Réka Zsuzsanna Tóth: My exchange in Cologne
"Going on an exchange semester always means: new country, new culture, and new people, but all at once can be challenging sometimes. You have to deal with the different culture, the language barriers, finding accommodation, open a bank account, and arrange all the different administrative stuff, and believe me in Germany there is a lot. That’s why having an enthusiastic, competent welcoming team is invaluable. PIM & CEMS club not just helps the incomings to settle in the German culture but also to build friendships with people from all over the world and feel that Cologne is your new home.
I arrived to Cologne at the beginning of March, just in time to participate in the first welcome week organised by the PIM&CEMS club. Just the next day of my arrival the welcome week started with a presentation at the University powered by ZIB Incomings, they told us all the useful information about the Faculty bureaucracies, how to get the public transportation ticket, the useful links in connection with the university, about course registration etc. After the presentation and information session together with the representatives of PIM&CEMS we had lunch at the Mensa, followed by a campus tour through the Univerzitat zu Köln and some introduction games. We closed the day with a memorable welcome event at the PIM & CEMS office and we had our first party experience in Cologne. After the first day we got familiar with our new home, made numerous international friends and had lots of plans for the upcoming days to strengthen the new friendships.
During the welcome week, which last of course for 10 days, we had various programs organised by PIM&CEMS club. We discovered the city in daylight via the Scavenger Hunt and at night via the Barnights. On the next days we discovered the neighbour city: Düsseldorf, and learnt about why is Kölsch better than Alt. Moreover we did all the bureaucratic stuff that needed to be arranged: register at the City Hall, open a bank account, apply for German courses, etc. In the meanwhile PIM&CEMS kept us busy and organised many programs where they challenged us to meet new people by always forming new teams. We got to know each other pretty fast with the ice-breaker games. One of my favourite ones was the “Kastenlauf” when your team have to finish a Kasten of beers, while you have to follow a map and take pictures at different points of the city and of course you have to be fast to fulfil all the tasks and get back to the meeting point with all the empty bottles of the Kasten before the other teams. To be honest it is not a bad idea to have some already trained German guys in your team!
Cologne is a vivid, energetic city full with open minded spirit, and university students. You can never be bored because something is always happening, if you are tired of partying you can always find some cultural programs as well to widen your perspective, e.g.: the Parfum museum that we visited together or the famous Ludvig museum if you are a fan of arts. PIM&CEMS club introduced us the nightlife of Zülpicher Straße by organising several events and visited numerous pubs and clubs. One of the craziest nights was the famous “Pub Crawl”, however sometimes to fulfil all the tasks of the Pub Crawl is challenging but still this is the most memorable event of all. We closed our welcome week with the final get together called “Stammtisch” where the winners of the Pub Crawl and other events were announced and rewarded, and we could watch together the collection of videos and funny photos from the welcome week.
I am already here in Cologne more than a months, survived the first and second welcome week, but PIM&CEMS club still supporting us, organising many events and keep the exchange students in the FLOW. Our international community is growing every day, and we are making friends for a lifetime. Day by day we are changing, and gaining new experiences, we are not a group of people anymore but an ERASMUS family, and we have to be grateful for that to the PIM&CEMS club who are not just our program providers anymore but became our friends, and members of our international family."
I wrote this article at the beginning of April after spending one month in Cologne. Now that I finished my exchange semester and already travelled back to Hungary I can summarize my 5 month experience about Cologne and about the German culture:
About the country: Before I arrived to Cologne I had my doubts about Germany and the German people. I was a bit sceptic and scared that Germany will be a bit boring and the German people are too rigid and not that open minded but I could not be more wrong. Germans say that Cologne is a little island in Germany, where people are more open-minded and friendlier than in other parts of Germany and I could not agree more. I met the most awesome people here, during my exchange semester and I was amazed by the diversity of all the students at the University of Cologne (UoC). I made friends with locals, and both CEMS and Erasmus students. It was really interesting to experience the differences between the CEMS students and the Erasmus students but I loved to hang out with both groups. I would recommend everyone to make friends with locals, then you can practise the language with them and they know the best places in their country so you can have really useful insights about their culture and everyday life or tips for travelling.
Germany is a beautiful country where you can find diverse opportunities to explore the country depending on your taste. Many natural parks are given so you can have nice hiking tours. I personally enjoyed hiking in Bavaria in the Black Forest. Or you have the opportunity to visit many historical old towns like Nürnberg, Würzburg, Bonn, etc. Visiting the “hipster” capital: Berlin or the prestigious city of Munich, it all depends on your taste and choice. The university itself organizes many events and trips for the exchange students (ESN Köln) to visit many places. Cologne is relatively a small city but full with students and full with life. I have already explained my experiences about the city in the article at the beginning.
About the university: The University of Cologne (UoC) is a huge university full with different faculties and educational units. As a CEMS business student I was part of the WISO faculty. During my semester I managed to only apply for CEMS courses (General Management Practises: GMP, Management Skills, Responsible Global Leadership: RGL, Business Project at ABB) and the students on these courses were mainly CEMS students and that is quite an advantage regarding to group projects. I would recommend everyone to create groups always with some home students because they know the best the expectations and the deliverables for the courses and they are more aware of the university’s standards. It is vital to notice that at the UoC academic knowledge is really important in a project. Every decision or recommendation, literally every sentence of your paper has to be supported by many academic research papers and the university is really strict about it.
CEMS programs and events: During this semester I became the member of the PIM & CEMS club (CEMS club Cologne is a sub-organization of this student organization) and they organized many international and only CEMS events as well. At the first Monday of every months they have an open-house at their club house in the city centre with free beer and free pizza and this is a great opportunity to meet with all the club members and have a nice evening together, playing some table football and beer pong. I would like to do my internship here in Germany so I participated many of the corporate events and workshops as well. I could make useful connections with the corporate partners (Henkel, McKinsey, Vodafone, Loréal) and gather useful insights about their internship and graduate programs.
Useful hints & tips:
1. To find accommodation in Cologne is not easy so you have to start it on time and brace yourself! If you prefer to stay in a dorm then www.kstw.de is a really useful site and register ASAP.
2. Always contact someone who has done an exchange there or maybe still in Cologne, because they can help a lot with all the bureaucratic things that has to be done and give useful advises about which subjects are good and worth applying for.
3. Make friends with locals, you can practise the language and get more insights about the culture and everyday life. Moreover if you are lost in the German bureaucracy it is always nice to have a native speaker to help!
4. Germany is a cash country!!! It was quite surprising that most of the pubs and bars only accept cash. So be prepared!
To sum it up: This 5 months was the most intense experience I have ever had in my life. I met amazing people and I made friends for a lifetime. Moreover I could extend my social and professional network that can be really useful in the future. I can just recommend Germany and Cologne as an exchange destination to everyone.