Dispatches from LMU reporters

25 Nov 2019

LMU students who spend time abroad act as foreign correspondents for those at home. On International Day, our LMU reporters have tips – and stories from “the great wide open”.

Exploring strange lands, learning about and adapting to other cultures – and all the while, accumulating ECTS credits at an unfamiliar university. Those are undoubtedly the principal arguments for spending a semester abroad. Take the example of Jana, who is in Helsinki at the moment. “Although I‘m often puzzled still by some aspects of Finnish culture, I have become accustomed to the Finns themselves,” she says. “They are at once reserved and open-hearted. In public they are generally non-committal and undemonstrative, but in the sauna one soon finds oneself engaged in serious conversations. Fun fact: Finland‘s Parliament is equipped with its very own sauna. – And one of that institution’s Presidents is reputed to have held important negotiations exclusively in the sauna.”

According to Jana, it’s fair to say that Finns prefer to avoid crowded places and place a high value on their own individual spaces. And there appears to be no shortage of such spaces in the country, as Jana discovered on her excursions.

As it happens, the three most popular destinations for LMU students embarking on an Erasmus semester are located in Scandinavia. Veronika, who is currently studying at the University of Bergen, confirms the tenor of Jana’s perception of Scandinavia and its people. “Bergen is very different from what I’m used to at home. For one thing, it’s far quieter! One is much closer to the natural world, even in the center of town. I love hiking, and that’s something I can really indulge in here.”

In German grammar there are four cases. Finnish has no less than 15. Happily, most Finns speak English as well. This brings us to an issue faced by many students who go abroad for a time – understanding the locals and being understood by them. Lydia, who is studying in Moscow, is well acquainted with this problem. “None of the babushkas who are the caretakers of our dormitory can speak English. Undaunted, they doggedly explain everything in Russian, and we students reply with equal stoicism in English. This is how everything works, from the peremptory ‘clean up the kitchen!’ to the complexities of visa applications. By the way, although some students scoff about the LMU Navigator, something similar for Moscow University would be worth its weight in gold!”

Where mutual comprehension is so difficult, how can one really make contact with local students? “It somehow transpired that I became a member of the University of Moscow’s Ultimate Frisbee Team,” Lydia explains. “I don’t speak Russian very well and many of my teammates have very little English. Nevertheless, they have no problem putting international students in play. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a training session or just messing about. And players with only three weeks experience are mobilized for tournament matches. We’re just picked up and whisked off to another city, which is a very unusual way to tour the country.”

Another LMU student called Jana is also “on assignment” in Moscow. “I get caught up in new situations every day. Some are quite amusing, others are frustrating or simply typical instances of culture shock.” She is still in search of one of the coveted student tickets for the Bolshoi Theater. Her first attempt involved joining the queue with some friends at 3 AM. “The whole thing was a complete disaster. Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong.” By the late afternoon, things were looking up. “But my friends and I just missed the cut” – at 4.15 PM. “Then we decided to go for a coffee and then watch the ballet live on the Internet. Most of the best things here happen spontaneously, plans never seem to work out. And I spend most of my time at the university anyway.”

The choice of the partner university often depends on the combination of subjects, because this determines how many ECTS credits can be picked up. Stefan reports from Milan how he selected his host institution. “I am very often asked whether it makes any sense for a student of the history of Bavaria to choose to study for a time at a foreign university. But the question itself overlooks the fact that comparisons between different regions are the methodological basis of all regional history. And studying abroad always implies a willingness to look beyond the end of one’s nose – and wishes to understand how study, academic research and everyday life ‘work’ in another country. At all events, Milan is a very good choice for an Erasmus semester. The university buildings have a certain ‘Hogwarts’ air, the archives are well stocked, and on weekends there’s time to enjoy la dolce vita on the shores of the Lago di Como or Lago Maggiore.” Hogwarts feeling? – How many Hogwarts are there?

Country, culture, language, university and? – new friends! Jonas is studying in Orenburg and he has something to say on the subject of friends. “During a Summer School at my partner university, I made lots of new friends from Japan and Uzbekistan. So during the winter vacation, I will make use of the direct connection between Orenburg and Tashkent (the train journey across Kazakhstan takes only 42 hours) and pay them a visit.”

No doubt most of the 1000 LMU students who attend a foreign university each year have little problem finding friends – and many of them discover very special places. “During my stay in Greece, I have found one special location that I would like to share with my fellow students at LMU,” says Rebekka. “I am visiting the monasteries of Meteora. The Greek word Μετέωρα means ‘floating in the sky’. I was immediately captivated by its location. The breathtaking rock formations can be seen from miles away, and when the air is hazy it really looks as if the buildings were floating. Fortunately, the buses go to the top these days. One no longer needs to make use of the rickety wooden ladders or the balloon baskets in which monks were winched to the top not so long ago. Best wishes to all at home from sunny Greece!”

And many thanks to all of our LMU reporters! Time spent at one LMU‘s partner universities can be exciting, stimulating, challenging – or it can feel like floating in the sky. If you are interested in such an experience and would like to know more about how to go about arranging for a semester abroad, LMU’s International Day is a good time to begin.

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