Living like a Local in Kassel

Xaythavone Phommachanh, Bachelor of Engineering

Short-term program: Hessen University “Hessen International Summer University – Kassel”

Germany (June/July 2018)

Doing exchange abroad is one of my favourite opportunities that I could do while being in university. On July 2018, I took a journey to Germany to participate in an exchange program called International Summer University (ISU)– Kassel. This was my very first trip to Europe and Germany and I was excited and looking forward to it. Eventually the very first day arriving Germany came, it took some time to travel from the Frankfurt airport to the city of Kassel where the exchange program took place.

The city of Kassel is a small city where everything is pretty much easily accessible by trains, trams or foot, for example, stores, cafes, restaurants, museums, parks and so on. The University of Kassel, main campus, is situated not far north from the city centre. There are many tram stops around the university so it is very convenient to travel to study from the city and also outer suburbs. The main campus is large in terms of area. There are many buildings, namely the library, central canteen, study areas, etc. and my most favourite building of them all is, and I think you know what my choice will be, Zentralmensa or Central Canteen. This is because they serve cheap and good food, but you need to know how the Zentralmensa works so that you will get all the benefits.

Cheap and good food on campus

Throughout the program, I found that it was very well organised, educational and enjoyable. Staff and other participants were very kind, caring, cheerful and friendly. The program offered a German language course and a variety of seminars for participants to choose. Along with all those on-campus components of the program, the participants were also offered off-campus and extracurricular opportunities, for example, field trips in order to improve participant understanding about the chosen seminar topics and movie night or BBQ gathering to maximise the cultural experience of all participants. Furthermore, there are also recreational trips like a trip to Berlin, Fritzlar (a small historic town) and hiking trips, to name a few.

Recreational trip to Berlin

The cultural experience of the trip was maximised through extracurricular activities.

As the time of applying for this ISU program in Kassel, there was one aspect of the program that stood out and interested me to participate, and that was the opportunity to stay with a German family, they were really great at helping out with transitioning to the German culture. By spending time with them, I learned a lot about them and also the things that only the locals know best. I have to admit that I did little research about Germany before actually going on exchange, but because of them, I felt that I did not miss many things that are expected to do in Germany. Fun Fact: they like Tim Tams a lot!

I recommend that everyone join this program.

Overall, the program is so good. I recommend everyone to join this program, International Summer University – Kassel. I am sure that you will have a good time here. 😊

Life in Kassel

Tantika Na Nakhon, Master of Engineering Management

Short-term program: Hessen University “Hessen International Summer University – Kassel”

Germany (June/July 2018)

Hessen International Summer School

My name is Tantika Na Nakhon and I’ve just completed an international summer program at the Universität Kassel (University of Kassel) in Kassel, Germany. It was four-week program and I was studying in the engineering module. I chose environmental engineering and renewable energies and risk management in environmental engineering. The seminars were intensive and lots of excursion. As part of risk management, my class visited Volkswagen, B. Braun Melsungen and Wintershall and we found the risks from the real situations. I would highly recommend enrolling in both courses. Moreover, German class was useful for daily life. There are many activities that you can join such as hiking, movie night, games night and German folk dance.

University Campus

University Campus

University Campus

Life in Germany and Highlights of short term program

Living in Germany was easy. In this program everyone had to stay with host family and it was good to learn their culture and lifestyles. German people were cold at first meeting, but when you get closer to them are friendly and kind. Kassel is located in central Germany. Thus, it would be beneficial to travel to other countries. My favourite trip outside of Germany was to Netherlands with my host family, and within Germany we took a 4 hour drive throughout the country which was also fantastic. The University organised a free trip to Fritzler. It took 35 minutes from Kassel. Fritzler is a small town in the Schwalm-Eder district in northern Hesse. The town has a medieval centre surrounded by a wall with numerous watch towers.

Fritzlar

Netherlands trip with my host family

Overall, I had an awesome experience and I wish I had the chance to do it again. It was good opportunity to explore other countries and I’d encourage every student to consider this program.

University of Kassel: Short Term Exchange – Long Term Memories

Karl Somoray, Bachelor of Engineering/Mathmatics

Short-term program: Hessen University “Hessen International Summer University – Kassel”

Germany (June/July 2018)

During the Summer of 2018, myself and along with around 15 other QUT students were very fortunate enough to receive a mobility scholarship from the Hessen International Summer Universities. From this, we were able to complete a short course over at the renowned University of Kassel, at Kassel, Germany where I studied Adaptations to Climate Change, Environmental Engineering and Renewable Energies and German (Basic).

The University

Being only experienced to seeing the QUT campuses (and some of the UQ facilities), one of the biggest things that shocked me was the vast difference of facilities that the University of Kassel had compared to QUT. I found that both the buildings and the facilities of the University of Kassel seemed more `aged’ than the QUT campus, but nevertheless was a host to numerous experienced academics in renewable energies and had connections to multiple institutions leading the renewables field.

A trip to the wind farms!

