I made the most of a potentially awesome semester in beloved Deutschland. January 14, 2018

By (Wellesley College) - abroad from 09/04/2017 to 12/22/2017 with

Jacobs University: Bremen - Direct Enrollment & Exchange

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I went outside my comfort zone, and now my comfort zone is larger. I learned how to be grateful while others complained, and things don't have to be perfect to be invaluable. It was important for me to enjoy Germany, and I was happy to soak in their cultural quirks. In the face of adversities, I gained independence and resiliency. I'm glad I had the opportunity to live and study in Germany without needing to be fluent in German.

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The most common complaint from Wellesley College students is that the classes are either not difficult enough, or unfair in terms of expectations (memorization-based). However, I know other exchange students who found the course work more difficult from their home university. In my opinion, the average Jacobs University student has a heavy load, but the assignments are such that procrastination and cramming are more commonplace. Additionally, there is not an established Honor Code, which makes the academic experience feel different. Professors may turn a blind eye to cheating or treat students as "young-adults" rather than actual adults. Something to keep in mind. If you're taking classes in your major (barring the Wellesley administered pre-med course, which was successful), do not expect the same resources as Wellesley offers: established office hours, Supplemental Instruction, Help Room, etc.) My recommendation is to take classes you wouldn't at Wellesley. Take every experience at Jacobs and while traveling as a learning experience. For example, I took a social sciences/communications course. I enjoyed it because I wasn't worried about its rigor, rather I was learning about current events and had a chance to work on presentation skills. It never hurts to tell a professor your background and intentions. My professor ended up being understanding to my crazy exchange student schedule. Focus on the learning experience and not the academic rigor. Another example is the Art class many of us took. There was no homework, but there were weekly museum excursions. These often took 5 hours, but this experience was a way better one than taking Art History 101 in the classroom. I had little exposure before, but now I'm 100% comfortable walking into a museum to learn something new. Additionally, the European Welfare Systems and Healthcare afforded us amazing opportunities to travel to Berlin and Geneva. We got an insider's look at many organizations (Reichstag, Bundestag, Museum Island, CERN, WHO, etc.) So, you can go abroad and try to forge these learning experiences yourself, or you can make the most of what is built into the Wellesley-in-Bremen program.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

In reality, the perceived administrative failures of Jacobs University can often be attributed to cultural differences. I've learned that all administrative bodies in Germany run much more lean as compared to the United States. This is true for German universities, healthcare systems, and even the government. It has a lot to do with how Germany chooses to spend its money, but I can see how it can affect the lives of students who would expect to be delivered the same resources to which they are accustomed. To be fair, I don't have specific complaints because I didn't run into major issues that required administrative help. If I had a dietary restriction, learning disability, etc. I would check ahead and get proof that I'll be accommodated for before going abroad. Some small examples of things that are very different from resources at Wellesley: -The mail services are run by pensioned Bremen residents. They volunteer and pick up hours are limited. -There aren't health services on campus. (However, your insurance coverage is comprehensive.) -The registrar people have other admin jobs, so drop-in hours are sparse. -They will take fees for many things: losing your ID card, using the gym (Wellesley paid this during Fall 2017), overdue library books, and damage in your dorm. Also be aware that late into the semester, you will be asked to pay for a residence permit (about $65 out-of-pocket.) In general, they are very particular about things and don't offer many second chances. For example, I was almost locked out of my "CampusNet" for missing a campus safety meeting. This was completely out of my control, and I didn't feel like the consequence aligned with the offense. I was vigilant and contacted the appropriate people to avoid this. An example of something that caught us off guard was that gym-goers are required to bring a full sized towel and indoor-only shoes in order to use the facility. This was a hassle and unexpected cost for us, but it makes sense at the end of the day because it is very rainy and muddy outdoors. Most of us got away with deep cleaning the shoes we already owned. In general, expect the unexpected and keep some change for those types of expenses. My advise: talk to your professors BEFORE you assume they won't help you, be in communication with the Wellesley professor who is with you in Bremen, be in contact with the Wellsley OIS, and ASK before you act defeated/assume the worst/complain.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

-There are 4 dorm buildings on campus. Each building has a "servery" aka dining hall. -All undergrads (and a few grad students) live there. -Each is more or less identical, so it doesn't matter where you are placed, barring the relative location on campus. -Downside: Jacob students, again, don't have an honor code, and therefore tend not to keep common areas clean. Additionally, the janitorial service isn't as robust as Wellesley's. Most important: The set-up itself is quite nice. You and your suite mate have private rooms, and you share a large modern bathroom with a small "common/entry" area. Each hall has a small kitchen you an use. Your suite mate will likely be a freshman. Advice: Be very careful about the condition of your room. Some students were fined for tape on the walls or scuff marks from shoes. I recommend that you (like most Germans) leave your shoes in the common/entry area. Your room will stay free of dirt and you'll be less likely to scuff your wall for a 50 Euro fine.

