Elizabeth exploring with other international students

Elizabeth at the Technical University of Munich, Germany


Let me say one thing, going on exchange will make you a professional admin-doer. There is the admin for your application process, admin once you get there, and believe it or not, there’s admin when you get back. By now, I can fill in practically any form with my eyes closed.

The pre-departure process can be incredibly tedious and time consuming, and if you’re unlucky (like I was) it can be quite stressful. In theory, the process is quite simple. You need to prepare the various documents that TUM requires for your application, and once you have submitted these documents, you simply have to wait. The waiting process was the most frustrating, as it affected my visa application. Typically, a long-stay visa (which is required for your semester abroad – if you do not have an EU passport) takes between 1 to 3 months to process at the German Consulate. This was problematic for me, as some of the documents that are required for my visa application I only received from TUM about 6 weeks before I was set to depart. This made my visa process quite stressful, but I was lucky to have a friendly person helping me at the consulate, who made sure that I received my visa in time. The German consulate suggests that you do not book any flights before your visa is confirmed, which means I also had to wait a long time to do this, which made the tickets a bit more expensive. One thing that made the pre-departure process the most difficult part of my exchange was the fact the TUM started so much later than all the other European universities. Whilst all the other international business students were starting on their exciting journeys, I was still waiting for proof of registration at TUM. Waiting until late October to start exchange can become pretty frustrating, so I would suggest to anyone that is considering TUM as an option that they should find an internship or a job in South Africa or Europe to keep busy in the 4 months they have off after the June exams.

My Time Abroad:

Elizabeth(second from left) with other international students
Elizabeth (second from left) with other international students

Living in Munich for 5 months was the most amazing experience of my life. I was lucky enough to get student housing, and lived at the old Olympic Village known as ‘Olydorf’. After hosting the Olympics in 1972, the Olympic Village was converted into student housing, and it now serves as one of the epicentres of student life in Munich. Similarly to Stellenbosch University’s residence culture, Olydorf is filled with thousands of students, and there is a leadership body that organises all kinds of social events for all of the residents. Olydorf also has its own library study hall, grocery store, sports bar, hairdressers, a bakery, and a club. I really enjoyed my accommodation as it was incredibly close to the city centre, it was always busy with student activity, and the rent was about a third of standard rent in Munich. I would recommend that anyone applying to TUM take the student residence option that the TUM international department provides. Housing in Munich is very competitive, and very expensive, so this will save you time, money and effort.

TUM is an incredible university. It was recently voted the second best university in Europe according to the 2019 World Ranking for Entrepreneurship Research Productivity. I took 6 courses while I was there, including German, Strategies in Multinational Corporations, Entrepreneurship, Introduction to Leadership, Investment and Financial Management and Services Marketing. While some of my courses such as German and Services Marketing were very interesting, I found some of my courses a bit boring, and quite similar to courses that I can do at Stellenbosch. While I do believe that TUM offers a lot of interesting courses, the courses offered in English were limited. TUM also focuses intensively on the theoretical elements of a course, and really emphasise knowing the theory word for word, and some courses did not really focus on the application of the theory. TUM also does not have any assessments such as tests or assignments throughout the semester, as least for the courses that I took; which means that 100% of the grade is made up of the 1-hour multiple-choice exam at the end of the term. This was quite stressful for me as it made it much easier to be lazier during the term because there were no due dates to force me to stay up to date with my work; it also meant that the final exam would be a make or break. While multiple-choice usually sounds easy, the exams were quite challenging, as the questions were incredibly detailed and the amount of time to answer was very short. This meant that you had to know your theory incredibly well.

Freezing but enjoying the snow with friends
Freezing but enjoying the snow with friends

During my time at TUM, there were about 1000 other exchange students, which was incredibly exciting. TUM has an incredible International department, who in association with the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) organised many events throughout the semester. We had two weeks of orientation before the semester started that was filled with various parties, tourist day trips and events in order to meet other exchange students. It was during this time that I made most of the friends that I spent my exchange semester with. If you are considering TUM as an exchange option, I would definitely recommend that you join in on the various ESN events. It is an amazing opportunity to meet and spend time with all the other exchange students, and it also allows you to get to know Munich a little bit better.

The public transport system in Munich was probably one of my favourite aspects of the city. The subway, train, bus and tram network is incredibly expansive and typically very reliable. At the start of the semester, I bought a semester ticket for all public transport in Munich that cost 195 Euro for 6 months. This was probably the best purchase I made, and would definitely recommend it to anyone considering TUM.

Elizabeth and friends standing behind street art in Berlin
Elizabeth and friends standing in front of street art in Berlin

Another great thing about Munich is that it is pretty central, which makes travelling quite easy. I did a fair amount of travelling while I was in Munich, and I mainly used Flixbus, which I found to be the most affordable way to travel. Within a couple of hours, you can be in Austria, Switzerland, Italy or Czech Republic. Another affordable way to travel around Germany would be through a Bayern Ticket. These tickets can be bought for a group of 5 people, and would allow you to use any public transport (regional train, subway, bus and tram) in the state of Bayern for 24hours for as little as 10 Euro. I used this ticket option many times to travel to the small towns near Munich, as well as to the German Alps. While I do think going on exchange is an amazing opportunity to travel, it is also an amazing opportunity to get to know your new ‘home’ city. A lot of exchange students can feel pressure to travel every single weekend while they are abroad, which works for some people, but I found that it can sometimes get pretty exhausting, and expensive. I do feel that I got to see some amazing countries, but I also spent many of my weekends in Munich, attempting to feel like a local, which was my favourite part.

Return to Stellenbosch:

My semester at TUM was from October ‘18 until the end of February ’19. This meant that I missed a month of class in Stellenbosch in order to finish my exams in Germany. While I was aware of this from the start of my exchange, it was still challenging once the time came. I arrived back in South Africa after 3 weeks of exams in Munich, and I had to go straight back to class, catch up a month of work, as well as prepared for some of the A1 assessments. This was quite overwhelming, and it meant that I did not have any time to readjust and reacclimatise. It also meant that I had very little time to catch up on any lost sleep, so the last 3 weeks of the first term in Stellenbosch were pretty exhausting. Other than being overwhelmed by fourth year, coming home was incredibly bittersweet. I was very excited to see all my friends and family, and to be back in the summer weather, but it was difficult saying goodbye to Munich and all the wonderful people I met there.

Going on exchange was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I learned so much about myself and about the things I value. I gained a better understanding of which subjects I am passionate about, and which subjects I truly do not enjoy, which provided a lot of clarity about the career choices I want to make in the future. Not only did I learn valuable lessons in the lecture halls, but I also learned so much from the people that I met and interacted with. Exchange allowed me to meet people from all around the world, with vastly different experiences and cultures from my own, which was incredibly interesting to learn about. I am so grateful for the opportunity to go on exchange, and I am so blessed to have had an incredibly positive experience.