Interview Series #3 No Sweet Without Sweat

In his first interview, Chiu Kit LAM told us that the idea of studying in Germany came to him when he learned that foreign students at German universities and colleges generally do not have to pay any tuition fees. In the third interview, we ask him what his Bachelor degree in Germany was like and what it brought him. 

Were there - apart from the financial aspect - other reasons why you decided to study in Germany? And did you immediately know what and where you wanted to study? 

I like this question very much. You have asked for "reasons", because such a vital decision usually consists of various factors. Last time I told you a bit about them: my dream to study abroad, my girlfriend, my career, etc. The biggest consideration was whether I could achieve something through studying in Germany that I could not achieve in Hong Kong.

Then there was the question: "What do I want to study?"

I was lucky to know that early on. I always wanted to be an engineer, so in this case, I got the best combination: "Engineering plus Germany", didn't I? :) The question of “where” was difficult to answer, you know Germany is not small. However, the answer was found by coincidence: back then there were hardly any courses in German that did not require any knowledge of German at the time of enrolment. While searching, an international study offer appeared in Mannheim. What a perfect fit!

德國唔似香港,無咁多高樓大廈。所以喺Hochschule Mannheim校園中心嘅教學大樓,大半個Mannheim都見得到。我知,上緊堂,其實就唔應該發吽哣,淨係望出窗外,不過上到去最高層,風景真係幾迷人下。
©Chiu Kit LAM
Compared to Hong Kong, there are significantly fewer tall buildings in Germany. Therefore you can see the main building of the Hochschule Mannheim right in the middle of the campus from a distance. In the lectures one should not only look out of the window but the view from the top floor is also very fascinating.

What requirements did you have to meet in order to study in Germany? Did you have to prove the proficiency of the German language and take an exam? 
Fortunately, I didn't have to prove my proficiency of the German language. There was only one language requirement for the application: you had to have a good command of English. My study in Hong Kong was in English, and that was already the sufficient proof of fluency in English.

The course in Mannheim was a rather funny “mixture” - an international program in which all lectures in the first year were taught in English.

Afterwards German and other international students were mixed together and all lectures were held in one fell swoop in German.
The only German exam you had to take was DSH or TestDaF. However, the university only asked for a certificate at the end of our studies. And the recommendation was that after the first year one should write the exam. Almost nobody could make it. I took the exam after my internship.

However, there are a lot of study offers in Germany now, which are completely taught in English. What a pity. I prefer the English-German structure of the studies.
由Heidelberg去Mannheim,要轉兩次車,首先係由屋企去Heidelberg個火車站,然後再去Mannheim個火車站,最後一程就係去大學度。 我已經經歷過無數次因為趕唔上一班車,而要喺車站苦苦等待下一班車嘅痛苦。
©Chiu Kit LAM
From Heidelberg to Mannheim I had to change twice. First from home to Heidelberg train station, then to Mannheim station and from there to the university. I don't remember how often I missed the connections and waited forever for the next train.


Are there any challenges while studying at a German university?

Challenge sounds so hard. I would say that I noticed a lot of differences, and that was very unusual for me at the beginning. The complete freedom is definitely on top of the list. Laboratories and exams were compulsory - nothing more. There were no assignments which need to be handed in and no test to determine the result. Likewise, attendance at the lecture has no influence on the grade. But watch out! To enjoy this freedom, you need discipline!
The professors at a German university also teach differently than in Hong Kong. A standard textbook was not available. The content of the lecture is often designed by professors themselves. I still remember that I needed all sorts of websites, e-books and videos on the internet - no matter if they were in Chinese, English or German - in order to understand a particular technical term thoroughly. Although the learning process was quite time-consuming, it was really about understanding.

Most people know the difference between “Hochschule” and “Universität”, and that is true. I have learned many theories, but the practical part of my studies has shaped my mind even more. If you want to work in a practice-oriented way later, you should study at a “Hochschule”.
要畢業,大學仲有一個要求,就係要上好多唔同嘅Seminar,咁學生都可以練埋所謂嘅Soft skills。有一個Seminar嘅講者,錄低咗我介紹香港旅遊景點嘅演講,等我地之後可以即刻分析。呢啲同德國人,外國人嘅文化交流,我覺得真係十分有趣。
©Chiu Kit LAM
One condition for graduation is that a student has to attend certain seminars. This also trained my so-called soft skills. In a seminar, the lecturer recorded my presentation about the attractions in Hong Kong and then analysed it with us. This intercultural exchange was extremely exciting for me!


Where did you live and how did you make a living?  

There was a big coincidence: My wife also studied in Heidelberg during that period of time. The distance between Mannheim and Heidelberg is about 25 km, and by the train I could commute well between the cities. Although the study costed almost nothing, the cost of living was not to be underestimated. In Germany, a lot of money is spent on rent and food.
I have financed a large part of my livelihood through part-time jobs. A lot of them! I have always worked, and even during the semester breaks. Of course, I did an internship, which is compulsory for all students in the faculty.
I didn't really count, but now, if I think back, I had already worked as a student assistant for five companies before graduating.
In my opinion, these working experiences could have been almost more important than the studies themselves. I have gained so much practical experience, which was certainly a great advantage in my later application. The German proverb "Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen." which means you're not born a pro. If you want to become a good engineer, you need not only theory, but above all practical experience. So, I can only recommend everyone to work during their studies.
©Chiu Kit LAM
My programme was international. So there were almost only foreign students. The photo was taken at the very beginning during an excursion to Heidelberg. It's pretty sad that only a few of us graduated at the end.

And what did your bachelor degree in Germany bring you? Did you find a job right after graduating? 

Lots!!! The programm was actually a double degree for me! The technical part alone was very demanding. Then there was the language, the culture, the new lifestyle. But I kept to the words of the German philosopher Nietzsche: "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger." :)) 

After the four years I not only got a title, but also a new language ability, experienced a fascinating culture and learned to work together with the Germans.
I don't want to brag, but everyone knows that engineers are always wanted in Germany. I even found a job before I graduated. Many students look in advance for a job in the last semester, that's how I did it. My first employer invited me to a job interview, gave me an early commitment and then in fact, he did not need my certificate at all.
A result is what one should deliver at work. The certificate is just a piece of paper, right?
©Chiu Kit LAM
This stack consists of notes that I have read and partially written - but for 4 semesters, so only half of the study! As I said, in order to understand a complex term in a foreign language, I also needed other materials in Chinese and English.  Fortunately, as an engineer student, I had to write more numbers than words in exams!