M.Sc. Information Systems
My time in Germany is much more dedicated to studying than one might think from all my partying and travelling stories. It’s only a little bit easier than having a full-time job; the only difference is that more important deadlines pile up on you at the end of each semester.
Every Monday I get up at 9 am for my lectures. Officially, my schedule looks like this:
10:00 — 12:00 Enterprise Architecture Management
14:00 — 16:00 Information Management Theories
16:00 — 18:00 Workflow Management
However, no lectures are intended to last more than exactly one and a half an hour. The first lecture always starts at 10:15 and ends at 11:45, the second one starts at 14:15 and ends at 15:45. This quarter of an hour at the beginning is called academic quarter and is commonly spread in European universities. If for some reason the lecture should start at exact time, «s.t.» (sine tempore, «without time» in Latin, according to wikipedia) is added.
It becomes very inconvenient sometimes, to be honest, because you get used to an extra quarter of an hour for each of your appointments, even though the only time it works is with the lectures.
In Russia, in most studying facilities there are bells that ring at the beginning and at the end of each lecture. Here, everything is just on time (usually). Also, in Russia we just pack our stuff and leave as soon as the bell rings. If the lecture was really good, we can applaud, but that is rare during ordinary lectures — it’s a sign of respect and admiration. In Germany, every lecture ends with all the students knocking on desks with knuckles. Apparently the audience also does that if a lecturer goes on for too long, telling him to wrap it up quickly, but that I never witnessed myself.
Other days of the week are not so busy with lectures for me, only one or two each day, but there is plenty of team work in each course.
Two of my lectures are organized as a continuous project, broken up to phases. In «Enterprise Architecture Management», for example, we are divided into groups of seven or so people, each group making up a consulting agency (we also had to come up with a name and a logo for the agency). These agencies supposedly participate in a tender contest hosted by a potential client company. The client company faces some big structural changes, and also takes on a task of implementing a new high-tech technology at the same time. Its top-management wants to pick the best consultants for making these changes happen. We receive emails from our ‘director’, with insights on current company’s situation, questions from the ‘client’, and suggestions on what should be done next, and meet with our group to work out a solution.
In «Workflow Management» we are working in groups of about six or seven people. Here, the groups also interact with each other. Every group represents either a client company with some function it wants outsourced, or an outsourcing company. We work together modeling the business process from both sides, first on paper, later using a specific workflow management tool.
The necessity to implement the whole process up and running in a real system (some existing companies use it for their processes) also accounts for many hours of configuring a program none of us have ever used before. We had a workshop on how this tool looks like, but the details we have to figure out by ourselves. Sometimes it’s exciting, but there is a lot of frustration also.
Still, we are really grateful to use the software that is a real commercial product, with official user guides and forums for help. In some other exercises we are required to use some barely functioning programs, products of project groups in the university. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the skills of these students for creating a working program as a part of their assignment. But after the project is done and the task is graded, the work on it is practically ceased. At the same time it is still unfinished, difficult to use, with a lot of kinks and bugs left for us to find.
Places for studying
For me, doing any assignments at home is really difficult. I always end up doing something else, like cooking or cleaning or just screening random websites. Fortunately, there are libraries in the university and group study rooms. There is also a couple of city libraries which are open even on weekends. You can go to any city library and study there, free of charge. However, you are required to leave all your clothes and bags in a locker — there are usually some supermarket-like baskets for your laptop, paper and writing materials.
A month and a half prior to the exam time my routine changes. I still attend the lectures and the group meetings for the assignments. Apart from that, I begin spending most of my free time in the library or a study room. Thankfully, some time before the start of the examination period in Muenster universities, working hours of the city libraries are prolonged till late at night.
I go through all the lectures, study all the material, try to understand all of it and memorize as much as possible. The lecture slides contain everything you need to pass the exam; also everything from the slides can appear in an exam question. Try to remember the times back in Russia when you said ‘the exam is too hard’ and ‘there is too much material to study for one exam’ (all colorful expressions you used omitted), multiply it by 3 or 4 and you have a typical german exam.
Studying in Germany is for the majority of people I know much harder than studying in Russia. However, all your group mates are engaged in the task and determined to succeed. They don’t think that their part-time job is more important than a study project, they have time and patience to do a time-consuming task and be thorough while doing it — and that gives you additional energy and motivation to work as hard as they do.