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.

The paperwork: part 1

paperwork mannheim

The process from applying to actually studying abroad requires a hefty amount of paperwork and arrangements. This is the timeline of the practicalities before and in the beginning of my stay in Mannheim.

January – the application period.

March – the results of the selection and accepting the place. After receiving the news, I had approximately one week time to inform Aalto University and two weeks to inform the University of Mannheim about my decision to accept the place. Later this month, I got an e-mail from the University of Mannheim with the information about the semester dates and the date of the Summer Academy, an optional language and culture course. I was told that I would receive more information only in May.

April – scholarships. In April, I got a scholarship letter from Aalto. It is an official certificate of being selected to the exchange program and being entitled to a scholarship. I also applied for the scholarship provided by KY. An orientation session was organised to all future exchange students.

May – finally more information from UniMa. I got my credentials to the university portal  (myUniMA) late in May, only a week before the beginning of June. Access to the portal is essential, because without it, nothing can be done. I also got my Welcome Letter, Letter of Admission and a Notice of Semester Fee (80,90€).

June – everything happens. In the beginning of June, I enrolled to the Summer Academy and paid the corresponding lovely fee of 605€. Since I now knew the day I had to be in Mannheim, I also bought the tickets to there (plane 170€, train 25€). While I was at it, I made a travelling notification to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland (matkustusilmoitus.fi).

It became clear that this late, I had no hope of getting a dorm room via the university. I started sending replies to “room for rent” ads. The portal for students of UniMa (https://zimmer.uni-mannheim.de ) was the easiest option, but I also used Studenten-wg.de to search for accommodation. Scanning through and replying to the new ads first thing in the morning was the best strategy, as the market was lively and the rooms were reserved quickly. I think my status as an international student staying in Mannheim for barely half a year definitely worked against meI got a reply to only about a half of my messages and had a Skype-meeting with two people, the other being my future flatmate.

In June, I took the Erasmus language test in the language of the studies, English. This test has to be taken before and after the exchange, unless your skill level is C2, in which case the second part can be forgotten. Less tests, yay!

July – the last minute arrangements. Since I would participate in the Summer Academy, I had to take another language test, but in German this time. I ordered the European health insurance card, made arrangements with my bank to customize the travelling insurance and made sure that I could use my phone, including the internet, normally in Germany.

Other things to do before leaving is to fill and sign the Erasmus+ Learning Agreement, which includes selecting the courses for the semester, to check that your HOPS is up to date and that your passport is still valid.

August – enrollments. When I arrived, I had to enroll to the International Summer Academy, to the University and register myself at the Residents‘ Registration Office. German skills are valuable at the Registration Office, because the English skills of the personnel might not be good. We got English translations to help fill the German forms, though.

The first week in Mannheim: arrival and welcome

The route to Mannheim

There are two ways to get to Mannheim from Finland: either by plane or driving a car. A flight will be many times faster, so unless you have a special need to take your own car with you, take the plane. That’s what I did.

I decided to go for the most direct route available: by plane to Frankfurt and by train from there to Mannheim. There were some cheaper alternatives, but I preferred as few interchanges as possible. Tip: Don’t book the cheaper flight that leaves at 6 am unless you have a ride to the airport, because having to take a taxi, you end up paying the same amount. If you do have to use a taxi, I recommend taking the Yellow line (airport taxi) that costs almost half of the price of some other alternatives.

My airplane company was Lufthansa. Apart from the inconvenience of baggage check-in the experience was pleasant. The problem was that if you had done the check-in at home, you could not print the luggage tags at the airport, which meant that the check-in took a longer time. There were no baggage drop-off counters without personnel available. We got snacks at the 2,5-hour flight and arrived safely a bit ahead of schedule. At the Frankfurt airport, I had no issues in navigating to the train station, but I did get to know Deutsche Bahn. Far from the famous German punctuality. My first train was cancelled and the second one late, leaving from different tracks than announced originally. When I finally got to the train, I could not get a seat, but that was fine since the trip only took half an hour.

When I finally reached my flat, I had a contact there waiting for me. I got the keys and a tour in the flat. My flatmate had left me a “quick start guide” since he could not be there to walk me through the practicalities in person.

Enrollments

I had three enrollments to complete, one for the International Summer Academy, another for the semester in the university and third one in the Resident’s Registration Office. Out of these, the first two had to be done during the first days and the third one at latest two weeks after arrival. The process itself was easy since we got all the essential information before and during the enrollment. I’d advice to take some snacks with you though, because the time queuing in different places might be long.

The start of the International Summer Academy

There was a soft landing to the language studies as the first two days were dedicated to enrollment and settling down. We had a welcoming event at the second day but the classes started only the day after that, which happened to be a Friday. In contrast, the free time activities started right away. Get-togethers, clubbing, day trips… There were many opportunities to make some new friends and to get to know the surroundings. We were kept up to date by messages in Facebook and Whatsapp groups as well as  by student mentors popping up in the classes. This continued even after the first week. If we had any questions, we could contact the student mentors and our personal student partners, “buddies”.

At the end of the week, I did feel welcome.

Germany, prove me wrong

MANNHEIM

The airplane to Germany takes off early tomorrow morning. Suddenly, my five months abroad have become very real. In the eve of the exchange, what are my expectations about and prejudice towards Mannheim, the University of Mannheim and German people at this point? Here are five (mis)conceptions to be proven wrong.

  1. They do not like to speak English, or at least they prefer the attempts of speaking their language. They are not as bad as the French, though, I hear. However, in a university city, I expect English to be used widely.
  2. Mannheim is not marketed as a beautiful place. Apparently, it is a boxy design with architecture forgotten from the plans.
  3. They have dubbed everything and I will be having trouble finding a cinema with any English in it. On the other hand, I have no other choice than to learn the language.
  4. My fellow students take their studies seriously and spend time with their books (or laptops).
  5. They have only a short time to write their exams which will mean trouble for me, being used to four hours of time.

How badly I am mislead – we will see soon enough.