another bus to the cafeteria for lunch on the main campus, returning to class at 1:30 and grabbing an ice cream cone from a nearby ice cream shop on the way to class. This class would then finish at 4:45, after which we had free time. Our morning session was our chosen learning module (I chose International Health: Aspects of Stress Management), while our afternoon session was German language learning. Depending on the week, this would continue for 3-4 days per week, with this intensity seeing many students falling asleep during the afternoon session. However, we pushed through with the help of our very understanding teacher who even took the class to a blueberry farm and traditional German lunch one afternoon as a break. Both classes were not very heavy on assessments, which came as a relief given the very busy nature of the program. Instead, in-class learning and discussion was emphasised.
I chose to participate in this particular program because of its short duration, as I had often thought about engaging in overseas study, but the prospect of spending months studying in another country seemed like it would be a significant strain on my finances, personal relationships, and work commitments. Instead, four weeks proved to be an optimal amount of time to still immerse myself in German living without making significant sacrifices in my life back home. The fact that the program was in Germany was also an added benefit, as I had been practicing German language for some time before I became aware of the program and being able to live in a relatively-small, German-speaking community for a month was a great experience.
There were a variety of accommodation options on offer, mostly at various hostels across town. The hostel I stayed in was almost on the outskirts of town, being a 15-minute bus ride or 45-minute walk to the centre of town. Compared to other hostels, which were next door to supermarkets and fast food outlets, the one I was placed in felt a bit isolated and crowded considering we shared the hostel with others compared to another group of program participants that had a hostel to themselves. Food was not catered for, so weekly shopping trips were essential. Groceries in Germany are rather inexpensive; beef is highly-priced but pork is not, while packaged goods are very cheap. I chose to cook meals in batches to be prepared for the whole week, however eating out was just as common and not excessively expensive. In the centre of town, there were many options for restaurants, yet McDonald’s remained a common choice.
Overall, the trip was less expensive than I had anticipated. While I did prepare inexpensive meals and accommodation was covered by the program, I still bought souvenirs, ate out and went travelling on weekends. Excluding flights, my total expenses came to be roughly $1500AUD over the four weeks. I still however had a bit more in my savings account in case of emergency, which I would advise other students to do.
Life outside of classes proved to be almost as busy as the actual classes, as our tutors had organised activities almost every afternoon. These included salsa classes, trips to the pool, volleyball, meet-ups at local bars, or barbecues on the university campus. On the weekends, there were organised field trips to other cities, with everyone from the program attending the trip to Berlin on the first weekend. I was lucky enough to be celebrating my birthday this weekend, so the trip to Berlin was especially enjoyable for me. I also chose to take part in the field trip to Nuremberg later in the program, with seeing such an old German city being a great cultural experience. Otherwise, general travel was very easy to do. On a free weekend, a few friends and I hired a rental car for a trip further north to Cologne and to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, which proved to be a surprisingly inexpensive trip. Less exciting weekends involved grocery shopping and cooking or traveling to other hostels and meeting up with other friends from the program. Additionally, all public transport in the city of Fulda was covered by the program and buses ran regularly up until 10pm, which made getting around town very easy.
Adapting to life in Germany was difficult at the start, as many people in Fulda did not speak much English. I learned to get by on very basic German, and just hoped that the residents didn’t ask me anything complex. The biggest difference I noticed was the culture of beer in Germany, which is sold in supermarkets and can be drunk walking down the street. Germany is a largely cash-based society, meaning it might be wise to order some Euros in cash before your trip, although I got by fine enough by going to an ATM once I was there.
The biggest highlight of the experience was probably the trip to Berlin, which brought all the tutors and participants from the program together to relax outside of classes and explore the city. This experience allowed me to interact with new people from different cultures in a unique way, as well as observing what life is like in a big German city. For prospective students looking to participate in the Hessen-Queensland Exchange in Fulda or any of the other cities, I would advise that you sincerely enjoy your time and focus on the experience itself. Many of my friends from the program lost enthusiasm or grew homesick in the later weeks, and I felt myself doing this at times, but I learned that it was important to live the experience while it was occurring. Moreover, allow yourself to focus on class work while class is occurring and not so much out of class study, as the in-class discussions are most important while out of class time is more focused on organised activities and time with new friends.
This program was my first trip outside of Australia, and although leading up to departure it all seemed very daunting, arriving in Germany made all the stress worth it. Even so, the stress that arose from travelling on my own to another side of the world was truly a growth experience, as it taught me to learn and adapt to new circumstances. I would highly recommend the Hessen-Queensland Exchange as a great short-term study opportunity that allows you to learn about life in Germany while bonding with others from all over the world.