When the University Serves as a Springboard for New Experiences

Phuong Thao comes from Vietnam and is studying the bachelor’s program in Media and Communication Studies with Business Administration as combination major in her fifth semester. She would like to take advantage of as many of the opportunities that her program of study offers as possible. Read her myUniMA story and learn why she decided to study at the University of Mannheim, how she spends her spare time, and what her goals for the future are.

Why did you chose to study at the University of Mannheim?

When I was in high school, I was always dreaming about studying in another country. During my first year of study at a university in Vietnam, I got to know many international students. This experience confirmed my desire to study abroad. I found out that Germany is a great place to study. Therefore, I started to learn German in Vietnam, and after that, I attended a language school in Hamburg and the Studienkolleg in Mainz for one year. Afterwards, I looked for a suitable degree program. I am very interested in Media and Communication Studies, but I also wanted to learn more in the field of Business Administration. That’s why the bachelor’s program in Culture and Economy that is taught in Mannheim with an optional focus on Media and Communication Studies was just perfect for me.

What were your first impressions of the university and the city?

During the first two weeks, we obtained a lot of useful information, offers, and even gifts from the university and the city of Mannheim. I even met the mayor once and was able to take a picture with him. That was an honor for me. I felt very welcome here in Mannheim right from the start.

What I noticed first about Mannheim – and what I particularly like about the city – is the fact that the city is very well structured. The chessboard-like structure is similar to what I know from Vietnam:  my hometown is also divided into districts that are arranged according to this principle.

How did you experience the beginning of your studies?

I received so much support from everyone right from the start! First, I met many nice German students because there aren't many international students at my school. My teachers also helped me a lot! I remember not understanding much in the lectures at the beginning, but I didn't let that discourage me. I often asked my professor for help and once, he even postponed his lunch break just to help me. At that time, I was full of doubts about my German skills and my ability to study in Germany. The professor gave me lots of helpful advice and recommended that I should focus on studying rather than on end-of-semester grades. I am so grateful for that. That's just one example of many.

How are you coping with the online semester now?

During the online semester, I especially miss seeing my friends. I had also planned a semester abroad at the University of Technology in Sydney for this semester. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I couldn't take it. Yet, I am optimistic because the University of Mannheim offers so many interesting exchange programs and I know that the future always holds new challenges in store for me.

Apart from that, the online semester also has advantages for me: as all lectures are uploaded to our portal, I can listen to them whenever I want and as often as I want. Thus, I can flexibly adapt my schedule to my working hours.

So, you work alongside your studies?

Yes. My first job was in the social media team at the Institute of Sports. I had to give up working there because of the coronavirus crisis, but now I have a new working student job in a small start-up company and I really like it there. I also worked at the International Office last summer. I welcomed international students, showed them around the campus and accompanied them through the entire enrollment process. When I met those new students, they had many questions. It reminded me of myself arriving at the university three years ago, being just as clueless as they are now. As many people helped me back then, it was a great opportunity for me to give something back.

What else do you do in your leisure time?

I like cooking very much. My friends really enjoy Vietnamese food, so I often cook for them. This is a great thing for me because it allows me to make them experience the Vietnamese culture.

Additionally, there are so many different student initiatives at the University of Mannheim that I'm very interested in. This semester, I want to attend the Q-Summit meetings – they are about innovation, events, and start-ups, and these are exactly the topics that appeal to me. I could imagine setting up a start-up myself one day.

Are there any cultural differences between Vietnam and Germany that you can notice?

On the one hand, there is punctuality. Germans always seem to be on time, so I try to adapt to it. On the other hand, I have observed that young people in Germany are much more into politics. A friend of mine told me that it was very important to him to deal with the elections because he lives in this country and the issues cannot be ignored. Then I realized that he was right and began to catch up on political issues myself. In general, I notice many cultural differences, but I respect them and always try to understand the why and then I adapt.

Looking back, what makes you particularly proud of your experience at the University of Mannheim?

I am proud of myself because I have always done my best and “immer am Ball geblieben bin” (have always kept trying), as they say here. Sometimes, I was very exhausted and full of self-doubt, but then I got so much support from everyone around me. The University of Mannheim was a kind of springboard for me: Constantly new paths were opened up for me – there was always new learning content and great lectures, I gained my first work experiences, and I made many new friends.

Text: Sarah Kempe / November 2020