Yijiao Li trägt einen hellgrauen Anzug und ein weißes Hemd.

“When I Got the Letter of Admission, I Didn’t Think Twice.”

After completing a degree in German Studies in China, Yijiao Li from Beijing decided to pursue another bachelor's degree in Business Administration at the University of Mannheim. He is not only involved at university, but also cultivates his artistic and creative interests as a musician and model. In this interview, he tells us more about how he came to Mannheim and shares his experiences as an international student.

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

My decision to study in Germany was obvious, because I had already completed a degree in German Studies in China. Although German Studies had not been my first choice, the subject nevertheless suited me, as various family members had lived in Germany for some time. This meant that I already had a connection to both the language and the country. And I was able to benefit from a major advantage in terms of language skills. Nevertheless, I wanted to change my subject once I was in Germany and opted for Business Administration. Unfortunately, in Germany it is hardly possible to change the major of your master’s program. That's why I decided to pursue a second bachelor's degree in Business Administration. Sure, a master's degree would have been in line with a linear career concept, but I wanted to focus on my actual skills rather than on an optimized CV.

Why did you finally decide to study Business Administration?

Business Administration combines my personal talents with interesting content and promising prospects. My interest in economic topics was encouraged early on by my mother. She once even gave me some pocket money so I could invest in the stock market. So, while still a child, I was able to experience how relevant financial knowledge is. Of course, Business Administration involves much more than just investing; it really is a comprehensive program of study offering a wide range of perspectives and also allowing you to develop as a person. What’s more, Business Administration provides me with a career and at the same time gives me the opportunity to pursue my hobbies, most notably playing music. The University of Mannheim is the best public university for Business Administration in Germany, so it was an obvious choice: When I got the letter of admission, I didn't think twice. There was no reason for me to consider attending any other university.

You are chairman of the Verein der chinesischen Studenten und Wissenschaftler Mannheim (VCSW-MA), a nonprofit organization helping Chinese students and researchers living in Mannheim. What is your experience of the Chinese community at the University of Mannheim?

When I came here from China four years ago, my German language skills were acceptable, but I had difficulties adapting to the culture. The way people communicate and behave – everything was new to me. During my first days in Mannheim, the association sent brochures to all new Chinese students containing lots of helpful tips about studying and living in Mannheim. They made me feel welcome. Today I feel at home in Germany and would like to give new students from abroad, more precisely from China, the same warm and safe welcome that I received. I have been chair of the association for two years and since then we have organized several events to foster student networking. Last month we played laser tag and went karting. We also organized a “Back to Uni” party welcoming both students from China and anyone who is interested in our culture or just wanted to have a good time. This year, more than 100 people joined the event.

When comparing China and Germany, what are the biggest differences when it comes to studying?

The most obvious difference is the teaching format. In China, students are assigned to classes with fixed timetables. In Germany, however, I am free to plan my own timetable and courses are always attended by different students. Neither do students in China get up to three attempts to pass an exam, as is possible in Mannheim in some cases. These new circumstances make studying more flexible for me, but also for my Chinese fellow students. Another aspect is the housing situation. In China, I shared my room in residence hall with two other students, whereas in Germany it is common to rent a single room. So, moving to Germany literally gave me more space for personal development.

Besides studying, you also play music and work as a model. How did this come about and what do you particularly enjoy about it?

Regardless of when you discover it, I believe that everyone has a purpose in life. For me, it's music. I play guitar and sing. I would consider my own music style as indie pop, but I'm also influenced by jazz, rock and many other genres. I've also been involved in an electronic music production project for a few months now. My strong passion for different genres of music has shown me how passionate I am about making music and that it means more to me than being just a hobby. Performing on stage makes me feel electrified and gives me a sense of having found my place. Modeling, however, is something that I stumbled across by chance and I wouldn't have started it if it hadn't been for the University of Mannheim. More than two years ago, I took part in a photo shoot for the university's website for fun and the photographer told me that I had the potential to be a model. That came as a complete surprise, as modeling had never been an option for me. She referred me to several agencies and I was signed after applying. In the end, the photo shoot at the university was the start of the best part-time job I've ever had. I really enjoy being in front of the camera and expressing different characters and emotions.

To what extent has living and studying in Mannheim shaped your attitude towards your degree program and career?

When I started studying Business Administration in Mannheim, I wanted to specialize in finance. I was also involved in the Mannheim Investment Club for the first two years, where we even took part in international competitions. Although I saw this as a potential opportunity, I felt that my life should take a different direction. In Mannheim, I learned what the Germans call “free development”. From a cultural point of view, I have become “cooler” in Germany. I also became more independent in almost all areas of my life. As an international student, there is no family nearby to help me – so, I have to manage everything myself. Since I've been taking advantage of the university sports program regularly, I've also become stronger physically.

What are your plans for the future?

While I complete my bachelor's degree I want to further explore what options I have in Germany: whether it is getting to know new cultures, traveling, or expanding my modeling career – I have the feeling that Mannheim still has a lot of experiences waiting for me. It remains to be seen what happens afterwards. I am convinced that I still have a lot to discover.

Text: Clara Schünemann / November 2023