Germany, Reutlingen – James Goodman – 2005-2006

Travel

Travel in and around Reutlingen is extremely easy, not to mention cheap. For a mere €35 you can purchase a ‘Naldo Ticket’. This ticket, which is valid for one semester, can be used to travel all around the area of Reutlingen, using both the bus and the train. A student ID card is necessary to buy this ticket, however a letter will be given out during the language course, stating that you are a student and eligible for one. This ticket covers both the number 4 and 11 bus, which you can take directly from Stadtmitte to Pestalozzistraße (where the university and the student accommodation is located). There are six of these buses per hour during the day and even a few night buses can be found on Friday and Saturday nights, so too much thought and preparation is never needed. From the Stuttgart Airport, which is actually in Echterdingen, you can travel with the ‘expresso’ bus, the X3, which takes about 50 minutes and is the cheapest way in which to get from the airport to Reutlingen. With the Naldo Ticket even this journey is free, however upon arriving in Germany you would have to pay a fee of around €5. One thing that I found invaluable, especially during my first semester was the ‘Schöneswochenende Ticket’. This ticket costs €30 and allows up to five passengers to travel on the slow trains in the entire of Germany for 1 day at the weekend, e.g. up to five people could travel to Munich on a Saturday and come back on a Sunday for a shared cost of €60, in comparison with a return price of around €90 for one person. This often means that is it is far cheaper to travel with the Schöneswochenende Ticket, even when traveling alone. I regretted not buying a ‘Bahncard 50’ at the beginning of the year for €110. This card gives you 50% off all train tickets for the whole year and after a couple of trips easily pays for itself. Wait until you have your student card though, as this special price is only for students. The south of Germany is also perfectly situated to explore a few neighbouring countries; Prague is a drive away, France is just through the Black Forest and Switzerland and Austria just the other side of Lake Constance, all of which are very much worth the trip.

Accommodation

Accommodation in Reutlingen can be extremely cheap, convenient and fun, but it can also be a nightmare. Therefore my recommendation is sort it out very early. I also can’t emphasise enough how much I would recommend applying for the student accommodation. I paid a mere €200 a month for a single room and had a fantastic experience there. A deposit of €30 is payable to the Hausmeister Herr Zorn upon arrival, but payment for the accommodation is to the GWG in the town. A deposit of two month’s rent is also due upon arrival, but the GWG is very good and it is no problem to spend a week or so setting up a bank account and transferring it straight to them. I was lucky enough to have a room in the newest of the three student flat blocks, the Theodor-Litthaus, but the Adolf Reichweinhaus and the Wurmhaus are also very good. All three are located along Pestalozzistraße in Hohbuch and are a five minute walk from the University. I was sharing a floor and facilities with 17 other students and although this sounds like a lot, it works. Each floor has 4 showers, 4 toilets and one reasonably sized kitchen, all of which are cleaned twice a week and kept clean too. Each floor also has a floor speaker, who pays a bit less, but is responsible for making sure everything runs smoothly. The really great thing about living in the student accommodation is the internationalism. I myself was living with Germans, Russians, Americans and Mexicans and I found this really accelerates cultural understanding. You will also meet people from your course as well as people from the other business school and the other schools, such as the teaching college and the textile school. Applications need to be in well in advance and with all the requested information and documents. Opportunities for cheap and good quality accommodation in the town are minimal, and you could end up paying up to €350 a month for an ex-hotel room, with absolutely no cooking facilities.

Lectures and Teaching

While the times of a few lectures may seem a bit severe, the actual content can be very manageable, if modules are chosen with thought. While the University doesn’t make it easy for exchange students, they do make it very fair. The international office offers slightly easier courses such as the pre-semester language course and Wirtschaft Deutsch in order boost up the number of credits and allow for a fairer mark. In my opinion you should not be too ambitious when choosing modules, at least not to begin with. It is important to remember even if you are fluent conversationally, accounting and law use wholly different language! I would also advise taking slightly easier courses in German, rather than harder ones in English. It can be very frustrating if you are trying to learn German, but have to read an entire book on management in english.

