Year Abroad, Part Four: Welcome Week

I’ve been in Germany for about a month now and classes still haven’t started. Yes, Tübingen University starts late, and I arrived earlier than I probably needed to. But I’ve not had nothing to do. I have a book to write (still not finished, but this draft is getting there!), and of course there’s cooking, cleaning, sorting out the last bits of paperwork (which seem to take the longest… Never mind this “your year abroad is the best year of your life!” stuff; I swear all I’ve done on mine so far is get stressed over admin). And last week (12th – 15th October) there was also welcome week!
(If you haven’t read my previous Year Abroad posts, you can find them through the following links: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.)

Welcome week at Tübingen is not like Fresher’s Week back home. There were a few events and a few introductory lectures for students beginning their first semester, but as far as I could tell, unless you’re an international student, that was it.
Luckily for me (and the length and interestingness of this blog post), I am an international student, so I have a little more to talk about. The university offers an orientation course called “How to Study at a German University”, which sounded pretty useful, so I signed up.
I think the best thing about this course was getting to meet people. The three weeks I’d spent in Germany prior to that, I had mostly spent alone, so it was nice to be able to socialise again. I found some more English people and made a few friends.
The postgrad students who ran the course talked us through some of the basics of living and studying in Germany, organised social events, helped us get to grips with how the Mensa (cafeteria) works, and showed us around our relevant uni buildings and around the town. And for those of us who needed it, they helped us with matriculation, registering at the residents’ office, and opening a German bank account. Since I’d already done all that, I got to have a lie in that morning.
The other most helpful thing the course did, in my opinion, was show us how to use the uni’s online systems. Yes, plural. There’s the CAMPUS-Portal for getting registered on your modules, ILIAS for any information you need during the modules like handouts etc, and the uni email account. It’s pretty important stuff, and without having a lecture on it all, I wouldn’t have had a clue how to work CAMPUS (it’s not exactly easy, especially when you’re not as confident with the language as you should be!), and I wouldn’t have even known that ILIAS existed.
I do wish, however, that this orientation course had been earlier. Given that the CAMPUS/ILIAS lecture was on Friday, the day before the end of the course, and many classes started on the following Monday. And since the system is designed for students to sign up to their modules well in advance, it has closed by the time international students get here. No problem, we’re told: the uni staff know about this, and save extra places for international students. You just have to email them and ask for a place.
Which sounds all well and good, I suppose. It can’t be a bad thing for an international student to get in touch with their lecturer before classes begin. But it does mean that the students whose classes started last Monday had only the weekend to work out their courses and email all the professors and seminar leaders, which I feel is a little unfair. It can also lead to confusion: most of my classes start this Monday, but one of them started last Monday, which I didn’t realise until I’d missed it, as I thought I had all of last week to write and send all my emails.
And I’m sure I’m not the only student who gets themselves worked up about emails, and will take days putting them off and writing them and worrying over them and dreading checking the inbox. It is neither simple nor convenient (wait, which lecturers have I and have I not emailed? Am I even doing this right??). It has not made me feel welcome as a foreigner trying to live and study here; it’s just made me even more confused than I already was. It feels like I’m in some sort of limbo where the floor beneath my feet is made of a few mere emails rather than the concrete official registrations that it should be made of. Not exactly what I want when ERASMUS and my home university have requirements that I need to fulfil during my year abroad for it to count for something.
But, overall, the orientation course has been incredibly helpful and I’m so glad I signed up to it! I feel it’s a shame that there were limited spaces and not all new international students were able to join it, because for me it was essential for helping me get settled. Even now, I still don’t feel like I’m quite settled, but I’m getting there.
After the tour of Tübingen, me and Alex went up the tower of the Stiftskirche 🙂
 You can read Part Five here.
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