“It was very easy for me to settle in”

Habiba El Gohary is 19 years old and grew up in Abu Dhabi. Originally, she is from Cairo. Habiba is a first semester bachelor’s student at the University of Mannheim. She studies Political Science as a major and Economics as a minor. In her myUniMA story, she tells us why she already knew at a young age that she would one day study in Germany. She also talks about the differences between living in Germany and Abu Dhabi and explains what she likes most about studying in Mannheim.

Why did you choose to study at the University of Mannheim and how do you like it here so far?

I chose Mannheim because the bachelor’s programs Political Science and Economics have been ranked highly and because other students have told me lots of good things about Mannheim. I wanted to study Political Science and Economics because the two subjects are closely linked to each other. A country’s economy can only work, if the political situation is right. I like my study program so far. I appreciate the fact that the university is very international and has an international academic calendar. That makes it so much easier for international students. My semester breaks, for example, correspond to those of my siblings. I also like the fact that the University of Mannheim is not a huge university and that I don’t have to sit on the floor during lectures or be half an hour early in order to get a seat. And the Schloss, of course – the attraction of the city of Mannheim.

Your German is very good. How did you learn the language?

After 4th grade, I had the opportunity to enter a selection procedure at the Deutsche Evangelische Oberschule in Cairo, which sounded pretty interesting to my parents. Out of 500 candidates, 25 were accepted. The goal was to speak German at a native level in 10th grade. When I was in 7th grade, I moved to Abu Dhabi and went to the German International School there. That was really tough for me, because suddenly all my classmates were native Germans. I had been learning German for only two years, so I was a little overwhelmed – also during classes. But now it’s no longer a problem. I took my German International Abitur there and now I’m actually the first international student who has obtained the Abitur at the German International School Abu Dhabi and now studies in Mannheim.

Was there a specific reason for your parents to send you to a German school?

My mom was born in Germany, but her parents are originally from Egypt. When she was ten years old, she moved to Egypt together with her mother. My grandfather stayed here and obtained the German citizenship.  I don’t really know why my parents wanted me to go to a German school. Maybe my mother send me there because she was sad about having lost some of her language skills in German or about no longer being fluent in German. My siblings go to the same school, so we usually talk to each other in German.

Back home, you had already been in contact with Germans on a regular basis. Was it easy for you to settle in in Germany?

It was very easy for me to settle in. I immediately enjoyed living here. The fact that all my friends in Abu Dhabi were German certainly contributed to this. At first, I was sad that I had moved to Abu Dhabi, but now I’m very happy about it. I know many international students who went to the German school in Egypt. But they only had Arabic classmates and they only learned formal German. That makes a huge difference.

What were the biggest changes that you had to get used to?

The biggest change was most certainly the weather. In Abu Dhabi, it’s sometimes 49 or 50 degrees. You really have to get used to the temperatures here in Germany. And I also had to get used to people around here. I think Germany is not as international as Abu Dhabi. In Abu Dhabi, you walk two meters and you have already met people of four different nationalities. And even though the United Arab Emirates is an Arabic country, everyone speaks English in everyday life. On the other hand, I really appreciate the fact that traveling within Europe is so easy. You drive to the airport and, just like that, you fly to Barcelona. That’s different in Abu Dhabi, even though you can, for example, go to Oman or Dubai by car. However, I miss the lifestyle and luxury of the Emirates. And I also miss the beach and, of course, my mom’s cooking.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Back in Abu Dhabi, I loved playing padel. Padel is a Spanish sport, a mixture of squash and tennis. Unfortunately, there are not many padel clubs around here – the next one is in Karlsruhe. Apart from that, I go to the gym every second day and I enjoy seeing my friends. On top of that, I’m a member of the student organization Infinity. I’m active in the corporate social responsibility , because I’m interested in environment. Last fall, I was an intern at the Environmental Agency of Abu Dhabi for two months and represented young adults at the World Ocean Summit. That’s something I’m very proud of. After the summit, I have developed a concept which can be compared to the German Pfand system, because people in Abu Dhabi use a lot of plastic. My concept has already been tested by the Minister of Climate Change and Environment in the Mall of the Emirates, the second largest shopping mall in Dubai. I was so happy when I read in the newspaper that the concept I have developed will now be implemented. In the next semester break, I’m planning to do an internship at the Ministry of Planning, Monitoring and Administrative Reform in Egypt. I’m curious to see what challenges my home country is facing in this field and I hope that my experiences will help me make a contribution.

Text: Elena Koch / November 2019