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. 😊

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!

Opening My Eyes to the Beauty of Germany

Sophie Heather, Bachelor of Fine Arts

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

Germany (July/August 2018)

My time in the 2018 ISU Fulda was life changing. It’s hard to find the words that will give justice to the program. I applied not expecting to be accepted, but I was, and I had 8 weeks to get organised! (I didn’t have a passport…eeek!)

Going into the program I hadn’t heard much about Germany aside from it’s infamous history. Friends would ask me if I could speak any German, to which I replied “no, but we learn it as part of the program”. I expected to leave the trip being relatively fluent in German. Haha. The language is very hard as the grammar is very different to English.

I am welcomed into Fulda by the German tutors – students who attend the host university. The tutors ran every activity and were the people we consulted if we had any issues. They were so funny, welcoming and understanding – I hope to see them in the future. They are fluent in English and are just absolutely lovely. I am given directions to my accommodation which require me to take a bus. I learn that public transport is free for university students! This ended up saving me a lot of money.

Brandenburg Gate

There were four types of accommodation; I was lucky to be in the hostel where I had my own room and shared kitchen and bathroom. Instantly, I made friends with the other girls from the program; on the first night they were so welcoming and invited me to go explore Fulda with them! The second I started talking to these girls I noticed how unusual the Australian accent is – it was a really strange moment. I was the only Australian in my hostel, and one out of four in the program! Australians made 1 out of the 15 different nationalities that attended ISU Fulda in 2018.

I made friends from all over the world.

For the seminar, I chose Music Therapy. My class was very small, I was 1 of 8 students! Additional to Australian students there were Portuguese, Russian and Israeli students. The seminar was very fun as we got to play a variety of instruments including rare instruments one wouldn’t typically know. Our teacher, Wolfgang, was highly energetic and took an interest in our cultures; as half our class were from Israel, we learnt a lot about their culture and the Jewish religion which I found fascinating.

Playing rare instruments in the music therapy program.

I was in the Beginner German class and was taught by the lovely Jana – a Russian woman who loved to learn languages! She taught us through singing songs whilst she played the guitar, it was very helpful! There were also days where she took us out blueberry picking, and on the last day to get some cake; she has the kindest heart.

The Mensa is the campus cafeteria – the food is so cheap! Each day there are 8 new meal options and they always tasted so good! You could get a big bowl of pasta for 1.50 Euros! There were lots of salads and snacks as well as vegetarian and vegan options! QUT seriously needs one of these!

ISU really opened my eyes to the beauty of Germany. I had learnt in school the brief history of the country during the World Wars and the Cold War. However, to actually go to the places that were talked about (Point Alpha, The Berlin Wall, concentration camps) it was only then that the history lessons made sense. It was eye opening to learn about the suffrage of people due to power falling in the wrong hands. It was haunting to walk upon grounds where millions were murdered. It was incredible to see modern Germany where the civilians accept the past and continue to create a nation that focuses on love and peace.

Upon returning to Australia, everyone would ask me “what was the best bit?” I can’t think of one particular time, however, my favourite aspect of the trip was that I made so many friends. I was able to walk up to anyone and have a great conversation. I made lifelong friends from all over the globe; my most closest friends live in: The USA, France, Netherlands, Portugal and India. I learnt so much about their cultures, and they were so interested to learn about mine. I still keep in contact with these people and I intend to for a very long time.

The best part was I was able to walk up to anyone and have a conversation.

The trip threw me in the deep end and I am so appreciative QUT gave me this opportunity to broaden my horizons. If anyone is wanting to study overseas but does not want to stay long term, this is your program!

How was studying at HTW?

Chloe: HTW Berlin, Semester 1, 2016

chloe-mcgovern4

Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)

The university program was very different to what I was used to in Australia. The course had no real structure and the teachers had carte blanche to decide what the content was, what the assessment was and when the assessment occurred. For example, I was doing the same subject as one of my friends and we had completely different content, different assignments and exams and different course time frames. One of my teachers was pregnant so she did the entire course in 6 weeks, so I had already finished one of my classes by mid-May. My friends in the other class had to do the subject for the entire semester with a final exam in July. I found this very strange as the QUT program is so structured and uniform, everyone studies exactly the same thing, does the exact same assessment and all sit the exam simultaneously. No lectures or tutorials in Berlin were recorded, some classes had no lecture slides or overview of content and there were no prescribed textbooks. It was difficult to follow a lot of the content as the teachers had varying levels of English proficiency. Being a native English speaker was a huge advantage, as non-fluent speakers really struggled to understand what was going on. Sometimes it was very difficult to understand what the teacher meant and understand the PowerPoint slides, as a lot of the time it seemed like they had just copied and pasted the German wording into Google Translate and then put it on a lecture slide. This resulted in some very strange sentences and it wasn’t always immediately clear what their point was.

Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)

Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)

The highlights of my experience were being able to travel by myself and see more of Europe, meeting so many incredible people from all over the world along the way. I also

University Building

University Building

enjoyed having so much time to just explore Berlin. I was able to spend an entire day in one museum, perusing slowly and taking everything in, as opposed to rushing through like I had done on the first time I was there. I loved walking around every day in a city filled with so much history and seeing the classic tourist sites like Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall never got old. All in all it was a truly incredible experience and I learnt a lot about myself and how I cope with adversity.