Robert Sun / Photo credit: Ye Fung Tchen

“It’s like when you have a tough match coming up – you train hard and then you win”

To fulfill his dream of studying business in Germany, 39-year-old Robert (that is Shih-hsuan ‘European’ name) Sun had to leave his wife and son in his hometown, Taipei. After having gained thirteen years of practical experience as the owner of a coffee shop, he is now completing a double degree in cooperation with NCCU in Taiwan at the Business School at the University of Mannheim, and enjoys the theoretical approach taken in the program.

Why did you choose the University of Mannheim for your double degree?

Robert: My home university in Taiwan cooperates with two countries for the IMBA double degree: France and Germany. Germany has always been at the back of my mind because it’s one of the countries I admire the most. I picked Mannheim because its ranking is the best and the courses offered on the Mannheim Master in Management program suit my expertise. As I had already worked in China for thirteen years and gained a lot of practical knowledge, I wanted to know more about systematical and theoretical learning. That fitted perfectly with the approach taken at the University of Mannheim. To sum up, I chose the best country, the best business school, and the university with the most theoretical approach.

Where does your interest in Germany come from?

Robert: My best friend is German. We shared an apartment while he was doing an internship in Taiwan – that’s how we met. We travelled together and became friends. I named my son, Timo, after him. He taught me a lot about the German culture and contributed to my decision to come to Germany. I was really lucky because, when I first arrived in Mannheim, his friends who live here were very welcoming. They invited me to visit their families, to come to events and to even attend a wedding. In the beginning, my ideas about Germany were a little bit stereotypical. I’ve now been living here for three years, and have learned a lot about the German culture in that time – it’s even better than what I had expected. 

Are there any differences between studying here and studying at NCCU in Taipei?

Robert: It’s totally different. In Taiwan, the approach towards teaching is a lot more practical – we do a lot of projects, team work and case studies. Here, the school has a more theoretical approach, and the professors have profound knowledge of their fields of study. I’m not saying that the professors in Taiwan are not as good, they just don’t teach as much theoretical science. The final exams in Mannheim are really challenging. You only have one final exam where you have to perform at your best. I studied a lot to be well prepared, and luckily, I passed all of my tests. I will remember this challenge for the rest of my life. It’s like when you have a tough match coming up – you train hard and then you win.

What do you do in your free time?

Robert: I spend time with friends, travel, and go skiing every winter. I also take evening classes at the Abendakademie to learn German. My friends there have different nationalities – they come from Syria, Israel and Afghanistan, and some of them are refugees. I’m so thankful that we all have the opportunity to learn the German language together. Germany is the most diverse country that I have ever been to, and I like the international atmosphere.

Do you plan on staying in Germany after you finish your studies?

Robert: Today is a big day for me as I’m going to submit my thesis this afternoon. As of today, I am looking for a job in Mannheim, even though I have my own business in China. I’m the owner of a coffee shop called “JTX” in Beijing. I miss Taiwanese street food and bubble tea, but I love Germany and that’s why I decided to stay a bit longer. I also want to travel more and get to know new places in Germany. What I really like here is the education. All of my German friends have a strong character and an open mind. I hope my two-year-old son will have these qualities as well. That’s why I want him to go to a kindergarten, but he and my wife are still in Taiwan at the moment. 

Have you had any interesting experiences in Germany? If so, what did they teach you?

Robert: I had culture shock at first. In Germany, it’s common to criticize each other but in the Chinese culture, we don’t criticize because we see the person as a whole. Once, somebody gave me bad feedback and I thought it meant we were on bad terms. But then my German friends explained that you might argue with somebody one day and then the next day, you hug them and everything returns to normal. Although it might seem rude at the first, we actually learn quicker this way. I want to go back to my country eventually and apply the things I have learned from my experiences here. In the Chinese culture, we are taught that you should always be proud of your country. Germans, however, seem to question their nationality, government, and history to a greater extent in order to improve. That’s the kind of philosophy that I want to bring to Taiwan.

Interview: Anna-Lena Lämmle  |  October 2017