ERASMUS - why?
As soon as I started at Warwick I had already decided that I wanted to go to Germany through the ERASMUS scheme in my third year. I’d studied German all through secondary school and then took a module at the language centre in my second year. Doing ERASMUS is an incredible opportunity to experience not only a new culture but also a new education system (which you may or may not prefer!).
Göttingen - The University and the city
I’d known about Göttingen for quite a long time as the name had cropped up in many Maths books I’d read and so I decided that it would be my first port of call when researching which University I wanted to study at. It only took a little reading about the history of the University for me to make my mind up. So many famous Mathematicians have either taught or studied here, people like Riemann, Hilbert, Dirichlet and Gauß (who is actually buried in the town cemetery). Göttingen is very much a University town, similar to Cambridge, with absolutely everyone riding bikes! As a quarter of the towns population is made up of students you often bump into people you know while walking through town. I love this because it makes you feel like you actually know people and helps you feel less foreign!
If you are lucky (and most people are), sorting out accommodation in Göttingen will go without a hitch. The University has a system where you tell them which dates you will be staying and they find suitable accommodation for you. For international students they normally put you in student halls but as I applied a bit late I was offered a room in a private flat, living with 2 German girls. This actually suited me perfectly as I wanted to live with Germans so I could practice speaking when at home. The flat is more expensive than student halls, €285 per month compared to €180 (both incl bills and internet), but it’s so much nicer and bigger than almost all the halls I’ve seen. It also has the added bonus of an included bike so the hassle of having to buy one was taken away!
Pre-semester language course
After speaking to previous students who’d studied at Göttingen I decided to do the pre-semester language course that was offered. It costed about €465 but Göttingen do offer a scholarship of €500 and I managed to get that so ended up actually being paid to do the course! The course lasted just over 3 weeks and consisted of morning language classes and afternoon subject-specific classes. If, like me, you suffer from homesickness the great thing about the course was that there were plenty of other activities organised for the entire 3 weeks including film evenings, dance evenings and cooking evenings. We were so busy that you just didn’t have time to think about home! On the weekends there were also excursions to nearby towns to help you get a feel for the place. It is well worth taking full advantage of all the activities offered as this is where you will make those first few important friends! The other very useful thing that you do at the beginning of the language course, is fill in all the paperwork for the year. By doing the language course I made a very strong group of friends and this definitely acts as a safety blanket for when lectures start and you have to go out and meet other people.
Practical Information - Living in Göttingen
Getting to Göttingen is relatively easy depending on where you live in the UK. When I first flew out I decided to fly to Frankfurt as there is a direct ICE (fast train) between the airport and Göttingen so I wouldn’t have to try and change trains with all my luggage. The nearest airport however is Hannover and there are frequent flights between there and major airports in England (Manchester, Birmingham, London). The trains in Germany are quite expensive but if you book early enough then you can get some good deals.
Before you arrive you can sign up for a “Pick-up Buddy” who, like the name suggests, will pick you up from the train station and take you to your accommodation. For the majority of cases this works well and I have friends who still keep in contact with their Buddies. However my Buddy ended up not knowing anything about me and then not being in the country so I asked the girl whose room I rented to pick me up instead.
When you first arrive you will be helped, by the University, to open a bank account with Deutsche Bank. It takes about a week to get all set up so it is worth having some cash on you to keep you going. Deutsche Bank is part of the Cash Group, which also includes Commerzbank, UniCredit Bank, HypoVereinsbank and Deutsche Postbank and this means that you can withdraw money from any of these banks without being charged. When I first went out I used a Thomas Cook Cash Passport card and it was very very useful! It is like a debit card and your parents or someone in England can keep topping up your card with Euros. If the card gets lost or stolen you can ring Thomas Cook up and they can deactivate your card, so that no money can be taken from you.
With regards to getting a German phone, most people tend to go with O2. The problem with them is that they require you to have a bank account set up and so you can’t get your phone sorted for at least a week. I decided to use Fonic (sims for which can be bought from Saturn) and I’ve had no problems with them at all. The sim cost €9.99 and came with €10 credit. The great thing for me was that you can ring English landlines for just 9 cents a minute! It’s very easy to top up and you don’t have to worry about cancelling a contract when you leave.
