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Mark Butcher

Before I Began

One of the things that first attracted me to Warwick was the idea of going on a year abroad. I must admit it was one of the key things that led me to applying to the university in the first place, so I can’t offer much wisdom as to why I decided to do Erasmus – I’ve always wanted to move abroad as soon as I can and the chance to try this for a year beforehand was one that I was not going to turn down.

Having studied German since the age of 11, and taking the modules German 4 and German 5 from the Language Centre at Warwick, I was always going to go to Germany [never really fancied Austria, and the spoken language there is very different to what we learn]. I’d also visited Munich before, at the age of about 16, and really liked the city having spent a few days there, so I was keen to go back and experience it for a longer period of time. There were other reasons too – I was keen to be located in the heart of Europe to allow me to travel around and visit other countries, I wanted to be in a big city with a lot going on, and then of course there was the world famous Bavarian beer and the Oktoberfest! All this being said, I would recommend researching the universities on offer and if possible perhaps visiting some of the cities you like the look of – I definitely made the right choice of city for me, but I’m not convinced it was the best university for me, for reasons later on.

Accommodation

Once I had been nominated for the department’s position in Munich, I received an email asking if I would like to apply for uni-owned accommodation through the Studentenwerk. This isn’t actually part of LMU, but serves all of the providers of higher education in the city, so you’re mixed in with students from the Technische Universität, the Music Hochschule, and many others. There are a very limited number of places, so you’re not guaranteed it by any means, but they do try to provide for Erasmus students. There were a few issues with starting up, because their opening hours are fairly limited [and closed on weekends/holidays] so you may have to find a way of collecting your key some other way – they ended up giving mine to another student in my flat. Once arriving I had to pay a deposit of €350 [all of which I now have back] along with monthly rent of €275, which covered wired internet, power, heating, shared kitchen and bathrooms [flat of 7, 2 bathrooms], and other facilities like an outdoor seating area, sports pitch and use of the building’s bar. None of the Studentenwerk facilities are particularly close to the city centre [I was located 10 minutes walk from Haderner Stern, which is 15 minutes by U-Bahn from Marienplatz], but they are convenient, easy to live in and reasonably priced. There’s also a good mix of international and home students in each, and you are extremely likely to have both in your flat.

If you choose, or are forced, to search for alternative accommodation, it can be a very mixed bag. Rooms in houses of international students can be snapped up within minutes of being posted online, and you can end up paying much more than I did for less – some other Erasmus students were paying more than €450 a month. Others ended up in less than ideal places – a couple of friends rented rooms in a family homes so meeting at their place was never possible.

Arrival and before the semester

Flights to Munich are easily found from London, Manchester and Edinburgh direct to Munich Airport, located on the underground system. There is also another airport [Memmingen] not too far from the city and accessible by bus; I never travelled this way so cannot give any more information.

I signed up for the Orientation Course offered by the university [through IUCM], which provided some language lessons at a level appropriate for you, along with advice on settling into Munich and some optional trips. I would definitely recommend this course, most of all because of the people I met on it, rather than any substantial benefit from the course itself. It ran mostly in afternoon sessions, and we were a class of around 15 students from all around the world studying in Munich for one or two semesters. The course costs €110, with an extra €30 if you want to do the extracurricular stuff, which involved a guided coach tour around the city, a trip to the opera and a weekend day-trip to visit Schloss Neuschwanstein in the Alps. Overall the sessions were OK rather than excellent, the language classes a very helpful warm-up for a semester all in German, while the guidance for setting yourself up in the city [registration as a citizen, bank account, phone etc.] mostly came too late for it to be useful. Many of my best friends came from this course, however, and it gives you a small network of people you know going into all of the Erasmus events.

There is also an O-Phase for the mathematics department as in many other German universities, which I was invited to attend. However, it clashed with my other course almost completely, so I was unable to go – from the small part I saw in the English Garden, though, it looked like that might be fun too, and would help build connections with German students in the department, which was always a big struggle.

Be ready if coming to Germany for a lot of bureaucracy at the beginning. You will have to go and register as a citizen, an experience which can take many hours sat queuing. You will have to register at the university each semester, going first to matriculate and then another morning to pay the registration fee of €42. You will have to go to a bank to set up an account – I strongly recommend finding a branch local to where you live as all of the ones in the centre and near the university will be too full of students. You have to register for a student travel card, for the student cafeterias... fortunately fairly good information for all of this is provided by the university.

