“The University of Mannheim is the best for Political Science and Business Administration. That’s why I’m here now.”

Sebastián Echeverría Botero is from Barranquilla, a large city located on the coast of northern Colombia, which is best known for its Carnival. The 21-year-old has been living in Mannheim since 2013, and is currently completing his sixth semester of the bachelor’s program in Political Science and Business Administration. In his my UniMA story, Sebastián shares his experiences of living on four different continents and tells us about his involvement in the Enactus student association.

Why did you decide not to study in Colombia?

I spent the years between kindergarten and the twelfth grade at a German school, so Germany and the German culture have always been a part of my life. My brother studied in Hamburg, and I could really see myself going abroad as well. I actually wanted to study in the USA. After completing my Abitur when I was 16, I went to a high school there for a year. But then I started to notice that I was slowly forgetting how to speak German. Not to mention that the tuition fees in the USA are very high. So, I decided to study in Germany. I looked at different universities, and the University of Mannheim was the best for Political Science and Business Administration. That’s why I’m here now.

How did you find an apartment in Mannheim while you were still in Colombia?

That’s an interesting story. I wasn’t actually in Colombia at the time. To brush up on my German, I had enrolled in a business course at a Studienkolleg in Marburg. As I had applied to several German universities, things had gotten a little confusing, and the semester in Mannheim starts a lot earlier than at other universities. Three weeks before the semester started, I still hadn’t found anywhere to live. So, I took the train from Marburg to Mannheim every day to look for a room. I then got lucky – the manager of the student housing in Marburg knew the manager of the student housing in Mannheim.

Did you have any concerns before you started studying in Germany?

No, not really. I would say that I’m very cosmopolitan. I don’t worry about moving to a new place. Over the past five years, I have lived on four continents including Africa, where I did an internship for three-and-a-half months in Tanzania. I have had contact with the German culture since I was young, but life in Tanzania was completely new to me. Life there isn’t so easy. I lived in a village which isn’t even shown on Google Maps. But that was a great experience for me – I’m very flexible. While I was there, I gave a course in Business Administration at a college. The educational differences quickly became clear. When I got back to Germany, I realized once again how important education is. I wouldn’t be able to study in Mannheim without the good education that I received at the German school.

Why did you get involved with the Enactus Mannheim student association?

I have always been passionate about issues such as sustainability and development – that’s also why I wanted to study Political Science and Business Administration. The internship in Tanzania made me even more interested in these areas. I would like to work in social entrepreneurship one day, and being involved in Enactus enables me to gain some initial experience. I’ve been a member since my third semester of study, and am now chairman. It’s great. We currently have twelve projects running on four continents, including the SANAGUA project in South America, which I was actively involved in as a member. After the project had installed a drinking water filtration system in Argentina, I went to Chile with the team last year to install another one of these systems. With these projects, a lot of decisions have to wait until you get to the location, no matter how intensively we plan the project in advance from Germany. But I enjoy working with the local people. It’s about sharing knowledge so that they are able to help themselves and improve their situation in a sustainable manner in future.

What are the cultural differences between Colombia and Germany?

That’s a hard question for me to answer because I grew up in the German culture. So, it really wasn’t difficult for me to adjust to life here. Some of my friends say that I act more German than they do. I am very punctual and organized. But after living in Colombia and the USA, I had to get used to carrying cash around with me. You can’t do very much in Germany if you don’t have any cash with you. Treating Sunday as an actual day of rest was also strange for me to start with. In all of the other places that I have lived, I could go shopping on Sundays.

What would you like to do after you graduate?

In the long term, I might return to Colombia. However, I want to get a master’s degree first, but not in Germany. Like I said, I like to live in different places. After spending four years in Mannheim, I’d like to get to know somewhere new. I can imagine studying in Asia so I might do my master’s in Singapore. The place itself isn’t the deciding factor for me, I’ll go wherever feels right.

Text: Sina Buschhold / March 2017