Bachelor of Arts
Exchange @ Phillips University, Marburg, Germany
The entire town centre of Marburg has university buildings throughout it, so everything – with exception to most of the accommodation blocks – is within walking distance. The university includes a general purpose library, with smaller faculty-specific libraries in each of the designated faculty buildings. If readings were needed for my subjects, there was no need for me to print out copies for myself, as they were either available on ILIAS, which is a type of online reserve, or hard copies were provided by the lecturers in the faculty libraries. Each of the main faculty buildings and libraries provided free wi-fi access, as well as a small number of computers/computer laboratories with printers, and scanners. At the beginning of the semester, the IUSP Program supplied us with cards that contained 195 euro of credit, and these could be used on the vending machines, printers, and at the refectory as a cashless way of utilising the facilities. The refectory also contained free wi-fi, as well as the student assistant services, an ATM, and facilities to recharge your card credit – although I found this was not necessary, finishing the semester with 80 Euros credit from my card. The refectory provided large choices of meals, and the students could choose from cheaper of more expensive meal choices – although all the meals were large by my standards, and very reasonably priced.
I was fortunate to be placed in accommodation in the student village, which was about 20 minutes walking distance from the city centre, and also had a very regular bus schedule. My building was one of the few that contained free ethernet internet facilities in every room. The majority of the accommodation available for students did not include internet within the building, forcing them to use the libraries or refectory which was limited to the opening hours. The rooms themselves were either single, apartment style, meaning that some people needed to use the shared facilities, and some didn’t, but the building managers were very good at ensuring that everyone kept the facilities clean, and that all the students respected each other’s need for quiet. The room itself was equipped with a single bed, heating, a wash basin, a study desk, wardrobe, and storage space. The rooms are large, secure and comfortable, and there is a weekly laundry exchange available, as well as regular maintenance.
Studying at Phillips University, Marburg
IUSP ran mandatory language (conducted in a classroom style), and history/culture (conducted in a lecture style) classes before the beginning of the normal semester commenced. On my first day I sat a written and oral German language test, and was placed in a language class accordingly. The teachers were very flexible, and if you felt you needed to move up or down in a class, they were happy to try to accommodate you. The teachers made the classes interesting by organising outings, and interactive activities in class such as dancing and knitting competitions, outings to restaurants, cafes, nearby towns, the treasury and the botanical gardens. In our history/culture classes, it was an interesting experience for me, as the students were in charge of delivering the lectures each week. On top of this, IUSP took the whole group on weekend excursions to Berlin, Dresden, and Hamburg where we participated in tours of the city; and also a day trip to a museum situated on the border of the Berlin Wall. For my degree specific subjects, the classes/lectures began at the regular German semester period, and students from the university that were not involved in IUSP could also take these classes, although for IUSP students, the schedule was slightly modified to finish earlier, and sometimes different assessments pieces were required. I found that the university tutors and lecturers were very flexible with IUSP students – as they understood that we were usually travelling, or required to attend IUSP field trips on weekends, and so therefore would make allowances for assessment pieces, as well as ensure that no classes fell on Monday’s, or Friday’s. I chose to sit my politics subjects in English, but the classes that were held in German usually had tutorials in English, so that students without German skills could still attend/participate in these classes.
I found that studying as part of IUSP was very helpful, as the co-ordinator Anne Poser, did everything possible to ensure that transition into the German Education system and lifestyle was as seamless as possible. All the staff were very approachable, and did their best to assist with any issues – including subject changes, loss of personal items, coming to the hospital with you as a translator if you were sick, and notifying you of any changes to the public transport systems.
Living in Germany
I feel that I settled into life in Germany quite easily, as the German mentality is very logical and methodical. I lived with 3 house mates – 1 Finnish woman, 1 German woman, and 1 Polish/German man. I was lucky to have very respectful, and clean house mates, who I felt very comfortable with. I found overall, that the German people were harder to build a rapport with than Australian people, as they seem to be naturally reserved, and serious (unless they have spent large amounts of time overseas) and friendship is something that needs to be developed rather than something that occurs instantly. I liked the fact that the German people were very consistent – therefore making it easier to learn what is expected of a person and their place in society. I was able to practise on my housemates, and found that I developed something close to a sibling relationship with them. Every week I made a point of having a sit down cook up for all of my friends and house mates, as it gave us time to relax from our studies, and get to know each other better.
I was surprised to find that Germany is a VERY cheap country to live in – especially compared to other European countries and Australia. The only country that I found comparable was Greece. A large meal in a restaurant would usually cost between 5 and 10 Euros, and when you study at a Hessen university, you are entitled to travel on the bus and railway network throughout Hessen, and also in some of the larger border
cities for free, on production of your student identification. This meant that you saved a great deal of money when you decided to travel over the weekends, as you could for example, travel to Munich but only pay a small portion of the fare, as you would only need to buy your ticket from the last station in Hessen, to Munich. Studying at Marburg, you were only a hour away from Frankfurt am Main, so the international airport and European railway systems were easily accessible.