The University has 4 cafeterias (Mensen) and the main meals start from as little as €1.40. You can also get salad, soups and desserts. The quality of food is fine and Zentralmensa is open Monday to Saturday! My group of friends normally met for lunch throughout the week and then went on for coffee in the newly refurbished café. The supermarkets are really quite cheap if you make sure you shop in the right places. My nearest supermarket was Aldi but if you live in student accommodation or nearer to town then I suggest shopping at Kaufland. This place is huge and you can find everything and anything you could possibly want!
Sorting out your courses at Göttingen can be very confusing and I found it much easier to sort out my options once I was registered at the University and could access all the sites properly. This is the website used for finding suitable courses (http://univz.uni-goettingen.de) but don’t worry if it doesn’t make a lot of sense at the moment, the Maths ERASMUS coordinator will go through modules with you when you first get to Göttingen. Most of the Maths department courses here are either 9 or 3 credits, which equates to 18 or 6 CATs respectively. A 9 credit module involves two lots of 2 hour lectures a week plus a 2 hour compulsory exercise class, during which you go through the previous week’s homework. A 3 credit module involves one 2 hour lecture a week but no exercise class. In my first semester I chose a second year Algebra module but because the lecturer mumbled I didn’t understand most of what he said and couldn’t keep up with the material. The students here have also covered more in their first year than we do at Warwick so a lot of the material was new to me even though it was only a second year module! I then decided to swap to a first year module called “Analytische Geometrie und Linear Algebra”. This was very similar to Algebra 1 at Warwick and the lectures were much clearer. In addition I also took a course called “Einführung in die Logik” which I throughly enjoyed and would definitely recommend (if you haven’t previously done Logic 1 at Warwick). The exam system for the maths department is rather complex and Stuart Paton, who was here the year before me, explains it well on his page so it’s worth looking there for an explanation. Aside from Maths I took 3 German language courses to keep improving my German. Unfortunately there is no information for these courses until you are at the University but if you do the pre-semester language course there will be plenty of time to enrol for them once you’re there. In my second semester I decided I needed a break from Maths and I chose 4 German courses and a beginner’s Arabic course. The German courses are for foreign students but I didn’t necessarily find this to be a bad thing. In fact, it was a very good way to make new friends from different countries. One thing I must add is that it is very difficult to make friends with Germans. Unless you start off by taking a first year module, they all tend to have their own groups and don’t make an effort to include new people. The best way to meet Germans, I’ve found, is to sign up for a tandem partner and my tandem partner and I still stay in contact.
One of the most important parts of an ERASMUS year is taking full advantage of the opportunities to travel and your Göttingen University student card is an invaluable tool for this. You have to pay around €145 each semester and then you can travel anywhere in Lower Saxony and even up to Hamburg and Bremen for free! Göttingen is situated in the heart of Germany and this makes weekend trips to big cities very easy. I did weekend trips to Berlin, Köln, Heidelberg, Hamburg and even managed to spend a long weekend in Prague. If you don’t have time to travel during term time then the semester break gives you the perfect opportunity to explore. The holiday lasts about 2 months and in this time I travelled with 2 of my friends to Vienna and Munich. If you’re lucky and have no exams outside of term time then there is also time to travel at the end of second semester (depending on when you fly home). I had 10 days between the end of my exams and my flight home so naturally I chose to travel again, this time visiting my 2 Portuguese friends, from first semester, in Lisbon.
Before I went to Germany, I was told in our pre-departure briefing at Warwick, that every year they have one person who does not enjoy their ERASMUS year and I was convinced that would be me. I had no idea just how wrong I was!! Although it was hard at times and I wanted to pack it all in, the good times far outweighed the bad and I’m so glad I made the decision to go for it. I’ve made friends for life from so many different countries and now have people to stay with in America, Australia, Brazil, Georgia, Portugal and Spain to name but a few. My year spent in Germany has truly been the best year of my life!