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Notes & Travel

The period between October 2011 and August 2012 I spent living and studying in Freiburg, Germany. Upon my return to Montreal, my home as well as my hosting university, asked that I submit an exchange report. Below, I tried to outline some basic information that I thought could be of use to others thinking of doing an exchange in Freiburg or elsewhere.

Freiburg im Breisgau is located in Baden-Wurttemberg in the extreme south-west of Germany, 20km from the French border and a little over 50km from the Swiss. The town of 230 000 people, of which 30 000 are students, lies in the heart of the Black Forest and combined with its strategic geographic location enjoys a somewhat elite status among other German cities.

The time I spent in Freiburg is amongst the greatest experiences in my life. For the past ten months I was able to meet many new people, visit new places and experience firsthand a different way of life. Among those personal impressions and observations, below I tried listing some that might be of a more universal character and useful to a broader audience.

Housing

I arrived in Freiburg on the 27th of September. Since my room at the student residence was reserved only from the 1st of October I had to find my own accommodation for the first three nights. I found a conveniently located apartment on wimdu.com. For an even cheaper alternative there is the “Black Forest Hostel”.

I lived in the largest students’ residence in Freiburg – Studenten-Siedlung or “Stusie” with over 1600 students. It is located right next to “Seepark” – a large park with a lake and some sports facilities and 7 minutes away with the tram from the city center.

My flat was set up in a way in which I shared 2 bathrooms, 2 toilets and a kitchen with 7 other people. With the exception of one, all of my roommates were German and all very nice.

My room was reserved well in advance by the international office. There is a great shortage of residence options for students in Freiburg and although they are in the process of building several new buildings, I would strongly recommend that you go with the residence offered by the international office. At the time of signing the contract you are required to pay a security deposit of 400 Euros which is to be returned at the end of your contract. One thing you should be aware of is that their contracts always run for either 6 or 12 month period. If you decide to leave early, you are responsible for subletting your room; otherwise the rent will be paid from your deposit.

Registration & Courses

First thing I did when I got to Freiburg was to register with the local authorities and get a residence permit from the “Bürgeramt” located on Basler Str. 2. Once I had my residence permit I was able to register at the university. At the time of registration you are not required to know the classes you want to take. After registering and paying the necessary fees of 65 Euros per semester, I received my green “Student booklet” and later by post my student ID card. Once I had been registered at the university and had some sort of proof (i.e. the student booklet) I was able to purchase my semester ticket for the public transport.

Registration for classes at the University of Freiburg is a little different than the one we have in Canada. For example, most of the courses, with the exception of intro and core courses, are only taught once instead of every semester. Hence at the time of my preliminary selection I was looking at courses most of which were not offered by the time I got to Freiburg. Since there were only a few English courses in my field taught at the university, it was crucial for me to make sure that I get registered on time. Therefore as soon as the new course catalogue was out I got in touch with the professors whose classes I wanted to take. Most professors tend to register their students the first day of classes, yet for some classes you are required to register online.

Some faculties at the University of Freiburg use the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). In Germany, the number of ECTS points that an exchange student acquires is determined by the amount of work he or she does throughout the semester as well as by the level of the course. This is particularly useful for international students as you can request to do extra work in order to get extra credits. Most seminars require mandatory attendance (you cannot miss more than 2 seminars per semester) and regular participation, an oral presentation of about 15-20min, and a final exam and/or a research paper depending on the amount of credits you need. Keep in mind that increasing the number of credits the workload gets challenging, and in my case for example, in addition to the basic requirements I had to write a 10 000 word final paper.

There are two semesters in Germany: winter semester (end of October – end of March) and summer semester (end of April – end of July), the months of March, September and October are usually used for writing term papers and final exams. There is usually a two-week break around Christmas and New Year.

I would highly recommend that you arrive a little earlier in Freiburg so you can attend an intensive German language course offered in August and September, one thing I definitely regret not knowing about. Some of the international students I met, and all CYF (Canadian Year in Freiburg) and AYF (American Year in Freiburg) students had attended that class and were later able to enroll in lectures taught entirely in German and have a much larger variety of courses they could take. Otherwise you will have to be struggling and compromising in order to find classes that you can take in English. In case you decide to take the intensive German course it costs 600 Euros unless you are part of the CYF or AYF programs.

