University, the place where you meet life-long friends, pull all-nighters trying to finish that last research paper of the semester, and discover yourself both professionally and individually. University life can look quite similar around the world, but there are still major differences between countries and cultures, especially between Hamburg and Temple, and during my first week of classes here at Hamburg, I realized just how quickly I was going to have to adjust myself to this new academic lifestyle.
Classes Meet Once A Week
This was probably one of the biggest differences I found between Hamburg and Temple. Unlike the American-style schedule where students meet either every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or every Tuesday and Thursday, classes in Hamburg meet once a week for one and a half hours. For me, this means that my class meets only fourteen times throughout the semester. This, of course, also means that I have more free time on my hands than I would have had I been in the United States. Though the extra free time does open up more space in my schedule to explore the city and meet up with friends, it also requires me to be vigilant while staying on top of upcoming assignments and deadlines. Procrastination and distractions are common, especially on days when I have no class. Nevertheless, the work-life balance in Hamburg is still more manageable than in the States, and as long as you plan out your week accordingly, a balanced university life is more than possible.
The Workload and Grades
What makes most European universities different from their counterparts in the United States may be the course content and the accompanying workload. Though I cannot speak for STEM or business-related degrees, most humanities and social science courses at Temple usually require some sort of blog post, essay, quiz, reading, presentation, or general homework assignment every week. But since my time at the University of Hamburg, I have found that understanding of course content and material truly lies in the hands of the students. This semester I am taking three seminar-style courses, all of which require a reading of a scientific text per week. Throughout the semester, each student must present one of respective readings, but otherwise, most of class time is spent interpreting, digesting, and discussing the text.
By the end of the semester, students are required to write a 12-15 page “Hausarbeit” or research paper, which essentially makes up the final grade. Honestly, when I found out that my end grade would be determined by how well I wrote a research paper about a highly advanced topic in German, I was dumbfounded and quickly went through all the five stages of grief before convincing myself that I was capable of conquering such a daunting task. Though the workload does not feel as much when compared to typical or similar seminars at Temple, I always still feel as if I am learning something new each time I step into the classroom, and the seminar style way of discussing the texts truly helps to clear up any confusion from the readings.
When most people think of American universities, most of us think of clubs, tons of extracurricular activities, Greek life, student organizations, and sport teams. Though the University of Hamburg does offer some of these, it is definitely not to the extent of Temple. The idea of an active student body or student life is honestly more of an American concept, which is why lots of students feel an attachment toward the school they attend. But several German universities are truly academic-centered, so any extracurricular activity usually has to be fulfilled outside of the school. Likewise, many students bond by meeting other students in their major or through orientation weeks. Though the student life is not as active as in the States, it still feels amazing to be surrounded by other passionate and hardworking individuals.
Adjusting to and understanding university life in Hamburg was a bit challenging at first, but being able to experience academic life in another culture has been an eye-opening experience and has helped me consider how learning looks across different countries. Since being here, I have learned not only how to manage my time better so that I am able to enjoy not only a flourishing academic life but a personal one as well.