Author: Catherine Camara
Program: International Business
Study Abroad Location: Bavaria, Germany
Its not a surprise that attending college or university in another country can be an unexpected change of academics and routine. This is something that intimidated me before I started classes here in Germany. There are significant differences in academics between Seneca and HNU which I had to adapt to. An exchange is a great experience however, passing all of your courses with great marks is something that requires extra concentration and awareness while abroad. You will have to deal with distractions, culture shock, slight changes in curriculum and a small language barrier. These barriers aside, it is not difficult to balance school and some travel while abroad with the right preparation and organization. This blog post will describe my experience with academics here in Germany and how I managed to adapt to the changes.
Enrollment for courses is something which was completely different from Seneca. In instead of an online enrollment portal, students manually select their classes on a sheet of paper, writing down the course code and the order of importance of the class compared to your other choices. It is important to take extra care during this process; for someone like me who did my exchange on my last semester, it was vital that every course I needed to graduate, I was enrolled in HNU. It is usually not recommended to go on exchange during your last semester but it is possible. This manual entry will not inform you on what courses you need to take; you must simply know by heart which classes you should be enrolling in that semester. Your student advisor in your international office can be a big help. Make sure any formality or decision making you do, that your international advisor is aware.
The first week of classes begins like any other institution, a brief overview of the class learning objectives and an introduction to the course topic. You will get to make a lot of friends who are also internationals in all of your classes. Weekly classes consist of about 3-4 hour long lectures. These classes can be a challenge to concentrate as the professor will cover theory for the entire class. If sitting still is not your strong point I suggest bringing in some snack or juice to keep you a little busy!
The grading process is usually marked on two tasks: A class project and/or a final exam. This means that there is a lot of free time during the semester as there are no weekly assignments. This gives you an opportunity to travel around a bit on weekends. At the beginning of the semester your professors will make it clear what holidays and long weekends you have free from lectures; they understand that a lot of their students intend to travel on these dates.
Traveling is fun and should be taken advantage of if you are already in the European continent where travel from country to country is relatively cheap. However, come exam time you are expected to know all of the course curriculum and be graded on your 5 months of lectures in one exam. This can be a stressful thought as I am used to an exam being weighed about 30-35% instead of 60 or 100%. Take notes throughout the semester and be sure to give yourself enough time to study and overview the course prior to the exam. Studying in groups was extremely helpful and benefited everyone as we learned and taught each other from our own notes.
Another change which I find I should mention is that exams and courses require completely separate enrollment. If you are enrolled in a course, this does not necessarily mean that you are enrolled in the exam. For every course other than a multidisciplinary (Gen-Ed) you are expected to enroll in the corresponding exam. Once again, consulting with your international advisor ensures that you went about the registration process the right way and confirms your actions. I think the main difference is that since the registration process is manual; it leaves opportunity for mistakes like wrong course codes, or missing enrollment of a particular exam.
I think the most valuable lesson I learned this semester is organization and information. It never hurts to send an email, or ask questions if it means you are taking the right steps in order to graduate or earn your credits. Sometimes you will feel extremely uncertain on how to do something, asking your classmates or student advisors before signing off on any important decisions will reassure you of any choices made.
I hope this helps anyone interested or taking part in an exchange. Perhaps the structure and changes may vary between countries and schools but its these types of changes which require special attention.