Marina Talyanskaya, a 2020 graduate of the Business Analytics and Big Data program. During her studies, Marina spent an exchange semester at the University of Mannheim in Germany. We asked Marina why she decided to choose this particular university for exchange, how her studies were useful, and what surprised her the most about Germany.
Last fall, you went to the University of Mannheim in Germany for an exchange. Tell us why you chose this particular university?
As part of my study program at GSOM, I could go for an exchange semester to 12 universities. Some of them was not appropriate for me for financial reasons, for example, Sweden and Switzerland are quite expensive countries. I chose the university based on the available courses, the ranking of the university and the language of the host country. At the University of Mannheim, all these parameters converged: the courses coincided with the GSOM, there were good reviews about my specialty, as for the language - in the master's program I studied German. In addition, Germany is a good country for students: moderately expensive, with excellent opportunities for internships and part-time jobs, valued education and a convenient location for traveling in Europe.
What do you need to know before going for an exchange?
It is very important to know and understand how expensive the country is, some aspects of the legislation of the host country, if you have, for example, unusual hobbies or medical characteristics and the prevalence of English, if you do not speak local language. This will make life much easier and help to avoid unobvious troubles.
Regarding Germany, it can definitely shock:
- Bureaucracy. Germans love paper: be prepared to register, re-register, write applications, etc. It is true, that everything is well organized and will not take much time.
- Post office. The first thing that any organization will ask you is your mail address. According to local law, all official documents exist only in paper form and are sent exclusively by mail. The post office works quickly, sending documents to government agencies is free or costs less than 1 euro.
- Coexistence of boys and girls in hostels or apartments is the norm. Most of the rented housing is "mixed" type.
- Medical insurance. You pay money for it, and it covers a wide range of services, including medicines. But Russian insurance cannot be used.
- All trains are with c, even the most expensive and take several hours. They are also late - being late within 15 minutes, in principle, is not considered late.
Shops are open until 10 p. m. at best. Nothing is open on Saturday afternoons and Sundays – not even bars and museums.
Tell us about the university, its infrastructure and location.
The University of Mannheim is a descendant of the Graduate School of Commerce, founded about 150 years ago, specializing in the education of specialists in the field of commerce. Its economic orientation has been preserved to this day: for example, according to the QS 2019 ranking, the university was ranked second in Germany in economic and business specialties and was included in the top 3 in social sciences. It should be noted that for economic, business and sociological directions, strong mathematical education is characteristic here. The university is renowned for its quantitative researchers, making it an ideal choice for those looking to gain advanced knowledge in statistics, numerical methods in various fields, etc.
I studied at the Faculty of Business (Betriebswirtschaftslehre, BWL) in the direction of general management (as stipulated by the agreement between the GSOM and the BWL), but took courses from the faculties of computer science and social sciences.
All university buildings are located in the city center, within a 10-15 minute walk from each other. The central building is a 17th century baroque palace, that has been completely redesigned inside for the needs of the university. There are administrative offices, faculties of law and economics.
Are there any extra activities at the University for exchangers?
My buddy met me upon arrival in town, helped me with my belongings and documents, and I even stayed at his accomodation for a couple of nights.
The university organizes free yoga classes, sports games in the park, there are paid sections of different directions, their cost varies between 30-50 euros per month, and you can also attend fitness classes at a discount. I went on joint jogging and once a month I went hiking in the vicinity.
I also took part in the life of the student scientific society for fans of statistics and data science. They organize both a series of lectures and courses in German and simply interesting meetings with discussions on various topics. There are similar societies in various directions.
Student life is run by the local student organization. These guys will definitely not let you get bored, their events are organized every week and not one at a time: from slaughter parties to the morning and "cultural evenings" to organized trips to Germany and neighboring countries. Typically, it costs 5-10 euros for a concert or party and 10-40 euros for a trip to another city. During my semester, there were trips to the beer festival in Stuttugart, to wine cellars in the neighboring land, to Hamburg, Strasbourg and Nuremberg.
Are there any differences between the approaches to teaching at GSOM and Mannheim? Was it difficult? Which courses were new to you?
I would say that education was very good. Personally, my attendance was not noted anywhere, my homework was not checked, of which there were many. Most of the students from the former CIS were not ready for the fact that the written exams are very intensive, and there is no time to think. The tasks are not very difficult: it is assumed that you will thoroughly know the material of the lectures. I did not come across creative tasks and tasks "to think" in the exams. The assessment system is quite tough, the average score of graduates of the University of Mannheim is about a point lower than the national average, and employers know about that.
For exchange students, a wide selection of courses in English is expected; also, if it is possible to confirm the level of German proficiency from B2, you can attend German-language courses.
I took courses within my specialty at GSOM:
- Computational thinking. Something like Algorithms and Data Structures in Java, a very useful introduction to computer science course with a very charismatic speaker.
- Price & Product Management. A fairly tough course that requires knowledge of economics and mathematics. He is taught by a prominent professor, everything is strict, decorous and fairly structured, but personally I didn't really like it.
- Behavioral perspective on E-business. This is a special course at the intersection of business, social and computer sciences, I was interested because of the good presentation of the foundations of research in this area.
