“Starting university is a big step for everyone”

In the myUniMA story interview series, international degree-seeking students at the University of Mannheim share their personal experiences of studying and living in Mannheim. This month, Mariana Roa (20) from Mexico City tells us about her first year of study in the bachelor’s program in Political Science.

Why did you decide to study in Mannheim?

I went to a German school in Mexico, where I did my Abitur. The school was very different from what I had experienced before because it was so open-minded – we didn’t have to wear a uniform, for example. I wanted to study in Germany because I was already learning the language, however, I wasn’t sure where and what exactly I wanted to study to begin with. I thought about studying Business Administration and, of course, Mannheim was the first university that came up on Google when I was doing my research – I was very impressed by the Schloss (laughs). When I finally decided to study Political Science, Mannheim was my first choice because I could study Business Administration as a minor.

Were you nervous before you came to Mannheim? Or afraid that you wouldn’t like it or that you wouldn’t make friends? 

I think I was always very positive on that side of things. After spending so many years at a German school, living in Germany had become my dream. I was confident and proud of my accomplishments. My main worry was that I would disappoint my parents because I know how much they have to do to send me here. That’s why I try to be very positive, not just for me but also for my parents.

Is there anything at the university that you find particularly difficult because you’re an international student?

I think my university experiences would have been similar if I had stayed in Mexico because starting university is a big step for everyone. To start with, everyone tries to make friends, have a good time, and go to all the parties. But of course, when I first arrived, I found it hard to keep up with the information in German because everyone was talking a lot faster than I was used to. I wondered how I was supposed to take exams if I couldn’t understand half a conversation. But, with time, I got used to the language and now I can have a fluent conversation. The other challenges were just normal first-year students things that come with living alone for the first time, like doing laundry and going to the supermarket. These things are normal for German first-year students but not for students in Mexico as they usually live with their parents.

You’ve already finished your first year as a student here. How do you like the Political Science program so far?

I love it. The mixture of theoretical and quantitative elements means it is never boring – I enjoy the quantitative part the most. But the start was a little rocky. Here, there is only one exam at the end of the semester, whereas in Mexico, there are midterms, projects, and essays to be done during the semester, which all contribute to the final grade. So, I thought I could relax during the semester and just start working two weeks before the exam. Of course, that didn’t go well. I also missed a lot of the information in the lectures, not because I was daydreaming, but because I had difficulties with the language. I had to look up everything in the dictionary. In my second semester, I learned from my mistakes. I started reading ahead, showing up to the lectures prepared, and studying a little bit earlier. But I think everyone has these difficulties to start with, not just the international students.

What do you do in your spare time?

I spend a lot of time with my friends from the Political Science program, my Latino friends, and also my buddy and his friends. We often cook dinner together, which is also something that students don’t usually do in Mexico. I can’t cook but I really like the whole experience of preparing a meal and eating together, and catching up with everyone at the same time. I also love going to the Schneckenhof parties. Aside from that, I’m a member of the Model United Nations (MUN) team and am going to join the board next year. I also volunteer in the Student Initiative for Children (Studenteninitiative für Kinder), which provides free tutoring to children. That’s how I keep myself busy when I’m not studying.

What do you like most about Mannheim?

What I like most here is that I can go everywhere on foot or by bike. In Mexico City, you have to drive everywhere and it takes forever to get to places, whereas in Mannheim, it only takes you ten minutes to get somewhere. My favorite place during the semester is the ADH student housing in D6 as many of my friends live there and so it feels a bit like home to me. In summer, I really like to take walks, go running, or picnic with my friends next to the Rhine. This is also something that I wouldn’t be able to do in Mexico. When my mom visited me in Mannheim, she didn’t like it at all and tried to convince me to study in Heidelberg instead. But, once she got to know my friends and saw how I live, she finally understood why I like it here and she was very happy for me.

Where do you see yourself after you graduate?

That’s a tough question. When I talk to a Mexican friend of mine from the Political Science program about the future, we both feel like we should do something about the problems in our country. But then, my friends who don’t study Political Science say that we should take advantage of our opportunity to build a future here. I don’t know what I’ll decide yet.

Text: Lina Vollmer / July 2016