“My fellow students come from all over the world”

This month, the myUniMA Story interview series features Georgi Popov (25) from Bulgaria. Georgi has almost completed the Mannheim Master in Management (MMM) and is spending this semester working as an intern at Lufthansa Cargo in Frankfurt. His story is a good example of the opportunities that are available to international students of the MMM program.

What made you apply for your current internship?

I’m doing an internship in the Market and Network Planning department at Lufthansa. I find the work there very interesting and am able to learn a lot about the aviation industry, especially airfreight and logistics. It’s a six-month internship. When I applied for the position, I was working part-time at SAP, which was a great experience. I’m thinking about rejoining there either once I have finished my internship or after I graduate. I was mainly involved in sales operations, but I wanted to try something new. My master’s program is largely about operations management and focuses on supply chain management, logistics and purchasing. That’s why I also wanted to gain some work experience in these areas. I had already done an internship at Lufthansa in Bulgaria – there’s a large Lufthansa Technik center in Sofia. That’s where my interest in the aviation industry comes from, and that’s also why I wanted to work for Lufthansa again.

Why did you decide to study in Mannheim?

I was born in Sofia and grew up in a beautiful city called Veliko Tarnovo. Bulgaria is such a pretty country, but unfortunately its economy isn’t as advanced as the German economy. I always planned on studying abroad as the quality of education in Western Europe is a lot better than in Bulgaria. So, when I finished high school in 2010, I moved to Mannheim. My school placed a large focus on foreign languages, and I learned German as my first foreign language and Russian as my second. Moving to a non-German speaking country would have wasted the time I spent learning German. If you don’t frequently use your language skills, you quickly forget how to say things. The University of Mannheim has an exceptionally good reputation – when it comes to my field of study, it’s the best in many university rankings. Some friends of mine also studied in Mannheim and told me lots of good things about the university. So, I decided to apply as well.

You’ve almost finished your program of study. How do you sum up your experiences?

Overall, I think I can say it has been a very positive experience, but it has been hard work at times. Coming here as a young adult, right after finishing school, is a big change. You have to learn how to manage the transition from living at home, where everything is familiar, to living in a different country, where the system and the language are both different. I wouldn’t say I managed to do that perfectly, but it worked out okay, and, overall, it was worth it. Although, I thought I’d leave Mannheim once I had finished my bachelor’s degree program. My friends and I just couldn’t wait to graduate – the final year was very stressful.

So what made you decide to take a master’s program here?

After I graduated, I took a gap year and did two internships in Sofia. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to start my career or get a master’s degree. When I finally decided to continue my studies, I returned to Mannheim. The program is internationally renowned. My fellow students come from all over the world. There are also good links with the business community. We can attend guest lectures and workshops with representatives from many different companies. In general, I like the master’s degree program a lot more and I don’t regret my decision. I also had a big advantage as I was already familiar with the city, which meant that I found starting the master’s program easier.

What are your career plans after you graduate? Do you think the MMM has prepared you for your future career?

Yes, I think my master’s program, my part-time position at SAP and my internships have prepared me well for my future career. As well as studying, it’s important to gain practical work experience. The companies that I have worked for to date have all been global players and market leaders. That’s why working for them was so inspiring. It makes me proud. I’d like the opportunity to work in a company with an international work environment. I don’t mind speaking German at work but I prefer speaking English. I also enjoy working with international colleagues in an international field. In the long run, I don’t think I’d like working for a company that is solely focused on Germany.

Are there any significant cultural differences between Bulgaria and Germany?

There are, of course, some differences but I don’t think they are very large. Both Germany and Bulgaria are in the EU. The food is different, and so is the language. But I don’t think coming here was a culture shock. I don’t know if it’s possible to experience a culture shock if you move to a different EU country. Bulgaria hasn’t been a member of the EU for very long but the people are so happy to be EU citizens. Sometimes I forget the advantages that I have because I come from an EU country. But when I speak to my friends from non-EU countries like India, I see how much easier it is for me to study here in comparison.

Are you friends with many other Bulgarian students in Mannheim?

The university has quite a large Bulgarian community. We even have our own society called Bai Ganyo, which supports Bulgarian students during their studies, and tries to give other students a better understanding of the Bulgarian culture and improve their perception of Bulgaria. It is designed to act as a bridge between the Bulgarian and non-Bulgarian students at the university. We actively try to involve our international friends and fellow students in our activities. This is also expressed through the society’s name. Bai Ganyo is the main character in a novel of the same name, and symbolizes the main prejudices people have against Bulgarians. It inspired the society’s slogan: our name is our challenge. People do have prejudices against Bulgarians, especially in Mannheim. But personally, I have never had any negative experiences.

Text: Lina Vollmer / September 2016