Hey, I am Felipe,
I began my studies in Political Economy at the University of Heidelberg in 2013. Having received a scholarship for living expenses from the University, the decision was relatively easy to make; education in Germany is extremely affordable. I arrived a month before classes began and quickly started to scout for new friends and acquaintances -thanks to the scholarship, I was able to find a room in a dorm relatively easy.
That first part of my experience in Germany was very full of amazing people and interesting culture shocks. As a Colombian, I quickly learnt how funny Germans think they are when they make comments about cocaine or drug dealers, and also found out how good they can be in correcting your spelling, grammar or pronunciation.
When classes started, I started creating a routine which was both full of exciting discussions with my newly made –mostly Hispanic, but also German– friends, long studying sessions at the different libraries and even longer strolls through Heidelberg´s world famous pubs. Later, when the pressure to pass and excel in exams started to grow, that routine mostly shifted to longer studying periods; in Germany if you don´t pass the only exam in the semester, it is as if you had never been to a class.
After an initial period of adaptation, I finally started to have the academic success I sought. My grades began to improve, my scholarship was prolonged and I found time for extracurricular activities such as the student representation, the HIIK (Heidelbrg Institute for International Conflict Analysis) or AISEC. Later I would also find out that a day only has a certain amount of hours and that my focus had to shift back from the varied extracurricular activities I was involved in, to academics. Thankfully, the insight did not come too late.
In my 5th semester I was accepted to take part of a student exchange program with the National University of Singapore. There, I was able to be in a completely different academic environment. I would also get to know the person who eventually led me to the Graduate School I am currently studying at –the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.
Both Singapore and Heidelberg allowed me to go deep into the different realms of Economics and other Social Sciences. I learnt from different perspectives and with different focuses. Nevertheless, I always insisted in finding a practical connection between what I was learning at the University and what I saw in my country, Colombia. Since I was –and still am– deeply connected to my country and its people, I needed to find a way to apply the knowledge I was absorbing to its reality. I would soon find out that no university ever offers that to you. It all depends from your own initiative.
After I came back from Singapore, I plunged into an intense semester, where I would apply for an MPP program, a scholarship, write my bachelor thesis and gather 24 ECTS. Without a single doubt I can say today that all that effort was completely unnecessary. Absolutely no person or institution required me to put that kind of pressure on my shoulders. Both in qualitative and quantitative terms I would say that one or even two more semesters would have done no damage to my academic development. I thus recommend anyone under similar circumstances to take their time.
I was lucky and managed to get accepted for the MPP program, to receive the scholarship, to have a good thesis result and undergraduate degree, and also something similar to a burnout. I excelled but at the price of rushing too much.
For the past two semesters, I have been living in Berlin and studying Public Policy at the Hertie School of Governance with a scholarship from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. I have learned a lot, get to know extremely interesting and humanely valuable people and most importanty a have learned a lot about myself. I guess that´s what studying in Germany is all about. Learning to deal with solitude, with the company of people you do or don´t know –yet– and ought to turn to your friends, and of course, with those that will always be assholes. The German experience is about learning to walk on your own feet, to take advantage and seize the endless possibilities offered by its most generous society and especially, to recognize in the other(s) people worthy of the same respect you wish for yourself.
Living abroad can seem to be something full of risks, to overwhelm your capacity to adapt, to be impossible to cope with. That is because that´s what living abroad is all about. It is not a field full of flowers, but rather a rocky path with many ups and downs you can eventually overcome –if you have the will to do so. That is perhaps the most important insight I can share about my time in Germany. I moved from Bogotá, Colombia, to Heidelberg when I was 18 years old and had recently graduated from high school. I forgot to buy toilet paper in the first week in my freshly finished student dorm and thus, quickly learnt to adapt. I also found out that there is no single way to define or categorize Germans (or any other people). After some interesting introduction activities into my Bachelor´s program in Political Economy, I also found out that people usually don´t see your worth if you don´t go and talk to them (don´t wait till people come to you; if you want friends, go out and make them!).