“The atmosphere between professors and students in Mannheim was very relaxed”

Allyn Oertel (on the left) is 29 years old and has just finished the Master of Comparative Business Law (M.C.B.L.) at the University of Mannheim. She grew up in Newburg, a town in the US state of Maryland. In 2011, she won the Miss Maryland USA pageant and participated in several more beauty pageants in the years that followed. In her myUniMa story, Allyn tells us about her time at the University of Mannheim and how her experience with beauty pageants helped her make the most of everything.

Why did you choose to study in Mannheim?

I moved to Frankfurt two years ago with my husband who is German. Prior to moving, I worked in marketing for a Miss Universe franchise in the US. I did my bachelor’s degree in Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, and when I arrived in Germany, I decided that I wanted to pursue new professional challenges. I then found the M.C.B.L. program at the University of Mannheim. I have always been interested in law, so I thought that the program would be a nice fit for me and I began in September 2016.

You participated in several beauty pageants in the United States. How did this experience influence your time at the University of Mannheim?

In 2011, I won the Miss Maryland USA pageant. I went on to become Miss District of Columbia in 2012, and I was the U.S. representative at the Miss Supranational pageant in Poland in 2014. I would say that these experiences certainly provided me with an insight into intercultural encounters. I met contestants from all over the world and had to learn to accommodate different personalities and cultures. Even when I was competing for Miss USA, there were 51 women from all over the country with varying social backgrounds. It helped me learn to be adaptable, which was important coming into the M.C.B.L. program, where we had students from six continents.

What are the main differences between studying in the US and in Germany?

The academic culture varies greatly. In the US, there is a lot of what you might call ‘hand holding’.  On the first day of university, students are often assigned a staff member who gives them a detailed tour and description of the university, and also shows them to all of their classes. Attending a university in Germany is very different. You are expected to be mature and to figure things out on your own. Being an older student, the transition was easier for me, but I think that for the younger American students, it may be a bit of a challenge. Perhaps the greatest difference was the relaxed atmosphere between professors and students in Mannheim. Perhaps it also had something to do with being in a master’s program instead of a bachelor’s program here, but I felt like I was treated with a lot of respect and viewed as a peer instead of a student.

What did you like most about studying the M.C.B.L. in Mannheim?

What I liked in particular was that I was able to meet a lot of people from different walks of life. When you live in the US, it is easy to stay in a bubble where you don’t experience many things outside of your own culture. In Mannheim, I studied alongside students from Afghanistan, the Dominican Republic, and China – all of whom had different ways of learning. This was very rewarding for me and I made some really great friends. When you move to a new country, you have to start over – make new friends and in my case, learn a new language. This can be especially tough when you are almost 30 years old like I am, but the M.C.B.L. program made it a lot easier. I had a great time at the University of Mannheim and was very sad when I completed the program in June.

What are your plans for the future?

I am trying to keep an open mind about that. Right now, I am on the job hunt, which seems to be quite tough for most expats in Germany, especially because you often have to be able to speak German fluently. My hope is to find a job either in law or in broadcast journalism, for example as a political correspondent focusing on law. I like living in Germany, but of course I will always miss my home in America. Maybe at some point, my husband can try living in America, but for now we will continue enjoying our life together in Frankfurt.

Text: Louisa Gille / September 2017