I grew up in the US, but I did not go to college there. I moved to Scotland when I was 18 years old to do my bachelor’s degree in St. Andrews, a four-year degree program, but in my third year, I went to Toronto for a year abroad.
First of all, I want to do economic research but I’m not quite sure if I am ready for a PhD yet, so I wanted to do a master’s degree first. Here it is more common to do a master’s degree than in the US. That’s also why I wanted to do my master’s degree in Germany. Here are some fantastic schools with an excellent reputation in math. But I chose Germany, in particular, because in my year abroad in Canada, I met a German student. We dated all through our time in Canada and then had a long distance relationship during my last year of college until I moved here. It has been two and a half years now. He’s in Heidelberg doing his PhD, so he helped me look for schools in Germany and apply. The University of Mannheim was the best school I applied to. I did not expect to get in, so I was very happy when I was accepted.
I love Germany. I have had a really good, crazy time in Mannheim. But Germany in general is fantastic. I’d love to live here for a while. I love the people – they are so nice. Everybody speaks English and is very understanding when I have difficulties communicating in German. I’m taking German language classes for beginners which is really lovely. There are so many opportunities here. Student jobs, for example. In the US and Scotland, they tend to be either unpaid research jobs or things that don’t really help your studies, like working in the library. Here you have the option to do both: I am working at GESIS, doing all sorts of background research and editing their papers, and they pay me better than they would in the US. It’s just fantastic.
The first semester was so hard! I had to deal with the transition, take care of all the bureaucracy, take German language classes, still keep in touch with my family, and pass my classes. But the students in my master’s program are lovely and about a third of them are also internationals. Everybody is really supportive of each other and not competitive at all. I realized we are all in the same boat. Being a master’s student really makes you doubt your skills. But when you pass the classes, you feel so much accomplishment. In this semester, I could finally apply all the skills I learned, and classes are really interesting. And the professors are just impressive here. Next semester, I have the chance to study abroad and will probably be going to Boston. I am really looking forward to it and hope it won’t be canceled due to the corona crisis.
I’ve taken two seminars which are pretty much unaffected. One has become an email seminar and the other just switched into an online zoom course. Even free German language classes are now available online. It is really nice to have that opportunity.
Other than Model United Nations, I have actually not found many English-speaking clubs at the university. I would like to join a paper, because I was an editor in my undergraduate program, but I can’t find an English-speaking paper for students. Maybe I could start one. Otherwise, I boulder. I think that has become quite popular now and it’s really fun. I also continue writing, since I was doing editing and article writing in my undergraduate program. And I travel. This is also one of the reasons I chose Germany: Traveling is so easy here. For my birthday, I could travel to Paris for 30 Euros.
Cultural differences are something that sneaks up on you when you’ve been here for a while. It’s the little things. Voice messages in WhatsApp, for example. Nobody does that anywhere else because it’s so weird. I have full conversations with me texting and others sending me voice messages.
I think it really helped that I had been here three times before I moved here. For other people in my master’s program, for example those who had never left their home country or lived abroad before, it was a huge transition. Also, people here have been so helpful and I find the university administration to be effective and supportive. They respond to emails, which is a lot more than one can expect in other countries.
Expect it to be hard. I was warned, but the same happened to my friends in the US and in Britain who started their master’s. A master’s program is just a giant step up everywhere. It’s important to have your priorities straight: You shouldn’t give up talking to your family because you feel like you have to take every class and get perfect grades. And you shouldn’t feel like you’re failing because you’re not able to take German as well as your classes. Take it easy on yourself. Also, seek out your fellow international students. People are so nice and accepting here! Everyone’s looking for friends. Even if it’s just sitting next to each other at the library and studying: That’s a friend in a master’s program. You don’t have to be drinking beer with someone to be bonding or feeling social.
I’ve done a few internships in nonprofits and political organizations before. I’d really like to continue on that path. My idea would be to work for an animal welfare organization like WWF. Doing all sorts of wildlife conservation, for example working on the economic side of it and controlling wildlife smuggling would be such an amazing use of my time and the skills I’ve learned here. Nonprofit work and especially something that benefits animals is my ultimate goal. I am unsure of whether I will stay in Germany or not, as I would love to be with my family in America but am also keen to travel and live internationally for some time while I'm young.
Text: Elena Koch / April 2020
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