Bachelor of Science, 3rd year
Bachelor of Science, 3rd year

Academic experiences

I studied at the Ludwig Maximillian’s University of Munich (LMU) for the first semester of my third year of a Bachelor of Science.

I was keen on doing exchange in Germany since I wanted to learn German and immerse myself in a foreign culture that isn’t primarily English-speaking.
My academic interest lies in Neuroscience and consequently I chose LMU since they have a Graduate School of Neuroscience (GSN) that provides Masters-level courses in English.

Taking on Masters courses wasn’t the most challenging part of my academic experience; sorting out course enrolment and early assessment was.
At LMU, summer semester classes finish mid-July and exams and big assessment pieces can be due up till the end of September.
Course enrolment often involves emailing the individual course coordinators and sometimes, frustratingly, asking about the number of credits attached to the course since this information isn’t always available online.
When planning your exchange, make sure to be flexible with your course selection just in case the lecturer isn’t willing to arrange alternative assessment for you.

If you are interested in research, you can also gain credits by working on a research project during the semester.
I decided to do a research project because I was finding it difficult to fulfil the full-time load of 30 ECTS, especially since the majority of courses in science are only worth 3 ECTS each and taking on so many exams can be daunting.
The number of ECTS you can gain by doing a research project is time-dependent so keep a log of your hours.
Overall, I enjoyed my studies in Munich and would highly recommend exchange (anywhere) because of the different academic perspective and content you will be exposed to.

Neuschwannstein, the Disney Castle!

Personal experiences

If you’re going to LMU, sign up for an LMU buddy!
They actually assign buddies quite late, well after the deadline for moving into your student residence, so you will already have most of your important, stressful administration tasks taken care of.
However, getting to know your buddy and hanging out with them is a great way to learn about different aspects of the German lifestyle and attitude.
Also, sign up for the Erasmus society/club in Munich and attend some events… getting to know other international students and their culture is also a part of the exchange experience.

Something that you will definitely end up doing at some point is visiting the Isar for swimming, BBQ or just sunbathing and socialising.
Going out for a drink in the afternoon in one of Munich’s beer gardens is a regular occurrence and a lot of fun.
Despite missing Oktoberfest and Christmas in Europe, I think Summer Semester is a better choice because there is a lot more to do and see in Munich during this time.
There is a really fun, social vibe when people are hanging out in the English Gardens and the first flowers of spring are popping up.
There is also a big ice-cream culture in Munich with people queuing up for it even when it is still 15 degrees Celsius outside!
Additionally, there are a ton of public holidays in Bavaria during the Summer Semester.
I would also definitely recommend trying to learn German.
It is very different to English and even though it can be embarrassing at times to have fluent English spoken back at you, it is a rewarding thing to do.
Also, not everyone speaks English so you will probably find a few survival words useful.

New Spring Flowers in the English Gardens

Accommodation

Private accommodation in Munich is very expensive and difficult to find.
I decided to apply for accommodation organised by the Studentenwerk, which is the organisation responsible for allocating student residence rooms/flats to all students in Munich.
In the application (part of the application to LMU), it says that places are limited and can’t be guaranteed.
However, securing a spot wasn’t difficult since I believe that Australian students are given higher priority over European exchange students because we live far away.

The room I was assigned was part of a shared flat (amongst 6 people) in the Stiftsbogen residence in Haderner Stern (~ 300 euros/month).
This area is close to the Planegg-Martinsried campus, which is where all the natural science institutes are situated and also where all my classes took place.
Also, keep in mind when booking plane tickets that you need to move into your student accommodation before a certain date otherwise you will forfeit your place (e.g. for the summer semester of 2015, the moving-in period was between 2 - 10 March).

Walking in the Alps

Budget

Munich is one of the most (or even the most) expensive cities in Germany.
So, don’t expect things to be drastically cheaper here compared to Australia.
As a student, you get a basic ticket (6 PM – 6 AM) for public transport throughout Munich that you can top-up to become a 24/7 ticket (called the Isarcard Semester) by paying an extra 146.50 euros.
However, until you enrol and receive your student ID (which is just a green piece of paper btw…. !) transport is very expensive so try to buy weekly or monthly tickets.
Health Insurance is ~80 euros/month but they do expect you to pay for the whole semester (~ 480 euros) even if you are not staying that long.
Opening up a bank account is essential for accommodation and health insurance payments since they will deduct these monthly.

In terms of food, I didn’t want to eat poorly but I believe that you could definitely get by with ~ 200 – 300 euros/month.
I spent a lot more because I bought several dozen tubs of Häagen Dazs ice-cream that are about 6 euros for 0.5 L.
I highly recommend any flavours that have caramel or pralines involved; other flavours are not worth 6 euros.

Also, alcohol is cheap (often cheaper than water!).
If you don’t want to pay a ridiculous amount of money for water every time you go out to a restaurant, a useful word to know is “Leitungswasser” which translates to tap water.
Eating at the Mensa (student cafeteria) every day is what most people do and it’s a decently priced option for lunch (~ 1 – 4 euros).

I would advise budgeting between $12 000 - $16 000.
It really depends on how much travel you want to do.

Academic development and employability

Needless to say, my academic outlook expanded after my exchange experience.
I was lucky enough to participate in the Munich Brain Course: a short neuroanatomy course that involves a couple of days of brain dissections and talks.
This was a great opportunity, not just to learn more about the brain but also, to talk with other students and established scientists from around the world and find out about their scientific experiences.
Since I plan on returning to Germany at some point during my scientific career, undertaking a research project in Munich helped me gain an insight into the research environment and opportunities available.
Also, being able to adapt to lab culture in a foreign country is a necessity in the modern scientific world with researchers moving overseas becoming the norm.

Highlight

It’s too difficult to choose a single highlight!
It really was a collection of different experiences that made exchange so worthwhile.
I went travelling before exchange to Jordan, Israel and Egypt and that was an amazing experience.
However, admiring royal palaces and castles and walking around the Alps are great experiences that are within arm’s reach of Munich.
Neuschwannstein (the Disney castle) is particularly beautiful in March when it’s not (too) cold and there is still snow around.

Top tips

Bring some euros in cash with you for when you first arrive in Germany.
Supermarkets only accept cash or EC cards (German bank cards).

Try the Nussschnecke from ‘Privat Bäckerei Wimmer’ – this one has honey-roasted nuts on top that other bakeries (that I tried at least) do not.

The most famous ice cream parlour in Munich is Ballabeni.
It’s not too far from both TUM and LMU main campuses.

Forget the stereotype that Germany is a strict, efficient place…. It isn’t.
Only the trains are super punctual.

Check out MeinFernBus.de for buses around Munich.
It is significantly cheaper to go to Garmisch-Partenkirchen or Innsbruck (6 – 8 euros) by bus than it is by train.

Not so important but something to note: The success rate for running for the train when it’s on the platform and making it inside is a lot lower than in Australia…. Most of the time you won’t make it (they don’t wait for you), so don’t waste your energy.

Also, everything is closed on Sundays (apart from tourist spots), so if you’re planning on shopping in Munich or the destinations you are travelling to within Germany on Sunday… it’s better to reschedule.

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