While I’m happy to be back on QUT campus, the one thing I miss is the MENSA! Conversely to the food court we have at either KG or GP (where we have multiple stores in one spot), the cafeteria at Kassel instead has multiple outlets for different types of meals, desserts etc. all cooked by staff at the university. Every day the meals are different, and the best thing about is that it’s very cheap and tasty!

All this for ~$6AUD!

The Country

For my stay, I lived at a quaint little street at the outskirts of Kassel with 3 other ISU students, including my friend from QUT! Fortunately as well, the scholarship paid for our months stay, including meals that our host parent was extremely good at making!

Don’t be alarmed, but this raw pork is awesome.

The relatively small town of Kassel in which the majority of the time we were in, was a refreshing place to live in, outside of the usual bustling city in Brisbane. With my host family as well as the ISU, we explored several spots around Kassel that I wouldn’t have thought to explore.

Fritzlar

Edersea

The Experience

By far the most memorable moments in my trip however were the short excursions to different countries/cities during our free time (enabled by getting a Eurail travel pass beforehand, which was definitely worth the price we paid for it) and hanging out with the ISU students.

ISU Graduation Ceremony

Manarola, Italy

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

So my tip for future students is to make the most out of every day of your trip! Meet new people and explore as much as you can. It’s a short exchange that happens once in a lifetime, so don’t skimp out on time and have fun, because before you know it, you’ll be boarding your plane back home, and you’ll never know what experiences you’ll miss out on!

A Unique Experience in a New City

Dominic Dall’Osto, Bachelor of Engineering

Short-term program: Hessen University ‘Hessen International Summer University – Kassel’

Germany (June/July 2018)

I’ve just returned from a 4 week short-term program in Kassel, Germany – the International Summer University (ISU). I was part of a group of 45 students from all over the world at the ISU. Well, every continent apart from Antarctica. The program consisted of studying German, along with a choice of classes in Environmental Engineering, German Culture, or Nanoscience. We also had a lot of free time to explore the city, as well as travel around Germany.

The best part of the program, though, was the homestay component. I stayed with my host mum, Kristin, and 2 other students from Colombia, in a small farming village in the outskirts of town. It was amazing to wake up every morning, look out over the green fields and see farmers starting their work, but only be a 45 minute train ride away from the city centre. It was also great to live with 2 other students in the program – we shared a lot of new experiences getting to know Kassel, learning German, and cheering for each other’s countries in the World Cup!

The view from my room over our backyard.

My new roommates!

I also spent a lot of time exploring the sights of Kassel. The city’s most famous landmark is the Herkules monument. It is perched 500 metres above the town with a huge complex of water fountains leading down to a castle at the bottom. A castle in Kassel, who’d have thought?! Twice a week the water is turned on and the site fills with tourists following the water down the mountain; through the fountains, down an artificial waterfall, under the Devil’s Bridge, along an aqueduct, and shooting 50 m high into the air at the bottom. All of it is powered only by natural water pressure and has been running for over 300 years!

The beautiful view from the Herkules (ignore the cranes and tourists).

Speaking of powering things with water pressure (smooth segue!) I studied environmental engineering during my time at the University of Kassel. We had guest lectures from experts at the university, and nearby research institutes. But the best bit was going on field trips to see renewable energy technologies in action. We visited a farming village that had built a biogas plant to provide its electricity and heat requirements. We also had the chance to go inside a wind turbine to examine it up close. They’re a lot bigger than they look from a distance! Thanks must also go out to the amazing tutors from the uni who looked after us and kept us entertained throughout the program!

Visiting a wind farm. Fellow students for scale.

A Biogas tank in the village of Jühnde.

Another highlight was the group trip to Berlin during the program. Especially interesting were the stories told by the program director, Jürgen, who had experienced the separation between East and West Germany first hand. Hearing his accounts of waiting for 5 hours at the border while his car was searched were chilling. We also caught Germany’s capital in the grips of World Cup fever, with a huge public viewing at the Brandenburg Gate. Unfortunately, spirits dropped after Germany got knocked out.

Overall, the Kassel ISU program was a great and unique experience: living with a German family, but also spending so much time with the other students that they became like family; exploring a new city; learning a new language; being taught by experts in the field of environmental engineering; and generally enjoying the summer in Germany. I would definitely recommend Kassel’s International Summer University program!

A Memorable German Experience in Kassel

Arun Pathmanathan, Bachelor of Engineering

Short-term program: Hessen University ‘Hessen International Summer University – Kassel’

Germany (June/July 2018)

I wanted to do a short-term exchange program which I thought would help me to develop my knowledge on the subject that I wanted to pursue, to learn new culture and languages and to meet different people from different parts of the world. Therefore, I thought of applying for the Hessen International Summer University program. Since I am an engineering student, I selected the engineering modules that were offered by Hessen International Summer University program which was held in the University of Kassel.

Kassel is a city located in the northern Hesse, Germany. Kassel had many historical palaces and parks including the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe which was considered the second largest park on a hill slope in the world. Staying in such a place for four weeks was a new experience, studying there with students from different countries gave me a chance to get to know their cultures and traditions and their languages.

