“I wanted to come to Mannheim and it was the right choice”

Isabel Jaramillo Chujón (19) comes from Quito in Ecuador, and is in her third semester of a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Thanks to her time at a German school, her German is very good and she has settled in so well that she is considering staying in Germany. In her myUniMA story, she tells us how she really likes the international character of the university and the extensive support it provides for international students.

What brought you to Mannheim?

I graduated from a German high school in Ecuador with an Abitur from Baden-Wurttemberg. With this qualification, I was able to start my studies in Germany right away. After visiting Germany twice while I was at high school, I knew early on that I wanted to study there – I like the country and the people are very nice. Apart from that, the education in Germany is of a higher quality and is less expensive than in Ecuador. My sister studies over there and has to pay high tuition fees. I always wanted to study Psychology and applied to seven universities. I specifically looked at the rankings because I was really ambitious and wanted to study at the best university. Psychology at the University of Mannheim was always well ranked. Ultimately, I was accepted by a university in Berlin and here in Mannheim. Even though I have many Ecuadorian friends in Berlin, I think the city would be too big for me. I wanted to come to Mannheim and it was the right choice.

How do you like your Psychology major?

At first, the transition from high school to university was difficult. Although I knew that research at the University of Mannheim is primarily based on empirical methods, it was still a challenge to start with. But now I’ve gotten used to it and enjoy it. I would even say that the methods classes are my favorite because you have to develop your own thoughts and actively participate. My program of study is generally taught in German; so far, only two seminars were in English. There are around 120 students altogether in my year, and only three or four of us are international students. Of course, there is a difference between studying in your native language and in a foreign language. For me though, the language isn’t a problem – as I went to a German school, I was able to understand everything straight away. Overall, I really like it here at the university. My professors are great and the support is outstanding. In my first semester, I had to write a term paper and was very nervous. But my professor really supported me and I could have even written the paper in English. Ultimately, writing it in German was okay though. Also, in my first statistics exam, my professor came over three times to make sure I had understood everything. This is certainly not the case at other universities.

How did you organize your move here?

That wasn’t easy at all. First of all, I stayed with my cousin in Karlsruhe and commuted to Mannheim every day. A while later, I found an apartment through the WG-Gesucht website, and now I live with a friend of mine from Colombia. But to start with, I had to organize everything from Ecuador. The university was very supportive right from the beginning – I received many e-mails containing the necessary information, and the International Office’s myUniMA platform really helped me to organize my stay here. I never felt like I had been left alone. When I finally moved to Germany, there were several introductory events, like the “Ersti Party” for first-year students, where I made my first friends. I didn’t have any German friends in my first semester. In Latin America, everyone is very open and it’s easy to start a conversation, whereas here, even though everyone is very nice, you don’t make many friends right away – you have to slowly form a friendship. I have my best friend, Eva, now though and she is definitely a real friend.

Do you spend much time with friends from Ecuador here?

No, I don’t know anybody from Ecuador here, but I’m friends with other students from Latin America. I know many Ecuadorians in Berlin and Karlsruhe, but I didn’t want to study there – I wanted to get to know somewhere new. Nowadays, most of my good friends here are Germans, and I even study with the majority of them. I think the best thing about the University of Mannheim is that, even though the university itself is rather small, you can still meet people from all over the world. I like to cook with my friends. Sometimes I visit a friend of mine who lives in student residence halls – they have a piano there that I play from time to time. I also like to do sports. The Institute of Sports literally offers every kind of sport. I like going to Heidelberg as well because it’s so pretty. Still, Mannheim has many beautiful places too, like the Wasserturm or the Luisenpark. I even stayed here over the summer because I think Mannheim has a special atmosphere during the summer months.

How did you find the adjustment from everyday life in Ecuador to everyday life in Germany?

Of course, things are a little bit different here. For example, we don’t have pedestrian signals at crosswalks in Ecuador – you just try to cross the street anyway (laughing). But since I come from the capital, the differences don’t seem very big to me. Having attended a German school, I didn’t experience a cultural shock when I came here. The stereotype that Germans are very organized and are always on time really is true. Another difference is that most German students are very independent after they finish high school. In Ecuador, almost all students live with their parents. I work as a student assistant in the team responsible for accommodation and language courses in the International Office, and my boss is always surprised when we receive emails from the parents of 22-year-old students from Latin America instead of from the students themselves. During my first months here, I really enjoyed my newfound independence, but during the exam period, I had no idea how to cope with learning and cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning. But that’s not a problem anymore.

Do you miss Ecuador?

I think because I was very young when I moved here, it was quite easy for me to settle in quickly. Nevertheless, sometimes I have days where I feel homesick. Unfortunately, I can’t just go home because the flights are long and expensive – the journey takes about 24 hours in total. The living conditions in Ecuador have improved, especially in the cities, but it’s still a developing country. My salary as a student assistant here is higher than the minimum wage there. I’m very glad that I have the opportunity to study in Germany. I probably won’t return to Ecuador after I graduate. I like the lifestyle in Germany. But I think the majority of Ecuadorians who study abroad do return to Ecuador eventually.

What are your plans after graduation?

I don’t really know. I dropped Educational Psychology and so now I have to decide between Clinical Psychology and Business Psychology. Research is also an option because I find statistics and methods so interesting. The professors here are very motivated and have conducted interesting research themselves, which is very inspiring. I’m going to do two internships next semester for around twelve weeks in total, and then I’ll decide which direction I’d like to go in. I definitely want to get a master’s degree, but I think I’ll move to another city to see some more of Germany. I’m still very open about that.

Text: Lina Vollmer / December 2016