Discovering the charms and challenges of Hamburg
Tori Simon is a determined and adventurous student who set out to complete a semester of her Computer Science degree at Hochschulen FüR Angewandte Wissenschaften (HAW) in Hamburg, Germany for the Spring semester of 2023. Tori’s insights into her experience, from learning in a new academic environment to cultural encounters around the ports, offer a glimpse into the life of an international student.
Tori’s decision to study abroad was sparked when she attended a Boise State study abroad informational meeting. She encourages all students, even those who may not consider themselves particularly ambitious, to take the leap and explore the world. “You are 30% more capable than you think you are,” she says.
The German Academic System vs the American System
Tori explained some significant differences in the structure of the German education system versus the American education system. In Germany, to get credit for a course, students need to pass the final exam which is worth 100% of students’ grade in the course. This is quite different from the American education system where students can expect exams or projects throughout the semester. However, this high-stakes approach allows students to focus on the fundamental content rather than worrying about grades throughout the semester.
“I prefer the German system over the American system, because there is a focus on learning the content and not just getting a project done for a grade.” Tori appreciated this emphasis on learning and described it as a refreshing change from the American education system.
Academic Journey in Hamburg
Tori’s semester at HAW Hamburg consisted of four courses: Operating Systems, Data Science, Databases, and Software Engineering. One notable feature of the German education system is the option to attend lectures since the courses are based on the final exam in the course lab. These labs are a required part of each course, because a student’s performance in labs, assessed through lab reports, determines eligibility for the final exam. This approach allows students to prioritize learning over GPA, but of course puts a lot of emphasis on doing well on the final exams. “I would lock myself in my room and study for 8 hours a day but over there students get two weeks of no classes for dead week,” Tori explained.
Preparation and Independence
Tori felt well prepared for the semester abroad, thanks to her previous coursework and because HAW offered courses that would keep her on track and progress her through her academic requirements here at Boise State. Tori mentioned that her database courses in particular were especially helpful in preparing her for the German CS courses. Tori also prepared herself by taking GE3 (Global Engineering Education Exchange). Boise State provides this course specifically for engineering students who are preparing to study abroad. After all of the preparation of getting the Universities’ approval and a student visa, Tori could enjoy the independence and the experience gained by living in a new part of the world.
“When my mom left after moving me over here, I sat on my bed and thought ‘what had I done?’” By the end of the trip Tori said, “It was such a great experience!”
Course Enjoyment and Challenges
Tori encountered some challenges during her time abroad, such as adapting to a lab conducted in German for her Operating Systems course. Despite the difficulty learning two languages at once, she persevered and thrived in the Database course, where she built community collaborating with her peers and professor. Outside of the classroom, getting her residence permit, shopping for food, and navigating her way around were a challenge at first, but became part of the experience.
“Traveling around to different countries and places in Germany was a very important part of my experience.” Tori had many cherished memories and takeaways from her trip, including the unique German tradition of knocking on a table after a lecture, as a way of saying thank you to the professor. As well as living in international housing on campus. However a major highlight was being able to visit neighboring states and countries easily by bus or train with her student visa. Some of Tori’s honorable mentions include:
- Krakow, Poland
- Prague, Czech Republic (her favorite)
- Copenhagen, Denmark
- Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Brussels, Bruges, and Ghent in Belgium
- Berlin, Cologne, Lübeck, Lüneburg, Schwerin, and Hanover in Germany
Tori’s semester abroad shines a light on opportunities for students to study abroad for a semester, summer, or a year long trip. If you would like to hear more about studying abroad as a Computer Science major you can find Tori in the halls to hear more about her experience or contact an advisor to learn more about new study abroad opportunities around the world! – Global Learning Opportunities
-by Brooke Matthews