Throughout our stay in Kassel, the University of Kassel took us on excursions to different places in Kassel and made us participate in German Folk Dance, hiking and many other activities apart from studying. I think having to just study the whole four weeks would have made our experience miserable, but the ISU had different kinds of activities for us which made our experience in Kassel memorable.

Kassel is a city located in the northern Hesse, Germany.

The location of the University of Kassel was very convenient for us as it was located in the city. The cafeteria of the University was an advantage for us as the food that they had was really good and therefore, most of the students often ate their lunch there.

My accommodation was in a homestay with a German family, and the place was about 5km away from the university. The place was quiet and clean and the facilities were good. Since the public transportation were good in Kassel, there wasn’t any problem of travelling to the University or any other place that I wanted to go.

In terms of studies and other activities, I had a very good time in Kassel. There is no point of anyone going just to concentrate on studies, without participating in other activities organised by the University. By attending those other activities you can learn their culture, meet new people, and of course have fun.

Cultural lessons from the Japanese

Katrine K, Bachelor of Nursing

University Life in Japan: Kimono, Matcha and You at Sonoda Women’s University (December 2016)

Konnichiwa! My name is Katrine, and I’m a third year student studying the Bachelor of Nursing. In the first two weeks of the December holidays, I have been very fortunate to be given the opportunity to participate in a cultural exchange program hosted by the Sonoda Women’s University in Amagasaki, Japan. Not only did this unforgettable experience enrich my awareness of cultural diversity, but the kindness and warmth of the Japanese people made it possible to form friendships with almost anyone I encountered; whether that be at university or on the streets of Osaka! Throughout this program, I have been incredibly lucky to experience many unique and wonderful moments.

One memorable highlight of my trip however, would have to be the week-end I stayed with the Fujii family in Ojiro. Although I could speak or understand little Japanese, my host father, mother, sister and visiting locals were extremely sympathetic and accommodating to my needs and often tried their best to speak in English to ease my anxiety and restlessness. I thought this gesture was very thoughtful and generous of them and once again empathised the kindliness of the Japanese people. From the moment I arrived, my host family offered me food, snow boots, manga, fresh clothes, and my very own tatami room! I was also surprised and deeply touched at the lengths of preparation they put into arranging my bedroom. I never expected to have a mini decorated Christmas tree with flickering lights standing before me when I entered to unpack my bags! These experiences made me reflect on a time when my classmates and I had a cultural lesson with Keiji. He stated that Japanese people generally have a “you”-centred attitude or a “guessing culture”. This meant that they will often try to guess what the other person is feeling in order to accommodate their needs, believing this showed humanity. As a foreigner, I found the Japanese culture in this context quite refreshing and surprisingly relatable. I eagerly wanted to learn more about their culture as I too, coming from a nursing background, believe passionately in upholding similar values.

While living in Ojiro, I went on many insightful and exciting adventures! This included visiting the captivating sand sculptures at the Sand Museum and conquering the Tottori sand dunes through freezing winds. Another memorable highlight of staying in Ojiro was the opportunity to design and sculpt my own jewellery from stone.  The stone used to make our pendants were known as “magatama”, and were traditionally made from jade, glass or rocks. What I enjoyed most about this experience was not only learning of its historical value and appeal since the Jomon period, but the connection magatama had to religious practices including shamanism and Shinto. In addition to its spiritual significance, I found the crafting of magatama a challenging, but truly rewarding experience that I will never forget!

During the time when my classmates and I were not living in Ojiro, we inhabited the cosy grounds of Sonoda Woman’s University to learn Japanese or explored the historic highlights of Amagasaki where we took part in cultural activities. While at Sonoda Woman’s University however, I immediately noticed how small and homely the campus was in comparison to the blocky high rises that occupied the grounds of QUT. Unsurprisingly, nearly all of the students (which were no more than 200!) noticed our presence and gave us their utmost attention. My allocated group were particularly fortunate to receive a dynamic culture class presented by the university’s students themselves which I had the pleasure of attending. One unforgettable moment from our experiences was taking part in the traditional Japanese game, “suikawari”, and then learning about the meticulous process in which “katsuobushi” is made. Katsuobushi, in particular, made the most impression on me as I never expected dried fermented fish to appear as an oddly shaped rock or a chunky piece of wood that would later become an essential ingredient used in traditional Japanese foods, such as dashi. In addition, the kindliness and welcoming mannerisms of the students were, again, infectious and I felt a great sense of belonging and acceptance when I was asked to introduce myself to the class and share with them the cultural practices I engaged in while living in Australia.

My cultural experiences in Japan have been endless, and I felt so grateful for the time the Sonoda University staff gave us to make it such a pleasant experience! I would also like to say how very thankful I am to the teachers who managed, without fail, to remain optimistic and deeply passionate about teaching Japanese. I’m very proud to say that I’m now quite confident in ordering food in restaurants, thanks to a large appetite for Curry House CoCo and the multiple visits I’ve had to the “taiyaki” (fish-shaped pastries filled with custard or red bean paste) stand near Amagasaki station. I would highly recommend this exchange program for anyone, both young and old!