* Food:

Anticipate that you may feel the need to stock up on your own food. I don't have food allergies, intolerance, or special restrictions. This made my experience much easier. I'm not sure why Jacobs continues its partnership with the food service. To be fair, no cafeteria is perfect. However, they don't offer a decent variety and they don't label foods properly, which creates problems for those with any restrictions. I'm not picky and easily managed without supplementing the meal plan. Plus, I traveled most weekends so I only ended up needing the serveries about 4 days a week. The Coffee Bar is a great option, and I highly recommend their sandwiches for lunchtime. Their drinks do their job and it's nice not to spend extra money for a decent coffee. As far as the "meal plan" goes, I didn't need to worry about how many Euros I had on my pre-paid account, because I was traveling often enough that I had plenty extra. This might be different if you're always on campus, but it's not a major concern, even though it's a little daunting to "pay" for each item when you're used to Avi Fresh. Another note: German grocery stores are pretty different in terms of selection from the US! Marktkauf is only 10 minutes away and has the biggest selection in the area.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Like Wellesley, Jacobs is considered a bubble. It takes about 25 minutes on a *free* train to get into the city of Bremen. Luckily, the train system is much more reliable and frequent than Peter Pan is for getting into Boston. Bremen is a nice, typical German town. I recommend taking some time to check it out and not think of "going into the city" as a chore. I give this a good rating because there is definitely potential to make this a cultural experience, at least on campus. If you're a social butterfly, it's easy to get a foot in the door with a friend group because the school feel very small. Like any place that advertises itself as "international", there will be cultural clumping. So you can find a group of people who "look like you" if that's what you're after, but there is also of plenty of opportunity to meet people from places you've only heard about. You just have to forge those interactions yourself, because students are aware that exchange students are only there for a short time and tend not to make the first move. On top of this, many exchange students, myself included, tended to spend the weekends away. It's more difficult in this case to make friendships. In my opinion, Germany is so well located that I couldn't miss the chance to travel often. Because of this, I gave up on the idea of making friends on campus. I regret this, and if I did it again, I would give Jacobs students more of a chance (I did meet some pretty great ones near the end and wish I had been more social for the times I was on campus.)

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

My biggest piece of advise: bring the tools you need to self medicate. The drug stores of Germany are a joke by American standards. Bring flu and cold meds, pain killers, strong cough drops, and anything else you need from time to time. On the bright side, the health insurance should benefit you a lot, but you kind of have to know how to use it. The documents are in German and there isn't a direct resource on campus for finding English speaking doctors (they exist widely, so don't worry, it's just stressful to be sick and unsure.) I did go to the doctor once, and it was a completely smooth process, but it wouldn't have been nearly as smooth had I not had a German speaking peer guide me through the process.

* Safety:

Bremen-Nord (where Jacobs is located) is safe. Bremen itself is safe. Panhandlers and pick-pockets exist everywhere is Europe, but this isn't new. I suggest staying alongside friends, or at the very least ensure that someone knows where you are and knows when you should be back. You'll feel very independent and free to roam. I encourage it, but responsibly.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

While I wish I had known some of the downsides, there weren't any insurmountable obstacles. The biggest letdowns were the quality of the language instruction and the fact that Jacobs is not actually in downtown Bremen. But, I made the most of every experience and I learned a plethora of new knowledge in addition to many intangible lessons during this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Finances

* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

For the weeks I spent at Jacobs University, I didn't need to spend more than the cost of laundry, restocking toiletries, and the occasional take out for dinner. As previously stated, a lot of weekends were spent traveling, which can be done for $300/weekend (depending on your desired level of luxury.)

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $300 for weekend trips to Berlin, Geneva, Lisbon, Budapest, London, Munich, Nuremberg, and Amsterdam. Some people took trips to Athens, Barcelona, Dublin, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Warsaw, Prague, and Brussels.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? First of all, go to Hanover and Hamburg for day trips if you don't have a big weekend planned. It's free. Also keep in mind that you can fly out of those cities, too. Hamburg is often a cheaper departure point than Bremen. Use the google Flights website. You can type in "Bremen Airport" and see on a map what it would cost to fly anywhere in Europe. Also, you can choose to "track" the flight and see how the prices change. Make sure you bring a backpack that you can use as a carry-on for discount flights. Be wary of extra charges (ie Ryanair requires a printed out boarding pass.) I never used a classic passport holder, but I carried a jacket with interior zipper pockets large enough to hold it.

Language

* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

This is an English speaking uni. Which was great for me, because I could enjoy Germany and Europe without the struggle of trying to learn a new language. However, the language part was fun for me and I enjoyed the opportunities that I got to speak the language, such as at the practical dialysis clinic, in the city of Bremen, and with workers. If you care about learning the language, you might be disappointed, but if you don't, you're in luck. Also note: the German class I took was not quality. I'm hoping they revamp the whole department because everyone was so unhappy with it.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Intermediate
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? German 102/A1.2
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? If you want to learn German, there are definitely German speaking students, so you can make friends and try to practice with them.

Direct Enrollment/Exchange

* Did you study abroad through an exchange program or did you directly enroll in the foreign university? Exchange

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • International Students
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
  • International Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Special Classes for exchange students (art, European Welfare Systems and Healthcare, and clinical practicum)
  • Train pass to Bremen, Hamburg, and Hanover
  • The small and residential nature of Jacobs served as a great home-base.
* What could be improved?
  • Food
  • Language Instruction
  • Overall information/communication/clarity from administration
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish that past students had been more specific with the pros/cons of Jacobs, but I hope that future students will be more informed. This way, only the students who are aware and okay with the "bad" will attend and everyone can enjoy the "good".

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Avid Adventurer
The wardrobe you packed was better suited for a semester of camping than club hopping. Outdoorsy, you might forgo a crazy night out for an early all-day adventure. You'd rather take in the rich culture of an old town than the metropolis of a modern city, but for you getting off the grid is ideal.