One of the best things about Erasmus at LMU is the Buddy system they have in place, where you are paired with a home student from your [or a similar] department. Some people didn’t get on with their buddies or lost contact at an early stage, but I was very lucky to have a really great person. Whether you keep in touch with them or not, they will be an invaluable help in the first month or so, familiarising you with the university and its facilities, helping you sign up for the library and for an IT login, and helping you to navigate the [awful] module selection system. Any problems you are having with uni, these people should be your first port of call as they know how everything works and can help you quickly and easily! [And never let them speak to you in English!]

Studying

As I just mentioned, the module selection system can be a bit of a nightmare. You literally see every module on offer at the university and have to work through many different sections to find courses at the right level for you. Help is available from your Buddy and from the department, but be warned that it will take you some time to pick the right courses for you. Most of the maths modules were 9 ECTS, and consisted of 2 x 2 hour lectures, 1 x 2 hour examples class and 1 x 2 hour tutorial.

In first semester, I took three courses: Algebra, Logic and Foundations of Business I, along with a German language course. The Algebra course [9 ECTS] began with the basics of groups but they move rather fast in Germany, and before long we were into Galois Theory. I’m now studying this at Warwick and it isn’t so bad, but out there I really struggled to understand what was going on; a combination of not understanding the lecturer [which remained difficult for the whole year], different notation and the fast pace. One problem with this course was the requirement to get a certain number of marks on assignments across the semester to be allowed to sit the final exam, so there was pressure every week which is alien to most Erasmus students. This was a really tough course for me, but I wouldn’t let that put you off giving it a go, although I would save such difficult courses until the second semester if I was to go again. The Logic course [9 ECTS], on the other hand, was to me fairly incomprehensible. The material related in no way to anything I’d studied in Logic I at Warwick, and in fact most of what was covered appears to be taught only in Germany – looking up pages for most mathematical concepts on German Wikipedia always provided you with the correct translation and a link to the page in English, but for these topics there was no English equivalent. The example sheets were non-compulsory and actually to be fair, were quite approachable, but I didn’t really understand what was happening from the very start and so while I was able to compute the exercises, I have no idea what I was actually doing. I would not recommend this course in future. Outside of Maths, I took the Business course [7.5 ECTS], which I really enjoyed. It was quite hard work because of the huge new vocabulary to cover, but we covered things in a broadly similar way to WBS, and I was able to arrange an oral exam at the end rather than sit the exam like the rest of the class. Finally, I took the German Language course [4 ECTS], which was 3 hours a week across 2 evenings. I had to pay around €140 to do this [to the same company as ran the Orientation Course] as the university does not offer courses in German as a Foreign Language. My class was level B2-C1, and we spent a fairly even amount of time working on each of grammar and reading comprehension/discussion. I must admit that I didn’t think that this was worth the money, as I didn’t really learn all that much, there was rarely any submitted work to get feedback on, and I could have spent the evenings interacting with German people in the city. However they are useful for getting to know other international students, just like the Orientation Course.

In second semester I took just one course from the maths department, which was Topology and Differential Equations of Higher Order. I then also took Foundations of Business II, History of the German Language, Introduction to International Relations and Chinese I, so I had a very varied semester! Firstly the maths course, which was 12 ECTS. This was a first year module and followed directly from their Analysis I, to which the lecturer often referred. Having really struggled with Metric Spaces at Warwick, I also found them tough here, but the course is fine if you work hard. [I also took Linear Algebra II for a short while, but this followed Linear Algebra I even more closely, often citing results and theorems from notes I didn’t have, so I stopped attending after being unable to understand where things were coming from.] The business course [7.5 ECTS] followed directly from first semester, mostly covering Finance, and was harder than first semester although still a good course. International Relations [8 ECTS] was the only course I took that was lectured in English, finally joining many of the other UK Erasmus students in an easier life – it was good fun and I’m interested in it, so would certainly recommend it. History of the German Language [3 ECTS] was taken as a personal interest, but was actually incredibly boring. Finally I wanted to restart study of Chinese [6 ECTS] and this course was a great introduction, while being pretty intense.