The German lifestyle was quite fun, as the German people love celebrating everything. No matter what you interest was, there was always some sort of festival to attend. I was there throughout Spring, and I managed to attend many of the Spring festivals in each of the different cities I visited as they are usually not held on the same weekend. There was also twice weekly fresh food markets held in Marburg, and some were held on university grounds, so were very popular as a source of lunch and breakfast during our university breaks. The German people are also very involved in their clubs – which is great for international students, as I found it gave me the opportunity to meet locals, and broaden your understanding of the culture and even travel to places you wouldn’t usually travel to. I personally joined the Marburg women’s field hockey team, and met many new people. Friends of mine also joined the lacrosse, rugby union, fencing, tandem partner (where you practice your German skills on a local, who then in turn, practices their English skills on you) and ultimate Frisbee clubs.
What were the most rewarding aspects of your exchange experience?
Definitely the most rewarding aspect of my exchange experience was feeling more confident in my language skills. I did not realise how much I had learnt until my travels after my exchange semester had ended. When I travelled through Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland at the end of my exchange, I was able to ask directions, and engage in conversations with strangers, without too much trouble. The most interesting example of this, was when I decided to do a week-long cruise through the Mediterranean. Because I booked my tickets in Germany, the cruise company thought I was German, and seated me with only German speakers in the ship’s dining room. Initially, I was a little concerned at my ability to communicate with my dinner companions, but it soon became apparent that they appreciate my efforts to speak in German to them – even if my conversation skills were not perfect. Another example that made me feel that my language skills had become better, was when I attended my first German class. My tutor, Beat Lehmann complimented me on my reading and comprehension skills – claiming that it was obvious that I had made progress while on exchange.
Did you experience any difficulties?
Overall, I do not feel that I experienced too many difficulties while on exchange. Surprisingly, I did not feel home sick, or unduly stressed. I feel that this was probably due to how well organised the program was, as I felt that I had a support network in Germany, even if they were not family.
I found that I would become exhausted from speaking and trying to understand German all day long, and would usually not speak German on weekends or evenings unless I was at a restaurant, shops, or at a German friend’s home. Because the majority of the IUSP students were from an English speaking background (American and Canadian), I was regularly at risk of speaking too much English, and as a consequence, I feel that I probably did not immerse myself in the language or culture as much as I could have, as we would usually speak English amongst ourselves.
The only real culture shock I experienced was with regard to the differences in what I considered to be common rules of etiquette. The people in Marburg seemed to be indifferent to allowing people off public transport before boarding, or assisting the elderly, disabled or people with babies/children in any way. I think this was particularly stressful to be because of the fact that the city of Marburg hosts the largest singular population of blind and disabled people in Germany due to the School for the Blind established there. People generally did not make room for others on the designated walking paths – instead choosing to walk abreast, and there seemed to be little regard for forming lines and waiting for your turn – and this made me quite angry, as I would naturally assist others when the need presented itself. This may have been because Marburg was largely a young, transient population, but it frustrated me nonetheless, as it was an occurrence that I saw multiple times a day.
It took me quite a while to become used to German shopping, as you cannot buy medications in shopping centre, and Germans seem to prefer to make food from scratch, rather than buy ready-made, or pre packaged goods. Needless to say, I became very good at cooking from scratch. Once I became used to where I could buy all my grocery needs, and making sure I kept my re-usable shopping bag on me at all times, I was fine. It was also a new experience to me, to only buy goods as I needed them, as I was used to having a car, and buying 2 weeks worth of food. In Germany this is not the normal thing to do, so I had to adjust my meal planning to suit this.
What advice would you give a JCU student going to your host university?
The advice that I would give to another JCU student going to Philipps Universitaet, would be to become as involved in the community as possible, without alienating yourself from the other IUSP students. The other IUSP students will be the people you end up spending the majority of your time with – and are a good support network for study, travel, and socialising. Trying to immerse yourself too much and disregarding the IUSP staff and students will cause unnecessary issues for you. I personally did not have this problem, but witnessed others who did this, and largely regretted it by the end of their exchange, as they missed out on the camaraderie and friendships that developed from this – many experienced homesickness because they did not have a support network. The best way I found to immerse yourself without ostracising myself from the IUSP community, was to join in as many local activities and groups as possible – as this was a positive and easy way to meet German locals, other exchange students and make the most of practising your German in a fun environment of your peers.
Another thing that I would recommend is to make the most of the flexibility and long weekends that being a student of IUSP gives you – remembering that it is a privilege, not a right - and make the effort to see as much of Germany and the surrounding countries, so that you can apply yourself completely to your assignments and classes on the few days a week that you have class.
I thoroughly recommend IUSP for students, as I had a fantastic time, and enjoyed many different experiences, as well as made plenty of new friends. I particularly feel that IUSP would be most beneficial to students that have little or no German skills, students who have not travelled overseas before, and students who do not have a lot of experience being away from their family, and may need a stronger support network, as the staff of IUSP provide mentors, 24/7 emergency support, and a very well organised programme, ensuring that all issues (eg. Accommodation, (de)registration, city/class information) are address quickly and without stress. All the student will need to do is turn up, and enjoy the experience. Studying in Marburg also has the benefits of a small town lifestyle, as it is easy to find your way around, and everything is in close proximity. If any JCU students are interested in attending IUSP, I am happy to talk to them about what they may expect.