Saturday, February 27, 2016

Senior Ben Kollaja writes about his spring semester in Eichstätt, Bavaria

Dear Fellow Students at CSB/SJU,

I arrived in Eichstätt on Sunday, March 16th, 2014. My “tutor,” who was more like an assigned buddy to help me in my orientation process, picked me up from the train station and drove me to my apartment. The next morning I walked to the university to take a placement test for the three-week intensive language course which all international students take before the semester begins. The course started that same afternoon. After three weeks in the intensive language course I already felt that my German verbal fluency had more than doubled. The first week in Eichstätt there were events every evening for all 50-some international students to get to know each other, which allowed me to make friends quickly. I registered for courses one or two weeks before the start of the semester, which the academic advisors there helped me with. At KU Eichstätt, it is possible to take courses tailored towards international students, including courses taught in English (which I do not recommend), as well as the courses that native speakers take. I personally took only one course for international students, and three courses where I was the only international student in the class in order to challenge myself. German was the language of instruction in all the courses I selected, including a Czech class I audited for fun (a semester abroad is a great time to learn a third language)! A couple of the courses I signed up for were not recommended to me by the academic advisors and turned out to be a bit over my head. Thus, for most students, I would recommend you discuss every course you plan on registering for with the academic advising office. It also helps to talk to other international students and see which courses they are taking. Of course, if you really want to challenge yourself, any course offered at the university is available to you.

Because most courses at KU meet only once per week, most students spend much less time in class and much more time in the library studying. Overall, I would expect most Johnnies and Bennies will have much more free time in their semester in Eichstätt than they do in a normal semester. So that begs the question: what to do with all that free time? German universities do not have competitive athletic programs like American universities. However, KU Eichstätt offers intramural sport programs which meet once a week, and the selection of sports is large. I attended a Muay Thai course and played Ultimate Frisbee regularly, which I really enjoyed. Additionally, each major within the university has its own soccer team which competes for a cup in the spring/summer semester. The ERASMUS program (an exchange program for European students) also fields a team, and all international students are welcome to play on it. This is a good option for more competitively minded people, and the games are taken seriously. I made friends with international students from all over the world playing on the team. And if you like to run or lift weights, Eichstätt has a small weight room and beautiful running trails. The town is located in a valley, and the running trails encircle the valley and give you a wonderful view of the town below. If sports aren’t your thing, another option is to get involved in music or theater. KU has an orchestra, band, choir, and a theater department which are considered extracurricular activities. Having played in an orchestra all through high school, I decided to pick up the violin again and join the orchestra in Eichstätt for a semester. This was another great opportunity to meet locals and practice my German, all while getting to play beautiful music (Dvořák, Max Bruch, etc.).

In addition to offering athletic and artistic opportunities for students, the university does a great job of providing international students with events and travel opportunities to attend. Throughout the semester, there were four day-trips and one overnight excursion offered, and all of the day-trips were free of charge for international students. I attended all four of the free excursions, which included Regensburg (my favorite city in Germany), Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the Chiemsee, and Salzburg. These excursions were a great opportunity to travel within Bavaria and Austria at little to no cost, and I recommend all of them. I also recommend traveling on your own during the semester and/or doing pre or post-travel. I took two weekend trips to Munich with friends during the semester, one of which was for Frühlingsfest, essentially a smaller Oktoberfest that takes place in April. I also took a weekend trip to Prague with some other American students, and we found a cheap apartment to stay in on AirBnB. After the conclusion of the semester, I post-travelled with my sister and cousin in the Czech Republic, Austria and Croatia. If you plan on doing such a trip, I recommend traveling by train or inter-city (IC) bus because it is a great way to get to see the countryside. We traveled using Eurail passes, which allow you to travel to multiple countries within a 30-day period. These passes are not cheap, but for the amount of travel you can do with them they are a good bargain.

Things to consider if you are trying to decide between Eichtstätt and Salzburg:
Eichstätt will provide you with a better opportunity to immerse yourself in the German language and really improve your speaking fluency. That being said, it will also be more challenging as all of your courses will be instructed in German.
Eichstätt allows you more flexibility in choosing courses because you can take any course offered at the university, compared to Salzburg where your courses are mostly selected for you. This is a double-edged sword though, because in Salzburg you can be assured that all of your courses will count for CSBSJU credits and fulfill common curriculum and German requirements. In Eichstätt, it will be up to YOU to try to get courses approved for common curriculum or German credits. Additionally, most courses will count as three credits, not the usual four.
In Eichstätt you will have to be much more independent than in Salzburg. Eichstätt does not have a faculty program director who travels along, and the group size is usually one or two people. Thus you will have to branch out and learn to live on your own. This is an exciting opportunity for some and daunting for others. I felt that studying abroad in Eichstätt was a great experience for my personal development, and it helped me to become more extroverted.