- Business Intelligence and Business Analytics. A course on BI systems, it gives the basics well and, in principle, gives knowledge and computerization of analytics in business. There was practice as part of the course, but it seemed to me of little use because of the choice of practical tools.
- Cross-sectional data analysis. I only attended the practice, this course in the social sciences department with a divine teacher who will give you back your faith in yourself and in statistics.
- Data mining. I was not able to officially sign up for him, because he was at the Faculty of Informatics, but I ended up visiting him as a volunteer. This is a good and not very hard course in data science with an opportunity to choose a group and a tool to practice.
- German course. I had an emphasis on the grammar level B1.1, since I did not have time to sign up for other options, to enroll in the course, you must first pass a half-hour online test. I liked professors, but the grammar course itself is a rather boring thing.
- What do you remember most about this trip? Did you travel around Europe while living in Germany?
I remember an exchange semester:
- It is a pity that we did not agree on the terms of the contract as an offer to the SAP data center.
- The need to use savvy often.
- Sad Chinese women who really missed hugs in Germany.
- Beer at the university without any restrictions.
- A good location allowing you to get to the main "event" sights of the country: Oktoberfest, wine festivals, Cologne Carnival, Frankfurt Motor Show, etc.
- During the exchange, I traveled mainly in Germany and to the border regions of France and Switzerland. Traveled to Bavaria, Strasbourg, Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Mainz, etc. Used mostly Flixbus and trains.
For those who are going to exchange, tell us how much money is needed? What advice can you give to students?
The university does not guarantee the availability of places in the hostel, an application for it will have to be submitted separately, approximately 8 weeks before the start of the academic year. Exchange students have a lower priority in the allocation of places than those entering the university itself, and a higher cost of living (at least 230 euros per place per month). For example, I was offered a separate room in a three or four-room apartment in a hostel for 330 euros per month with a request to pay in advance for all 6 months of living. However, my colleagues with hostels were more fortunate: no one offered them them in advance, but upon arrival in Mannheim, after several days of waiting and negotiations, they managed to get a room in a five-seven-room apartment for about 240 euros per month.
In Germany, students very often live in the studentenwohnung. This type of housing, owned by a municipality or university, differs from our hostels in the absolute lack of life control: there are no watchmen, passes, restrictions on guests, parties, etc. Apartments have from two to seven rooms, there is a shared kitchen, toilet and bathroom / shower, usually people live in one room. Another difficulty is that in Germany, few people are ready to rent out housing for such a short period.
How to look for accomodation in Germany:
- Apply for a dormitory at the university.
- Go to Mannheim for the spring semester when it's easier to find accommodation.
- Search thematic groups on Facebook with names like Mannheim Wohnung etc.
- Search the site though wg-gesucht.de (that's where I found my home).
Find someone with whom you will rent an apartment together, or find the same German student leaving on an exchange in the same semester and stop by.
My landlord Nadia went to practice in another city for a semester, and I lived in an ordinary "student house" in her place. My accommodation was about 30-40 minutes walk from the university and cost me 270 euros for a private room in a three-room apartment.
For Mannheim, the normal housing prices are: about 500-600 euros per month for a studio or a small one-room apartment, from 220 to 350 euros for a dorm room, from 250 to 450 for a room in a two-three-room apartment, depending on the location. The city is quite good with transport, so you can consider accommodation options in neighboring towns: Ludwigshafen, Heidelberg, Weinheim, etc., where prices are often lower, but the road can take an hour.
How much money do you need to rent a house, buy food and travel?
Be prepared for the fact that you will definitely spend at least 600 euros per month. The estimated cost of living in the country to obtain a visa at that time was about 720 euros per month (excluding health insurance), now it has grown to 850 euros. In principle, these amounts should be guided by, they describe spending quite accurately.
The expense items:
- about 300 euros for accommodation;
- about 90-100 euros per month for health insurance (you can pay both monthly and all at once, the surplus will be returned later);
- about 150-200 euros for food (it will hardly come out less): prices in cheaper stores like Lidl or Netto are 1-1.5 from Russian, if we compare the main categories of products (milk, meat, bread, vegetables, etc.), household chemicals at about the same price, except for feminine hygiene products - they are two to three times more expensive due to the peculiarities of local taxation;
- about 50-100 euros per month for other expenses. For example, I had to fix shoes for 10 euros, get a haircut for 20 euros and buy medicine for 5 euros – usually everything above is covered by insurance.
Separate expense items will also go:
- The “university fee” of about 100 euros per semester, which is paid in advance for university enrollment, is used for various additional needs such as reduced bike rentals, free evening rides, reduced sports, etc.
- Transport Card. It operates approximately within a radius of 50-100 km from the city for almost all types of transport, it costs about 170 euros per semester.
- Payment for additional courses at the university, for example, German and regional studies courses cost 10 euros per course per semester.
- Payment for TV and radio broadcasting costs 17 euros per month per apartment, you can pay for it with neighbors.
- All this will have to be redeemed in the first days, so for the first month the costs will be about twice as much as for others.
- In total, along with small trips, visa processing and round-trip flights, I spent about 280 thousand rubles (at that time 4 thousand euros) for 4 months.