Engineering Exchange Experiences

Tristan Kuehn - 3B Systems Design
Posted on: February 18, 2017

This is part two of a three-part series on my experiences as part of an engineering exchange in Germany. I’m currently just starting my exam period, so I plan on using this space to reflect on what life was like once I was settled in.

Up to February, the experience of being in classes in Germany was pretty blissful. With the exception of labs, classes here don’t have marked assignments or projects of any kind, so I was free to just show up to lectures and learn at my own pace. At the time, this was pretty freeing! I did my best not to use that as an excuse to slack off though, as it means that all of the exams I’m about to write will be determine my entire grade. I now have to work twice as hard to understand any points I glossed over at the beginning, so regardless of the educational system on exchange, it always pays to keep up with the material as you learn it.

While this certainly isn’t an issue for all exchanges (there are many potential destinations where English is spoken exclusively), the language barrier was an interesting challenge for me. All of my lectures and tutorials were conducted in German (and all of my exams will be written in German), so I’ve had to get up to speed with all the technical terminology pretty quickly. I came to Germany with an alright grasp of the language, but I certainly wasn’t fluent. What I found, though, is that armed with Google Translate, following lectures wasn’t too bad because of the clear structure of what was being said. Any specific technical terms could be looked up easily enough and I came to recognize them without too much trouble.

Learning to better communicate with my peers was a whole other can of worms. I wanted to improve my spoken German as much as possible, which meant struggling through expressing some difficult concepts in awkward ways occasionally. I’ve found that most people, especially younger people in a university environment, speak English here, but whenever I tried to speak German, people were always willing to speak with me and help me get better. In the worst cases, people always understood when I had to switch to English.

A library card and relatively inexpensive transit has been an incredible opportunity to learn. There are a lot of very old buildings and whole cities of the kind that one can’t find in Canada around here. I remember having fun learning about the middle ages when I was in grade 4, so it has been very cool for me to see buildings where knights and royalty of the middle ages lived and worked. Seeing things like a book that was made almost a thousand years ago has been an interesting part of this exchange.

Living in a student residence near the university has also been a very good experience. I’ve met many friends who are also international students, so whether I’m buying groceries, eating in the cafeteria, or heading to the library to study, I see friendly faces wherever I go. The opportunity to meet people from all over the world with a variety of different experiences and perspectives has been a real highlight of my time here. It is amazing to have the opportunity to interact with people from so many different countries who have also come to Brunswick to study away from their home country. I’ve certainly come to understand what the world is like better than I did before I came, and I think that understanding is one of the most important things I’ve learned over my time here.

Tune in next time for more views about exchange! I’ll be wrapping up my exams by then, so I should have a more complete view to sum up the whole experience.