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.
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  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.
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  3. All the movies are dubbed.
    Not true. Actually, I found the amount of original version screenings in the cinemas delightful.
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  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.
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  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.
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    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.
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  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.
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  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.

Getting to know the German health care system

This was something I did not plan on experiencing, but oh well, accidents happen. And if they do, it is good to know how the health care system works, so that you won’t postpone the visit to the doctor (in a very Finnish manner) for almost a week in the hope that it will go away by itself over time.

Basically, in Germany, general practitioners act as gate keepers. Most of the time, to get to see a specialist, one has to see the GP first. A big part of my initial confusion came from that in Germany, GPs work in small private clinics scattered all over the city, as opposed to the Finnish health care centres. I was told to walk in any of those clinics to get treated.

As I was not comfortable in taking the risk of facing a doctor that does not speak English at all, the choice set was narrowed down. A list of English speaking doctors  was helpful in mapping out which clinics would be foreigner friendly. The following step was fixing an appointment. Shying away from having to explain myself over the phone, I opted for queuing on first come, first serve consulting hours.

Which takes us to the next remark: the supply of health care professionals seems to be inadequate with respect to the demand. I waited for nearly two hours to see the GP, and I understood that this is quite common. If you are short on time, be sure to book the appointment beforehand. This might not be that straightforward either – I got an appointment to a specialist a week from the date of inquiry. Also, the third place I was referred to, took a day to return my call (also common, I heard). Of course, part of this struggle could be explained by that I selected a popular clinic and followed their recommendations to consequently popular specialists.

The personnel in all three places I visited had at least rudimentary English skills. Because I seemed to know German, they, apart from the doctors, preferred to speak German to me unless it was evident that I had no clue what I was supposed to do. If you are a complete beginner, you might be more comfortable having a German-speaker with you on your health care journey.

A final remark concerning the German health care system is that as a foreigner, European Health Insurance Card (or a German health insurance for non-Europeans) does the trick. This was always the first thing asked at the reception. Insurance details seem to be all they need, because payment is not discussed or required at any point during the appointment. If you are unsure about the finances, just ask.

In emergencies, dial the familiar number 112.

Thoughts about the International Summer Academy 2018

international summer academy 2018 mannheim

International Summer Academy (ISA), a month long intensive language and culture course held in August before the start of the other courses. 6 ETC:s in exchange for 605 euros. Was it worth it?

The obvious pros related to any language course like ISA are that you get to spend an additional month abroad. Since the course takes place before the start of the semester, you are already familiar with the city by then. It is also a great opportunity to make some new friends, and if you choose well, they might stay with you the whole semester. Furthermore, since you already earn 6 ETC before the semester starts, you have to take less courses later. Less stress, more time to travel.

ISA was nicely organized. The compulsory teaching hours were Monday to Friday from 9 to 13.15, but there were additional classes up to 18 o’clock almost daily. If you felt like practicing grammar, writing or speaking, there were plenty of opportunities. They provided additional history and German economy lectures which were worth attending to, given that your language skills were good enough. But if you had plans or were tired, you didn’t have to study any longer than to 13.15, when the compulsory class was over.

Before the start of the academy, we took a placement test online and were assigned to groups based on that, but could switch classes in the beginning. This way, the contents of the course were matched to our skill level. Group sizes were small, restricted to maybe 15 persons, which meant that everybody could – and had to – participate in the discussion. Every group had two teachers, each teaching us a couple of days in the week, but more time was spent with one of them. My teachers differed by their personalities and teaching methods, but both were nice. Overall, the quality of teaching was very good on all of the classes I attended to.

At least at my level (A2.2), the amount of homework was modest. We had assignments from the text book, a couple of longer writing assignments (still 100 words at the most) and one five minute presentation to prepare. We had two exams, one in the middle of the course, and then a bigger exam in the end that consisted of listening and reading comprehension as well as grammar and writing assignments.

Maybe the best part of ISA was that we got many opportunities to attend to all kinds of day trips during the month. Hiking, city tours, a trip to the local beach… I would not have thought to travel to all of the places on my own, especially to locations a few hours away.

The biggest negative side in ISA was that we had to pay extra for almost everything: accommodation and food, but also for the day trips (although they were very affordable). Besides teaching, text book was one of the few things included in the price.

When I planned my exchange, I may have had a limit of 500 euros for the language course. When the price point turned out to be higher, I still took the deal. Would I do it again? Yes. But I might check the alternatives provided by other universities – paying less for the course and staying a longer time in not one, but two different places is worth considering.

Why Mannheim?

It has been almost five weeks since I arrived here in Mannheim. It is strange to think that I might be at home somewhere else right now – Mannheim was not my first choice from the beginning.

The process of deciding where to study for a semester started by choosing the language of the destination. I wanted to get to practice and develop my newly founded German skills, so the area needed to be German speaking. Switzerland was a serious candidate for a long time, but in the end, I decided to go with a more affordable option. The exact location was not of importance to me.

Aalto BIZ has a variety of partnering universities in Germany, but not that many with an economics department. Several schools of management were eliminated right away. The list of candidates was further reduced by conflicting schedules. Most of the universities in Germany have winter and summer semesters in contrast to our fall and spring semesters. Considering my study plan before and after the exchange, it was practical to pick a destination with a similar schedule.

In the end, I chose between Köln (Cologne) and Mannheim. Köln would have been a bigger and maybe a more interesting city, but the top rating of the University of Mannheim as well as the course selection made me choose Mannheim. At this point, I did not know that the courses I was particularly interested in are only taught once a year, of course not during my stay in here.

Although the university courses have not started yet, I am already glad that I chose Mannheim. If I could do something differently, I would check the scheduling of the courses more carefully before deciding which semester to spend abroad. Even better, I would come here already as a bachelor, because the variety of interesting economics courses is far more impressive than the supply of masters courses.