Socialising and Nightlife

The whole style of socialising in Germany is quite different from that of England and this cultural difference is one of many that you have to learn to adapt to in addition to learning the language. The main difference with regards to pubs and clubs is the time scale. Things tend to kick off towards, what you might consider to be, nearly the end of a night out in England. Pubs are generally open to three or four in the morning and clubs until even later. However this doesn’t mean that Reutlingen sports a booming nightlife. In fact things tend to be very laid back, so you shouldn’t expect extravagant events every night of the week. Back in halls however it is a very different story. In my opinion the attitude seems to be work hard – play hard. This equates to a very hectic start to the semester with parties put on almost every night. This tails off after a couple of weeks as people settle down into the course and by the exam period it’s not uncommon for people to spend day and night in their rooms! I would suggest that you take full advantage of these parties at the beginning of term, as this is a real chance to make friends with the Germans, rather than just the exchange students you have already met in the pre-semester period.

The Pre-Semester Language Course

I feel I should stress the advantages and, in many ways, the importance of partaking in this course. The three week course consists of three sessions a day of language tuition, excursions and assistance, in order to fill in the appropriate forms. It is more than just a language course. It is more of an introductory course on life in Reutlingen. The teachers will help you register at the town hall, take you on a tour of the city, as well as to the Daimler Crysler factory and you will receive a letter of enrolment to the university, so you can purchase your cheap bus ticket. The course gives that welcome boost to your language capability and in doing so a new confidence in talking to and meeting new people. It also in itself allows you to meet 90% of the other foreign exchange students, as almost everyone takes full advantage of this course. It costs only €200 and also offers a very valuable and relatively easy 7.5 credits. The fact that the course is split up into six groups (ranging from absolute beginner to advanced) also means that there is no need to worry if your language still needs a bit of work. It is still possible to get as good a mark as someone in the top group. This is a great introduction to life at Reutlingen and I would whole-heartedly recommend this course.

Shopping

Another advantage of the student accommodation is its situation in relation to the supermarkets. Turning right out of one of the three student halls and walking a hundred meters or so down Pestalozzistraße you will find yourself at the ‘Penny Markt’. Covering all your needs from food to toothpaste, this mini supermarket is great. Very cheap, easy and close. What more could you want? Situated in the same area are the banks Volksbank and Kreissparkasse, both of which offer free student accounts for a period of up to one year, and the pharmacy. With regards to a bank account I would suggest that is essential to have one, but that it’s far more trouble than it’s worth to try and set one up before getting to Germany. If in student halls it also allows for a direct debit (Dauerauftrag) to the GWG to be set up, making life a lot easier and meaning you won’t have to deal with the non existent opening times of their office in the town. With regards to clothes shopping Reutlingen is well catered for with shops like Zinser and Breuninger, but if you want to go on a real spree then Stuttgart would be worth the train ride!

Internship

I chose not to stay studying at the university for my second semester, but rather to do an internship. This really is an experience that will stand you in good stead for the future, not just in terms of having a good reference, but also in terms of gaining real experience of an office environment. My advice would be get a German to help with the application, as it not only has to be flawless, but really well written too. A résumé style CV is also required and, in Germany, a photo always has to be included in the application. Nearly all positions are for 6 months as well, so if a whole year in Germany is too long, then I wouldn’t recommend applying for this. However for me it was definitely worth the longer stay; I really feel that I learnt the most from my second semester as an intern and I would definitely recommend it.

Conclusion

I cannot express how strongly I would recommend a year in Reutlingen and above all a year abroad. The experience has been ten fold what I had expected and I feel like I have learnt more in this year than in any year up until this point. The cultural and linguistic challenges are ones which, when conquered, are nothing but rewarding. I will never forget my time in Germany, the friends I made or the experience I had.

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