Things I’ve Learnt About Traveling Whilst Studying

These are some of the tips I have figured out along the way, either by myself or with help/advice from others. It may be daunting to embark on a worldwide travel, and simultaneously start on the academic journey of a master’s degree. Well, if this is intimidating you, keep in mind: you’re not the first person to accomplish this mission, there is always help and friendship along the way. If you’ve come across this blog, hopefully this post can provide some useful info about how to balance your travel and studying life.

1. Studying is your friend:
Academics is a really good way to see the world. Once you enter the network of international students, there are always more doorways opening for you. Each university has internship positions, more projects, and more research for you to join – assuming you apply yourself. With education, you get more opportunities for more education, more exploration, and – with that – more places to visit!

2. Forget Paper:
With all the moving around that we do during the Erasmus Mundus mobility programme, it can be tricky to figure out how to store all the papers! Find a way to store your notes/textbooks digitally, I use an iPad with an Apple Pencil (all purchased cheaper secondhand on Apple flipping websites), and the app OneNote allows you to load pdf documents and make notes on them. This way you can also keep record of all the notes you’ve made in the past.

3. If you need help, ask for it:
Whether this help is necessary for finding accommodation, finding a lecture hall, or just finding your calm after an exam period – there is always someone there for you. In an academic institution, this is because the university/school would like to support their students in any manner possible. And the best way for “them” (whoever they might be) to even know how they can help you, is if you communicate it. Don’t be shy to send that email to your coordinator and share your experience with them. There’s no such thing as a silly problem, and chances are, there are others who are having the same stress as you are.

4. I hope you like SIM cards:
Each country has their own laws and regulations regarding the purchase and use of SIM cards for cellular devices. You are going to want to be connected in whatever country you spend a bit of time in, and so that means being able to locate stores that sell these little cards that can keep you online. It’s always best to ask a local person which phone company they are using, and whether there are “pay-as-you-go” options, that means you don’t have to sign up for a long-term contract.

5. Remember your Roots
Once you are out of your comfort zone, in a world unfamiliar, you will come across many manners of being and differences in culture that are completely new to you. In some ways you will be forced to grow and expand your mindset about the world and all the different kinds of people in it. This is extremely fruitful for character development, and I believe traveling (and people seeing other walks of life) has potential to make the world a more tolerant, empathetic place. However, when you’re moving around a lot, you might sometimes feel a little overwhelmed and somewhat confused about where you fit into the bigger scheme of things. If everyone and everything around you is different, it’s easy to feel like a stranger. For this reason, I suggest putting in extra effort to connect with your roots, and appreciate them all the more. Whether that’s the music, the cuisine, the colours, the language, etc. – whatever it is that you really love about home, try to make time for it. In the long run, this will become a warm connection to home.
As they say:

“You don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’re coming from”
-Anon


What’s a Three-Week Learning Block?

What’s the Difference?

In South Africa the university semesters run in much the same manner as those in Finland, where you choose your set of semester modules; and complete them all simultaneously over the course of the semester period. At the University of Freiburg, this is not the case. Here we do modules that run for 3-weeks each, and during that time you do only that one module. This allows you to focus all your attention on only one topic at a time, as opposed to switching your attention between various topics throughout the day or week.

It’s New, but it Works

At first I was confused about this method of teaching, because I was not used to it, and in general I have only come across the “usual” method of teaching in my academic career. Once I got to Freiburg im Breisgau and started my studies, I realised very quickly that this way really works for me! Throughout my studies, I have found it somewhat challenging to flick between several modules, and would consequently have to make a break between doing the work of different modules in any given day, and I did not realise there is an alternative. Now, instead of having to flick my attention between subjects, and in that way lose time, I can focus on one particular subject and give it all my attention. This allows more in-depth attention into the subject, which can lead to more mindful learning and broader understanding. 

Microlearning

The concept of learning in shorter bursts over time is one that has come about in recent years especially. There seems to be a trend of people leaning towards learning that goes with having shorter attention spans, as opposed to the type of learning we did the past – which relied on periods of 40-60 minutes of focused concentration. Some say this is due to the exponential increase in technology over the last years, and along with it, increased usage of social media platforms. These platforms are thought to influence in us users a predisposed capacity for short bursts of attention, by providing constant and consistently short bursts of media to consume – with endless (and somewhat mindless) scrolling. Thus, the attention span of the newer generations are supposedly much shorter than that of, say, the “Baby Boomer” generation. Be this as it may, the structure of academic courses have not been drastically altered to cater for this subtle change in generational attentiveness. According to various resources, shorter spurts of learning are more efficient in the retention of new knowledge (https://blog.gutenberg-technology.com/en/microlearning-how-short-bursts-of-learning-enable-knowledge-retention) For this reason, the three-week learning blocks in the University of Freiburg make a lot of sense, and this method is arguably better catered to the evolution of attention spans over successive generations. 