Miscellaneous

Although Freiburg is a city of fairly high standard, the cost of living is very reasonable. Germany is known for its high quality education, and as of January 2012 the federal state of Baden-Wurttemberg has almost entirely waved university tuition. Below I am listing some of my expenses while living in Freiburg.

– Rent for a room at a student dormitory: 256 Euros (includes a furnished room, hot water, electricity, basic cable if you find yourself a TV, stationary telephone that can receive incoming calls);

– Internet: 26 Euros/month (the quality is mediocre at best);

– Cell phone: you can get a prepaid SIM card from blau.de and talk for 9 cents/minute; for the full 10 months I spent not more than 60 Euros on my cell phone.

– Groceries in Germany are very cheap. I managed to eat well for under 100 Euros a month. In addition as a student I had access to the university cafeteria where I could get a full-course meal for 2 Euros.

– My semester ticket (good for 6 months) costs 70 Euros and is good not only in the city of Freiburg but in the whole RVF network (includes a variety of regional trains that you can ride to get to different places in the Black Forest).

– Most of my classes did not require me purchasing any books. Almost all of the material was available for download online.

– Tuition fees were 65 Euros per semester.

– I joined a gym not far from where I lived for 23 Euros/month. Another alternative is the university gym which costs about 50 Euros for the entire semester. It is however quite far from the city center and its opening hours are rather limiting.

One of the main advantages of Freiburg is its location. I could see France out of my window and Switzerland was only a little over 50km away. There are many ways to travel in Germany. You can use mitfahrgelegenheit.de which is something like carpooling and it is quite popular amongst students. There are various promotions and tickets with the Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) such as for example the “Baden-Wurttemberg Ticket” – a 29 Euro ticket good for the entire “Regio” network in the federal province of B.W. for a period of 24 hours for a maximum of 5 people.

A great experience is driving in Germany. The famous autobahn is free (unlike France, Italy or Switzerland, where road tolls are a significant expense) overall well maintained and of course without any speed limits. I was a regular customer of Europcar, where you can get some great cars at a very good price if you book early.

Other tips

– Getting to Freiburg in the beginning of August or September is a good idea: you’ll have time to do an intensive German language course and travel.

– Buy travel checks and deposit them once you open your account. This will be cheaper than an international wire transfer.

– Check your insurance policy before you leave. As long as you are a full time Concordia student and a CSU member you get insured (unless you opt-out) for a little over 200 dollars a year. This is much cheaper than purchasing the mandatory insurance in Germany with the AOK which costs over 70 Euros a month. Make sure to get a document from your insurer so you can prove the AOK that you have your own policy.

– If you have a lot of luggage, fly with Iceland Air. Their luggage allowance is 2 bags of 50lbs each + 2 pieces of carry on and their fares are usually cheap.

– Make sure to check for available scholarships and grants on the DAAD website. I was very fortunate to be granted the Baden-Wurttemberg Stipendium, which in my case amounted to 500 Euros. It covered some of my basic and most important expenses. Moreover, the Baden-Wurttemberg Stiftung organized a few events throughout the year for the scholarship holders. Many of them were very informing, entertaining and let you meet other scholarship holders. Not to mention that they tend to cover most of the expenses, such as food and transportation.

– If you want to drive in Germany, you can do so with your Canadian license. You do not need an “international driver’s license” – it is not required, that is simply a product available for purchase.

– If you have a chance, rent a car and drive to Italy, crossing the Swiss Alps via the historical St. Gotthard Pass.

– Play roulette at the world famous Baden-Baden Casino.

– Don’t spend too much time in Freiburg – travel! If you’re there for a year, you’ll have a lot of time to travel!

In conclusion, I would encourage anyone to take advantage of the opportunity to live and study in Germany. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me, I would be happy to help!

Useful links:

Studentenwerk Freiburg
(Student portal for students living and studying in Freiburg)
http://www.studentenwerk.uni-freiburg.de/index.php?id=104

German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)
http://www.daad.de/en/index.html

Deutsche Bahn Website
http://www.bahn.de/i/view/USA/en/index.shtml

“Stusie“ Website
(Information on moving in and out, internet, services etc.)
http://www.studentensiedlung.de/

Baden-Wurttemberg Stiftung (BW Foundation)
(Check for available scholarships)
http://www.bwstiftung.de/en

Ryanair
(For cheap airline tickets within Europe)
http://www.ryanair.com/en