Engineering students CAN live the international life

So many engineering students think study abroad is too difficult. Katarina, a computer science major, and Tunji, a major in aerospace and mechanical engineering, both studied for a semester at HAW Hamburg.

Male and female student smiling into the camera

Tunji and Kataryna

So many engineering students think study abroad is too difficult. University of Florida students Katarina Jurczyk and Oyetunji (Tunji) Oyewole are proof that it can be done. They are both taking engineering classes at the HAW Hamburg in Germany, but when it came to study abroad their paths were different: computer science major Katarina was born in Germany but moved to the US with her parents when she was a baby. As the oldest child of German-American parents, Katarina grew up speaking German at home and visits family in Germany every year. Study abroad was high on her agenda, so she went to the UF Education Office in her first semester. She had heard about a summer programme in China and ended up spending two semesters in Shanghai to improve her Chinese. Bitten by the study abroad bug, she looked at more options and chose the HAW Hamburg exchange programme for her next adventure. 'My study abroad advisor highly recommended it.'

Tunji was born in Florida of Nigerian parents, who came to America to continue their college education. He also has relatives in England and he loves to travel there to visit. For Tunji studying abroad was a dream and he thought it would remain a dream. 'I thought as an engineer it would be difficult to get credit for my classes at home. My double major in mechanical and aerospace engineering is already five years long. I didn’t want to delay graduation,' he remembers. But now in his senior year he has taken the plunge, because the classes in Hamburg can be transferred to his programme at UF. 'My Dad encouraged me. He reminded me that he had done something similar when he was 19.'

I hadn’t heard of Hamburg before but it is a hidden gem.

Tunji Oyewole, USA

Tunji chose Germany because it is famous for engineering, but with regard to Hamburg he didn’t know what to expect. 'I hadn’t heard of Hamburg before but it is a hidden gem. It is really green, with parks and nature everywhere. And people in Hamburg know how to enjoy life. As soon as the sun shines they are at the lake,' he says, smiling. 'And Hamburg has a great night life scene. I am a big fan!'

For Katarina, being in Germany wasn’t new, but being able to live there on her own and for a longer period of time was a very different experience. 'It is great to have the student perspective. The people here are super nice,' she says. 'When I visit family I am usually just in the Black Forest area, so it has been great to be able to travel at the weekends and see other parts of Germany. The trains make travelling so easy.' She also joined a sailing class as part of the university sports programme and can be seen once a week on the lake with other sailing friends. 'I have always wanted to learn and it helps that there are no alligators in the Alster Lake,' she says, laughing.

Katarina and Tunji both live in student dorms, each sharing an apartment with other international students from South Korea, Japan, Europe and Africa. They often get together with their roommates to cook or spend evenings playing cards and learning about each other’s countries. 'It is almost like getting to go there without going there,' says Tunji. 'The US is diverse but like me they are first generation Americans with an international background, not actually from that country. That is what is different when you are studying in Hamburg.'

Studying in Hamburg

In their engineering classes, both students love the practical approach to the topics and the small class sizes. Tunji likes Aircraft Engines the best. 'UF is very theoretical. We work with lots of numbers but we don’t see how they are applied. At HAW Hamburg the teachers break things down and show us how to apply knowledge. Coming to Germany has been amazing!' Katarina agrees: 'In Databases and Software Engineering you look at things from the ground up. It is also very interactive, with other students getting involved in what you are doing, asking questions and making suggestions for your projects.'

They are also both taking intercultural competence, which they really enjoy. Looking at stereotypes and clichés, at what culture is and how it has been changing – they both feel it is invaluable when it comes to understanding different people. It will also be a good foundation for their future careers. Naturally they have talked about 'the Germans' and how they are seen by other countries. 'I thought the Germans would be really cold, unfriendly, always going straight by the rules and drinking lots of beer. Well, apart from the beer that isn’t true at all,' says Tunji, laughing. 'They have a great balance between work and play. Yes, they are efficient, but they work to the max and enjoy life to the max. And as for the American greeting “How are you?” well Germans don’t do the short version. If you want to know how they are, they will tell you.'

Katarina also added the international culture cafe to her weekly calendar. Every Wednesday there are different themes and activities, with students practising their German by playing games, telling stories and learning about all things German. 'It was one of my favourite activities in Hamburg. It helped me to improve my German, learn about Germany and get to know people from all around the world, while strengthening my intercultural skills,' says Katarina.

The final countdown

Exams are just around the corner, so the heat is on. In Germany there are no quizzes, midterms or homework, so everything rides on the final exam. This requires a lot of self-discipline during the semester to ensure students are ready. 'I had heard about it,' says Katarina, 'but I couldn’t really imagine how it would work.' And how is it now at the end of the semester? 'I like the German way, but I haven’t had the exams yet!' she adds, laughing. Tunji agrees: 'I was worried I wouldn’t have a way to measure how I am doing in class, but I feel I have learned more because I am expected to know everything for the final exam.'

Tunji will also be taking a German test. HAW Hamburg offers free German classes to international students, and Tunji was one of the first to sign up for a beginner’s class. 'My advisor at home had said I would be fine speaking only English in Hamburg, but I didn’t want to just get by. If I was going to be living in a country for five months it was important for me to learn about the culture and get to know the people,' Tunji explains. 'It hasn’t been easy, but I find myself getting more and more comfortable with the language as my brain slowly pieces together a new form of communication.'

A semester resumé

When Katarina and Tunji arrived in Germany at the beginning of March they faced snow and sub-zero temperatures at night. May, on the other hand, was the hottest on record with glorious sunny days in the low eighties – perfect for barbecues at the lake and canoe trips on the canals. Katarina spent many weekends discovering different cities and towns in Germany, while Tunji travelled further afield, visiting Milan, Cinque Terre, Paris, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Interlaken. 'Everything is so close. In two hours you can experience different food, people and cultures. It is so much fun. I feel I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveller.'

The semester abroad has taught them both to be less afraid of travelling by themselves and more confident in approaching new people and taking the first step. 'You learn a lot about yourself: what you are interested in and what you don’t want to waste your time doing. I had such a small view of the world, but the international students in Hamburg are from everywhere,' says Tunji. 'My time in Germany has taught me to push beyond my limits and to live each moment to the fullest.' Katarina adds: 'When you arrive everything is new, but in the welcome week you realise everyone is in the same boat. It was so easy to get to know people. The HAW Hamburg was a great choice for a study-abroad programme. I would definitely recommend it to other students!'


I. Weatherall / June 2018


Tunji studied with a UAS7 travel stipend: The HAW Hamburg is part of UAS7 and offers US students €1,000 scholarships.