My perception of Mannheim revisited

On the eve of my departure to Germany, I wrote a post about my expectations and associations with Mannheim, the University and the local people. Now, almost half a year later and located back in Finland, it is time to revisit those thoughts and reflect upon my journey.

  1. They do not like to speak English.
    Can confirm, especially if they get a hint of you possibly knowing some German. However, they are nice about beginner level German and make you feel understood. At the university, though, English was always my first choice since I felt like everybody would be comfortable in discussing in English.
  2. Aesthetically, Mannheim is an eyesore or at least nothing to brag about.
    Not true. Mannheim may not look the same as a hundred years ago, but I like the colourful urban landscape and the constant proximity of nature.
  3. All the movies are dubbed.
    Not true. Actually, I found the amount of original version screenings in the cinemas delightful.
  4. My fellow students take their studies seriously and spend time with their books (or laptops).
    This could be seen in the starting time of activities: most of the gym classes and get-togethers started between 18 and 20 o’clock. Also, the university libraries were never empty.
  5. They have only a short time to write their exams which will mean trouble for me, being used to four hours of time.
    One hundred percent can confirm. I did not have time to properly answer every question in the 60-minute exams.

After studying, exploring and enjoying my life in Mannheim for five months, this is what I learned about the city, university, people and myself.

  1. Mannheim and the culture there is essentially similar to what I am used to here in Finland, so I had no problems in fitting in there. I enjoyed the size of the city (approximately 300 000 residents) in that there were enough activities but I still felt safe going home alone in the night. I remember describing it as a Finnish city with a foreign language and a set of peculiarities. Many familiar things are done a bit differently, but there they are: recycling, favouring reusable shopping bags, the food selection in grocery stores, activities provided by student organisations. I have also described it as going back in time, referring to things like using cash and landline phones, having to make appointments and phone calls instead of doing the business online, and no shopping on Sundays.
    However, all the differences from the confusing door locks to national celebrations made it a uniquely German experience. For instance, in Finland, I would never have been able to enjoy from summery weather up to October or to see flowers still blooming in December. Speaking of December, German Christmas markets are a sight to see. Something I particularly enjoyed was the central location of Mannheim for travelling purposes, but I also learned to appreciate the Finnish VR after my not so smooth travels with Deutsche Bahn.
  2. I would recommend business studies at the University of Mannheim. Economics students benefit more from the available course selection at the bachelor level, at least during the autumn semester. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy my economics courses, just that there is a larger variety of economics courses not taught in Aalto at the bachelor level. Out of my courses, I learned the most at the refreshingly well executed “Digital marketing strategy”-course. I would skip “Behavioural perspectives on e-business” but recommend both “Experimental public choice” and “History of modern economics”, as they both provide valuable economic insight and give good practice in research and writing. Tip: make sure to take some seminars that do not have a written exam to lessen the pressure on the exam period.
  3. If you are not yet proficient in the local language, it pays off to take language courses throughout the semester. I imagine it would be easier to find a German group of friends if they didn’t have to change the language because of you. My friends were mainly other international students and we discussed in English, so my language training halted after the Summer Academy. If I could do something differently, this is what I would change. However, I gained confidence in that I can get through many official situations even with my far from perfect German skills.

Choose Mannheim if you want to study at a prestigious university that also happens to be a baroque castle; learn or improve your German skills; pay less from everything than in Switzerland but still be within reach of the same or similar views; and if you are interested in travelling in Germany and the Europe. The weather is not too extreme for a Finn, ranging from still bearable +35 in the summer to mild +5 in the winter. Students arrive to the University of Mannheim from all over the world, so you will have the opportunity to make international connections. 

Still unsure? I would do it again.

Exams in the Uni Mannheim way

The process of going through exams in the University of Mannheim can be an annoyance, but at least sitting in the exam hall does not take too long. The basic features of having to register in advance and writing with pen on paper under time pressure are familiar, although there are some quirks that make taking an exam in Mannheim an experience.

The first peculiarity arises when registering to the exams. As I mentioned already before, registration is obligatory even for courses without exams. The only way to get credits from a course with a term paper is to sign it up in the registration form.

The annoying feature from a scheduling point of view is that the exam dates are released only a month before the exam period, and the exact times and locations, including a seat number, are confirmed a week before the exam. Getting home for Christmas cost me a hefty amount of money since I had my last exam on Friday the 21st and could safely schedule the flight only to Saturday the 22nd of December.

What was novel to me was the short duration of the exams, that only took 60 or 90 minutes. This is not an indicator of easiness, quite the contrary. One of my teachers declared that there was one point for each minute of time to be earned (60 minutes, 60 points). Accordingly, there will be too many questions to be answered with respect to the time available, so the answers must be known by heart to get something scribbled to every question. My two exams included multiple choice or right/wrong selection, definitions and open questions.

Nice to know: in one of my exams, I had to write both name and student number on every page of the exam. This was not required on the second instance, so the formalities seem to differ between courses and teachers. Another oddity was that pencils were not allowed, only pens. I thought it was strange that you could not erase your answer but in the time frame, there is no time to go back and ponder. And lastly: in Aalto, we are used to having the opportunity to freely participate to second and even third retakes. In the University of Mannheim, a doctor’s certificate of being ill on the first exam date is needed to be allowed to participate on the second take. Failing an exam does not automatically grant a retake.

Compared to the three hour exams in Aalto, 60-minute exams are an experience. The only advantage of such a condensed exams as a student is getting it quickly done, and from the university’s point of view, the ease of checking the results and knowing that the students have a good memory. What the short exams do not measure or teach is critical thinking and applying what was learned in a larger extent.