All in all, I found the mathematics in Munich to be very difficult. The pace was much faster, the two hour lectures are a bit of a struggle and they leave so many fundamental results and proofs for you as exercises that I often felt I had nothing to work with. There were very few examples given in lectures so the problem sheets almost always worked off completely unseen material, and a couple of the exams allowed you to take in a sheet of paper with notes, therefore never giving marks for stating definitions/theorems or working simple proofs. I would also have liked to study German a little more, and would have taken it in second semester certainly if I hadn’t had to pay.

Life in Munich

Despite the mostly tough hours spent in the university, life in Munich is absolutely fantastic. There is so much to do and see, and loads going on all the time to keep you occupied. Hours and days can be spent exploring the city on foot, particularly spending time in the huge and popular English Garden, part of which lies opposite the university main building. There are many museums and galleries to visit, far more than I ever got round to looking at! The Olympic Park is another great place to go, as well as the city’s main landmarks and tourist attractions.

Moving away from the tourist guidebooks, though, Munich truly is a wonderful city to live in. One of the huge advantages is the excellent transport system – I paid just over €40 a month for unlimited use of U-Bahn, S-Bahn, bus and tram across the city centre. Each form of transport is very regular and [as stereotypes will tell you] very reliable, and they run very late at night [when the U-Bahn stopped at around 1.30am, night buses would run every half hour from the centre right by our accommodation]. Nightlife is very good, not just with the other Erasmus students but also for groups of friends to go to bars or clubs in the centre. A particular highlight can be Kultfabrik, a club complex in the east of the city where you pay one entry fee to get into 30-40 small clubs.

I really loved the food and drink in the city. I became a patron of the various beer gardens, particularly when summer came and during the European football championships. The daily combination of meat and beer is something I truly miss. One recommended food outlet is the university Mensen, or student cafeterias. I didn’t actually get to eat in them all that often, due to mostly having lectures during their opening hours, but students can eat there for as little as €1.50 a meal. On the whole food and drink are pretty expensive compared to other places in Germany, but it is a big city and as soon as you get a bit out of the centre, you stop paying tourist prices and join the locals with more affordable offerings.

One thing I did hate was the very limited supermarkets. They were always closed by 8 every day, and completely shut on Sundays, so you had to be much more organised than we are here with our 24 hour stores!

Travel

One of my primary reasons for choosing Munich in the first place was its location right in the heart of Europe. Before I went out there, I had visions of weekend trips to Austria, Hungary, Italy, Croatia and more... I’m a huge lover of travel and I wanted to go out and see as much of Europe as I could. Sadly things didn’t work out quite as planned. While the location is indeed ideal, the cost of travel is prohibitive to doing too much of it. Apparently there are very cheap car hire options which I didn’t explore, and if you’re someone who loves hitch-hiking then you’ll do well, but trains on the Deutsche Bahn are expensive and you have to book well in advance to get any kind of deal. I travelled to both Berlin and Hungary using a car-sharing website called Mitfahrgelegenheit.de, on which people making journeys in and through Germany post their trip itineraries in the hope of getting people to pay for seats in their car on the way. I would recommend this means of travel but it can be a bit hit and miss as to whether you have a good chat with the driver or whether you end up with hours of silence. I also went to Poland for a week which was amazing, but the same price as flying from the UK. One thing that is very good about the German train system is the cheap group tickets on offer. You can travel around Bavaria for €30 for a group of 5 or less for an entire day, which also allows you to get to the Czech border and to Salzburg in Austria. But better, on weekends you can travel for the same amount of money on a Schönes Wochenende ticket across the entire country on regional trains – note that this takes many, many hours to travel significant distances, but does let you go to other major cities very cheaply if you have the time!

The Erasmus Experience

I would thoroughly recommend this programme to absolutely anyone. I find it incredible that we as a department send out so few students, and strongly feel that more people should get involved! It was a superb year despite some of the academic struggles, and my language skills improved hugely, which was one of the main objectives for going. I’ve made friends from more than 20 countries, so now if I want to visit Poland, Slovenia or Canada, I have somewhere to stay! It’s been nice to have a bit of a break from Warwick life, to go somewhere with more happening than in Leamington or Coventry, and to experience living abroad for the first time. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as you probably won’t get the chance to do something like this ever again, so do go and see what another country is like, from the perspective of a local student!