Academic experiences

I undertook my semester of exchange at the Technische Universität München (TUM) during the 5th semester of my Bachelor of Electrical Engineering.
Initially, finding a combination of equivalent courses to match those compulsory courses back home proved a task easier said than done.
In the end I replaced one course with an advanced elective, allowing me some additional freedom to lighten my load and instead take a semiconductor sensor course.
In the end I completed six courses – all part of the Bachelor of Electrical Engineering – to fulfil my 30 ECTS, two of which were in English and four in German.
I already had five years of high school German to start me off but the technical German language proved a formidable foe (not to mention the Bavarian language…).
Taking courses in German proved a rewarding challenge; extra time was need to translate course notes and extra attention required during lectures, but the additional effort paid off in the end as I was able to follow lectures and read technical text far more proficiently.
Overall, courses at TUM are far more theoretical and students need to be self-driven, with fewer contact hours and not every course offering tutorials.
There is often little or no ongoing assessment during semester with 100% final exams the norm.
Concepts are explained with great detail from a more fundamental level, but numerous separate practicals are also available to complement these such as the Embedded Systems Programming Lab I completed.
I unfortunately experienced some unavoidable timetable clashes as I was taking a mix of compulsory and elective courses, meaning I had to catch up on my own time!
Lectures are not recorded for the EE faculty but generally the ‘Skripts’/course notes help.
It’s definitely a shock experiencing such a different university system but it ultimately lets you appreciate the positives and negatives of both.

The beautiful Olympic village of bungalows and apartments during Spring

Personal experiences

There are extensive programs run by TUM International and Studentenwerk München (Student union) that allow you to explore the Bavarian countryside, meet fellow students and start gathering unique experiences.
There is a fantastic two week orientation-style program jam packed full of events as well as ongoing events during the semester that get you talking to likeminded students from all across the globe.
I made many new friends from Spain, Brazil, the USA, Scandinavia, France, Italy, and of course Germany who I hope to keep long into the future.
I found myself going on several day trips to lakes, spending a weekend in Vienna, hiking and skiing in the Alps, enjoying water parks and a thermal spa, and just generally getting lost in Munich.
Can you believe that Germans barbecue more than Australians?
Yeah, neither did I, but when the weather hits 20°C and the sun is out, expect to see those coal grills burning!
Beer gardens are also a must as they have a fantastic, chill atmosphere where you can drink beer and eat all day long.
I would also highly recommend taking part in the mentoring program on offer at TUM.
They pair you up with a knowledgeable student towards the end of their degree, who in my case showed me around Munich, answered my many questions and invited me along to outings with his friends.
For me, my exchange was a change of pace that I found personally challenging.
I was living independently in a new city, far away from the comfort of my friends, taking courses where I knew nobody.
I found getting to know Germans far harder than I originally imagined, but most I met reassured me that this is a typical German trait (so don’t worry if the same happens to you!).
Most students were really friendly if I built up the courage to chat with them and they would happily invite me to join them at a BBQ or for a beer on the river Isar.
The extra free time and new surroundings also allowed me to reflect on important personal and academic questions such as the purpose and direction of my degree and a possible focus for my final years.

Traditional Bavarian Weißwurst breakfast with the internationals


When I first arrived in Munich I stayed for 10 days in a youth hostel in the city centre, allowing me to take in my surroundings, find my bearings and explore the city on my own.
At the start of April I then moved into my adorable little Bungalow townhouse in the famous Olympic Village!
This was one example of the student accommodation around Munich organised by the Studentenwerk, which UQ students may be offered before arrival.
Initially I had opted for a shared flat on the private market, but as anyone else will tell you, competition is fierce and prices astronomical (upwards of 600€ per month for a tiny room).
Luckily, the bungalow turned out a bargain at 335€ per month and put me at the heart of student life, with another 1000 bungalows and 800 apartments surrounding me.
For the first time in my life I was living independently – and in style!
Basically a bungalow is a small concrete block with 19m² spread over two floors, encompassing a private bathroom, kitchen, lounge room (downstairs), bedroom (upstairs) and balcony.
Living in the village was super practical as most of our needs were catered for by its central shops as well as a disco, bar and pub (great for cheap student food and drinks).
The Olympic Village is also only 15 minutes by underground or bike to the university; add five minutes and you’re in the city centre!
There was always some celebration taking place in the village and I often met up with fellow internationals for dinner or a chat.

