Engineering, German and karaoke

Studying abroad can be about facing your fears and polishing your skills, but it can also be about fun things like singing karaoke and eating Fischbrötchen on a Sunday morning at the harbour.

Male student standing in front of a modern glass university building

Robert Jarrett exchange student

Studying abroad can be about facing your fears and polishing your skills, and that was exactly the experience Robert Jarrett, maths and German major at the University of Hertfordshire, had when he came to study for a year as an exchange student at HAW Hamburg. The first challenge was which classes to take. 'My university suggested I go to a partner university in Madrid or Istanbul, because I could study maths there, but with my second major in German, it just made more sense to go to Hamburg,' he explained. But choosing Hamburg meant taking engineering maths classes, as HAW Hamburg does not offer degrees in mathematics. He admits he was a bit apprehensive about this, having never studied engineering before. 'I decided to reduce the risk by taking engineering classes in English, rather than German, and I am not going to lie; it still wasn’t easy. On the one hand I enjoyed it, but it made me realise how much I love pure maths,' he adds, laughing. He also took the classes Intercultural Competence and Economics and Management. 'In Economics and Management we had to develop a business plan as part of a project and that was really interesting. I wouldn’t have been able to take those kind of classes at home, so they were definitely my favourite classes.'

Improving language skills

Improving his language skills was the main reason to study abroad. Robert had taken German for seven years at school, where he says he had a really good teacher, who encouraged his love for the language. He continued to study German at university, but he knew that wasn’t going to be enough. 'There is only so much you can achieve in a classroom. If you really want to speak a language well, you need to live in the country and increase your vocabulary by talking to people.'

He describes himself as someone who was shy in German class, but coming to Hamburg has made him more confident about speaking to people. 'I don’t care now if I make mistakes, because you have to keep trying to get better.' And the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, as the saying goes. In his second semester he pushed himself that little bit more by taking an algebra class in German. 'I was the only exchange student in the class, but I made friends with Taraneh, a student from Iran. We study together and speak German most of the time. I was really pleased that I could do this after just one semester in Hamburg,' he says, smiling.

During the welcome week I met my friends Laura, Thibault and Alex and we became a really close-knit international community.

Robert Jarrett

Being independent and integrated

Studying abroad was also another step to becoming more independent. Coming from a small village in Kent, his move to study at the University of Hertfordshire near London was the first time he had lived on his own, as is the case with many students. But he was also the only student from Hertfordshire to come to Hamburg in September, so he really appreciated the buddy programme and the welcome week as a way of getting to know people. 'I was really lucky with my buddy, Johannes. He helped me with everything at the beginning and also introduced me to his friends when we went rock-climbing together,' he says. 'And during the welcome week I met my friends Laura, Thibault and Alex and we became a really close-knit international community.'

Robert describes himself as a 'people-person', so it is no surprise that one of the things he loves to do in Hamburg is to have dinner with friends in his student residence. He shares an apartment with students from Poland, Hungary, Brazil, Spain and Italy and they often cook together. 'I once cooked a roast for 11 people!' he says with a smile. Hamburg has also introduced him to new dishes and the port city has even helped him overcome his dislike of fish, with Fischbrötchen now being one of his favourite things to eat at the Hamburg Fischmarkt on a Sunday morning.

Life in Hamburg is also barbecues in the park and the weekly Wednesday night student get-together at Thomas Read’s, where his friends and family at home might be surprised to learn about a new hobby he has acquired – karaoke! 'I never thought I would do it, but everyone else was giving it a go and now I am a fan and you can’t stop me,' he says, laughing.

Study abroad lessons learned

But it isn’t just improved German and singing skills that Robert is taking away with him when he returns to England at the end of the academic year. When we ask him what he has learned during his time in Hamburg, he doesn’t miss a beat when he gives us his list: 'Grab opportunities when they are thrown at you and don’t be afraid to talk to people; be more spontaneous and live in the moment; everything is possible if you put your mind to it and it is OK to get things wrong. I am a very precise and conscientious person, but now I worry less if a problem comes up. This will definitely help me in my final year at university. I now know how to take a step back when the stress levels get too high.'

And on a final note, he sums up how much he feels he has changed during his year in Hamburg: 'My family has seen a confidence boost in me; they see how happy I am and that makes them happy too.'

iw/July 2017