Academics Abroad: What to expect (Germany)

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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.

Safe Travels,

Catherine Camara

It’s All Temporary – Germany

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Author: Catherine Camara
Program: International Business
Study Abroad Location: Bavaria, Germany

There is a quote from Orange is The New Black which really stuck to me in the past months: “Try to look at your experience here as a mandala, Chapman. Work hard to make something as meaningful and beautiful as you can. And when you’re done, pack it in and know it was all temporary.” A mandala is a round Tibetan art piece made of sand. After months of work laying out beautiful designs, it is wiped away. The character is referring to her time at an all-female federal prison – a situation completely unparalleled to mine – but still I find this can relate to any person taking on a new chapter of her/his life.

Never have I ever expected myself to be the one who would blog about feeling home sick! To be honest, there is not a lot about home that I missed. At least there wasn’t in the first three months here. I love Europe and even the culture shock was a pleasant experience. However, all it took was a visit from my friend from home put a lot of things into perspective. Seeing a familiar face was bittersweet and brought back a familiarity I haven’t felt in three months. I missed home! I am often alone here, whereas in Canada I was living with my family of four and two cats; there was always someone around or at least some background noise. But like most things it’s just temporary. You will miss your friends, your family, your car and even the simple pleasures that would make you happy like a mocha coconut frappucino from Starbucks, or an all-you-can-eat sushi date with your best friend.

 

Me and my best friend from Toronto, Rebecca Rausch walking the canals- Amsterdam, Netherlands

It is important to realize that during your time here you will find people who can take the place of your friends and family for a short while. After all, its only temporary. Being alone is not a bad thing as much as it is a challenge. It challenges creativity and with it your mind adapts to the feeling of loneliness. I started to make friends, plan events, have dinner dates, play sports and create my own study abroad family. The feeling of loneliness quickly turned into independence, and that’s exactly what it is. Independence is something important to me that I can take away from this experience.

Me and my new family of International Students.

Part of being on your own is navigating in a city that is foreign and unfamiliar in every way. Everyday tasks like grocery shopping, taking the bus, and loading your student card can become quite difficult with simple miscommunication. It makes everyday exciting and new, sometimes even comical. German is an extremely difficult language to learn, and though I am slowly learning, I can’t help but be helpless when it comes to ordering a taxi or pizza. It’s not easy but it keeps things interesting. When someone finally understands you, when you’ve made it to the other side of Germany on your own, or when you’ve given someone the right directions in German, it’s so worth it.

Safe Travels,
Catherine Camara

An International Family in Germany

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Author: Catherine Camara
Program: International Business
Study Abroad Location: Bavaria, Germany

Apart from taking my international business diploma abroad, one of the greatest advantages of participating in an exchange in Europe is the togetherness and flow of people and ideas from all over the world. This blog post is not about school in Germany, nor is it about my life here. This blog post is about learning from more than just a lecture; its about an experience and lesson that school, teachers, and work cannot teach you. The people you meet, the places you will go can teach you valuable skills that can be applied when building business relationships and in every day life.

Not only do I know the customs and work ethic of Germany, I have learned that if a Jordanian offers you food, take it – no matter the appearance or taste. I have learned that Sweden is as multicultural as Toronto and creating a relationship with such requires more then just a basic knowledge of Swedish culture. I’ve learned that Croatians, like Italians, are passionate people with an enthusiasm for life. I’ve learned an immense amount of information on the Balkan war, an unnecessary mass killing which central Europe had no clue how to resolve; this is something which I didn’t get a chance to learn about in Canada. Also I have learned that communication is the foundation of every relationship and I am truly gifted to have English as my strongest language. Being a native speaker in English didn’t seem like an advantage until I came abroad. English is used all over Europe which made it easier for me to communicate with people and made me feel safe to travel alone.


Hallstadt, Austria – Friends from all over the globe including Jordan, Sweden, Russia, Spain, Finland, Thailand and Germany.

At first I had to get used to speaking a little bit slower. Many of the other international students would always make fun that Cameron (another Canadian student here) and I spoke too fast. Even some of the words I was using were slang and foreign to all of my friends here. Without knowing my friends began to improve their English just from having conversations with me and would even ask me to correct them if they said something wrong. It’s a great experience to teach someone something which comes so naturally to you.


Me and my best friend Jamil. Jamil is from Jordan doing a year exchange/internship in Germany. He has taught me so much about Jordan, the Middle East and values.

Amela, myself and Zhevin in Front of the Colloseum in Rome, Italy. Amela and Zhevin are participating in a semester abroad in International Business here at HNU. They are from Sweden.

Not only have I learned about over 15 countries’ cultures and customs, I have also learned about Canada. Canadians actually say sorry way more then I realized! We speak fast and nobody has a clue what a poutine or “The 6” is – things I had to explain over and over again. Together with my new international family we shared recipes, music, news and fashion. Sharing clothes with my best friends here, making dinner together, shopping, going to school and experiencing Germany with them has taught me so much more than I ever anticipated. I would like to think that after these six months I will have a better understanding of all of these cultures and I will even have made life long friends.

Safe Travels,
Catherine Camara