Freiburg First Impressions: What a Great City

I’m from South Africa, and here I find myself studying in a beautiful, understated German city. Freiburg I’m Breisgau was actually not one of my first choices of universities at which to do my masters. When the time came to select which university we wanted to go to for our Master’s thesis, I was certain that I wanted to choose Spain. However, circumstances led to me eventually choosing the Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg instead, even though I had never set foot in the city of Freiburg im Breisgau. What I did not know then was just how amazing this little city is, and how lucky I am to have ended up here!

Historic and Beautiful
Historic and Beautiful

The city itself is defined in Germany as a ”mini-city”, meaning it’s population is just larger than a town, and yet smaller than a major city (e.g. Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg). Situated in Baden-Wurttemberg state, in southwestern Germany. It is picturesquely situated on the western slopes of the Black Forest, where the Dreisam River flows into the Rhine valley. Much like the rest of Germany, much of the infrastructure and historical buildings in the city were destroyed during destructive bombing campaigns of World War II, but the city retains many beautiful historic buildings – either restored or rebuilt in the old style that existed before.

Fairytale Christmas Lights
Fairytale Christmas Lights

For any person walking through the Alstadt (Old Town), this brings a sense of whimsical nostalgia for the past, as the smells of breweries and freshly baked Black Forest Cake mingle in the air, mixed with the sounds of the inner-city trams and live musicians busking in the streets. Freiburg im Breisgau is a place where the old meets the new, where age-old tradition meets new-age innovation. The city is known for its proximity to the Black Forest, which spans across an area of just over 6000 square kilometres. Known for its dense, evergreen forests and picturesque villages, it is often associated with the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. It’s renowned for its spas and the cuckoo clocks produced in the region since the 1700s. Bordering with the eastern region of France, and the northern region of Switzerland, there is, therefore, an abundance of delicious local foods available – cheese, chocolate, wine, beer, bratwurst, and freshly baked bread. On the other hand, Freiburg itself is simply over- flowing with culture and colour – both international and local. With restaurants and cute stores dotted all around the city, some options for international dining include Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Turkish, French, Thai, American, and Vietnamese restaurants (this is all polished up with plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options).

Clean and Quaint
Clean and Quaint Cobblestone Streets

 

Freiburg is known as one of the most environmentally conscious ”Green” cities in the world, having earned the title ”The Green City”. There are projects running on every urban sector – be it waste management, sustainable energy use in housing, green electricity, reaching Carbon neutrality goals, environmental education, etc. There are more bicycles in this city as there are people, less cars than any other German city, and of course the iconic tram lines that can take a person anywhere you need to go with almost zero Carbon emissions.

For nature lovers such as myself (and probably all students studying International Forestry) there are many places you can go and immerse yourself in dense green areas, with at least 20 different hiking trail options, mountain bike trails, and in the winter months, several skiing or snowboarding routes to choose from. The forest is extremely nearby and accessible to all, and in some forests there are areas for making fires and enjoying a nice barbecue with friends/family. On a cloudless day, it’s possible to take a short walk up the nearby hill (Schlossberg) and get a beautiful view of the city glowing orange under a setting sun, alternatively you can take a long walk along the footpath of the Dreisam, or ride your bicycle. Whatever your preference, there is something for you to enjoy!

As far as social life goes, Freiburg im Breisgau is a mixing pot international residence (students and professionals alike), such as myself and my fellow Erasmus Mundus colleagues who have just moved here. We have realised in our first few months here that there is no shortage of nationalities to come across at any given event, get-together or class; as I have easily befriended students from Japan, France, Mexico, Syria, Palestine, USA, Indonesia, Nigeria, and of course Germany too. Everyone seems to have an open mind, and ready to expand their social circles into broader global horizons. Therefore, this city feels constantly at the brink of international expansion, research and development in the climate sector, and student networking on a global scale.

The biggest problem with living in Freiburg, if I must mention one, is the very scarce accommodation. There seems to be much less housing available than there are students! Whether or not this is actually the case, I am not sure, but it is what I have heard much about in my time here, and experienced first hand. The general cost of a room in a shared apartment (what the German-speaking people refer to as ”WG-haus”) is anywhere from €350 – €1000 / month, depending on size and location. This seems to be the price paid for the popularity of a small old city with a top University. This aspect is dealt with very easily, however, especially if you are an Erasmus international student – for which there are specific housing options organised by the University’s International Office. In my case, I decided to try find my own private accommodation, by downloading a very useful app: WG-Gesucht, which basically performs the same function as Airbnb, except for renting rooms on a more permanent basis. The app connects flat-sharers with flat-seekers in various German cities, and allows you to see pictures, prices, and specifications of available rooms/apartments, as well as contact the potential future-roommates to arrange a meeting (either in-person or online). I managed to find a wonderful, spacious and affordable room in Freiburg, right in the city centre. So really there is nothing to fear when it comes to housing scarcity, as there is always something for those who are willing to make the effort to search!

I can highly recommend choosing Freiburg im Breisgau as your next university, and apparently I am not the only one, as the Lonely Planet has just recently nominated this city as one of the top three must-visit cities in the world! See here: ”Lonely Planet names Freiburg top travel destination for 2022”, Freiburg is recommended just after Auckland (NZ) and Taipei (Taiwan). I look forward to exploring more of this city, and sharing this experience with my fellow students.