There were many castles and palaces to be explored


Despite having a reputation as the most expensive city in German, let’s be honest, it’s still way cheaper than Brisbane.
Groceries are the main one, with my weekly shop normally costing between 20€ and 30€.
If you’re not keen on cooking then you can easily make lunch the biggest meal of the day (as many Germans do) with the student Mensas (think American-style cafeterias), restaurants and many food joints surrounding TUM catering for the student’s hunger at a very reasonable price (3€-6€).
For historical purposes let me also note that ice cream costs around 1.10€ per scoop.
What more could you want?
I made the decision to swap my Translink bus for my own bike (75€) and the fresh German air, riding to uni every day, during both the cold and warmer months.
I would highly recommend doing the same as you have the freedom to explore the entire city and take mini tours on the weekends.
I also bought myself the IsarCard Semester, a student ticket for 146€ that gets you 24 access to the entire public transport network – perfect for wet weather, going to parties and day trips.
The network is quite extensive and covers a large proportion of the sites and attractions surrounding Munich, so you rarely have to pay anything extra for outings.
As for hitting the town with all your new international friends, beer is plentiful and cheap and clubs normally have minimal or non-existent entry costs.
There are plenty of lively student bars in suburbs such as Münchener Freiheit to keep you entertained and there is nothing more German than inviting your mates out for a casual beer (just an expression, no drinking required!).
If you plan to travel to any of the surrounding countries on your adventures, there are cheap overnight buses that’ll get you anywhere for around 25€.

Day trips organised by TUM International were guaranteed fun!

Academic development and employability

TUM provided a fantastic opportunity to expand my horizons with two on-campus career fairs aimed at connecting students with local German engineering firms.
This meant one-on-one contact with HR teams of prospective employers for vacation work, asking questions regarding the focus of their unique companies and the application process.
For me, this has painted a flourishing picture of the current engineering industry in Germany and highlighted the real likelihood of finding a job if the Australian market proves too competitive.
From an academic perspective, my exchange forced me to adapt to a different system of teaching while testing my independence, self-motivation and time management skills.
It allowed me to re-evaluate my interest in electrical engineering and narrow down my field of interest.
Such adaptability will no doubt prove advantageous when entering the job market.

Reaching the 1800m summit on my Bavarian Alps hiking trip


My two day hiking trip in the Bavarian Alps no doubt takes the cake!
With a 20-strong team of fellow students and internationals it saw us coursing our own path up snow-capped mountains, battling the elements and our own obvious lack of fitness.
We covered around 3000m of elevation in total and witnessed some truly beautiful moments along the way.
We stayed overnight in a lodge below the summit and feasted on delicious Schnitzels and Kaiserschmarren while enjoying everyone’s company.

Top tips

-Try to plan for your exchange as early as possible and allow some credit flexibility in your study plan as it may not be possible to find exact matches for UQ courses that you can get approved.
The Electrical BE has a pretty simple structure at TUM: the first two years are only theoretical courses covering the majority of UQ courses like ENGG1300, ELEC2003/2004/3400/3300/3004 and mathematics, while their final year and masters consist of more practical, specialised courses, often more likely to be taught in English.

-For electrical students: although the exam period goes for 2.5 months, all our exams usually finish within the first three weeks!
Generally there is limited flexibility on exams for larger compulsory bachelor courses while smaller classes are more accommodating.

-You’ll learn a whole lot more if you challenge yourself by taking your courses in German or by doing a language course!
Avoid watching lots of English shows online; it’s a lot easier to fall out of practice with Facebook and YouTube constantly reminding you that you’re Australian.

-Be prepared to meet a lot of Erasmus students (exchange students from within Europe).
They like to party and there will never be a dull moment with them around.
Studying is important but don’t be afraid to let your hair down and enjoy the ride!

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