We’ve officially wrapped up the winter semester 2016/17 and for some of us here at TBA, it was the first semester at Uni Hamburg. Here are our experiences, stories, expectations and tips that we’ve collected over the past three months.
1. Josie, 20; Major: British and American Studies; Minor: Politics
My first semester: A roller coaster ride
So, this semester has come to an end. The day before I started this piece, I handed in my last exam at 2PM, but instead of heading home right away, I kept looking for reasons to stay in our beloved “Anglarium“ in the PhilTurm (main campus, room 171), talked to people I usually barely exchange words with, got food at the cafeteria although I wasn’t hungry, acted like I still had stuff to do. It was kind of ridiculous.
It just felt weird, knowing that two months of doing absolutely nothing were lying ahead of me. It’s not like I don’t have any friends or any plans for the holidays, but I just felt like all of a sudden my life didn’t make sense anymore. No classes? No lectures? NO STRESS?
I know this sounds a tiny bit overdramatic. You see, I’m one of these people that always complain about being stressed out and having SO much to do, but then get bored the second there’s nothing coming up. I guess, this last semester was the perfect mix of always having something to do, but not being overloaded with work. In fact, I barely had any classes. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure, whether I was actually studying or just living off of government money doing absolutely nothing. But the few classes I had, I actually did enjoy lots (most of them, anyways). But it hasn’t always been like this.
I remember, when the semester started and I was all motivated and enthusiastic about starting this great new chapter in my life, this epic chance of finally living the “American Pie“ dream. I didn’t even know what my field of studies were about.
A couple of months earlier, when I was still living in the United States and didn’t plan on studying anytime soon, I had to apply at a university for legal reasons, without the intention of actually going. I’m not getting into this, so long story short, I just picked the next thing that seemed appealing to me. English? Sounds great.
I ended up studying anyways and when I attended the Orientation Week, I heard for the very first time what studying English is actually about. And I’ll be honest here, all this talking about Literature and Linguistics didn’t really sound all too exciting to me. But I did like my fellow students, I liked all the social aspects of studying in Hamburg and I loved the Anglarium, the faculty’s open room, where a lot of us just hang out in between classes or just in general, like literally all the time. And, I mean, there’s a bar. No further explanation needed.
So, I was kinda thrilled to start this semester and was confident that I would find the topics appealing after all, but within a couple of days everything changed.
I hated my professors. I hated the classes. I hated having to do homework and the obligation to attend every class every week. When I walked out of school one and a half years ago, I swore to myself that I would never, ever, ever set foot in a school again. Like, ever (Taylor Swift reference intended). And there I was, at University, which seemed exactly like school to me. I was pissed. This was not what I had signed up for. This was not what I had planned (Ed.N.: Sharpay Evans reference here? ;)).
For the first half of this semester, I slacked off a lot. I was thinking about quitting everything right there and then. I didn’t show up at the Anglarium, I only spent the minimum amount of time necessary at Uni. All the plans I’d made at the beginning of the semester, like taking part in several student’s organizations, they all vanished. I planned on just finishing the semester so my parents wouldn’t be all too disappointed and then just go somewhere else, do something else, anything but studying. After all, I was right about not wanting to go to University. It sucked.
I can’t tell you when and where and why exactly things turned around, but they did. I guess at some point I just decided that it wasn’t worth throwing everything away. And the second I truly gave it all a chance, I started enjoying it. All of a sudden I loved the literature we were talking about, all of a sudden I didn’t mind that classes were obligatory, I didn’t even mind the homework but started enjoying it, trying to gain from it. I started going to the Anglarium more often, finally engaged in TBA (here I am, guys) and made new friends. I actually began to spend more time at Uni than necessary and I found myself truly loving being a student.
And all of a sudden, this semester ended so fast, leaving me sitting in front of my laptop, reminiscing, all emotional, and actually writing this article about my experiences. I’m glad I’m ending this semester on a positive note. I’m a little bummed that I have two months to bridge, but I also have tons of plans, so really, it’s okay. Actually, it’s pretty cool. I mean, studying is all great, but still, I mean, who doesn’t love having some time off?
But I am looking forward to the beginning of the next semester, to the next couple of years I’ll be studying here. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together and I’m sure it will. I’m not going to quit anything anytime soon.
Unless my musical career hits off. Then I’m out of here.
2. Samira, 19, Major: British and American Studies; Minor: Japanese Studies
Expectations/fears I had concerning university and how to overcome them
When I received my letter of admission, I was too excited to think about any negative aspects that might come with studying at a university. However, two weeks before the official start of the semester, the doubts started kicking in. ’What if’s’ popped up in my mind and suddenly the thrill of anticipation I had felt before dissipated into anxiety. In hindsight, this was completely unnecessary, but one is always wiser afterwards, or so the saying goes. These were some of my main concerns:
Expectation Nr. 1: Everyone will be smarter than me
No. Just no. Sure, I have come across some quite intelligent individuals so far, and most people are generally more educated than your fellow classmates at school, but never question your own abilities. You probably did not get accepted for nothing, and your decision to achieve a degree of some sort proves that you are willing to learn and to work on your skills. So, instead of panicking and comparing yourself to others, concentrate on improving yourself and you will be fine!
Expectation Nr. 2: It will be hard to find real friends
For me it has always been hard to talk to new people, as I am a really shy person, so I was genuinely concerned about having to spend the next few years eating lunch on my own. After the first day of the orientation week, I seriously thought about giving up and just dropping out. I had talked to a handful of people, but felt extremely uncomfortable all day and didn’t exchange any contact data at all. But it got better; I can really recommend participating in the different activities offered during the orientation week, as you will meet other people who are presumably just as afraid and alone as you are. And once the actual seminars and lectures begin, you can easily approach students there, since you already have the course as a conversation starter. Another way of getting to know people and putting yourself ’out there’ is attending one of the first semester or ’Fresher’s’ parties, as it’s easier to approach others in a more casual, chill environment.
Expectation Nr. 3: The courses will be (too) difficult/demanding
It really depends on which courses you are taking and who is doing them, as the question of you liking a seminar/lecture or not is pretty much determined by the way the teacher handles them. This is why I would advise you to have a chat with a few people from higher semesters, who can tell you about their own experiences with the different professors and lecturers. It is also important to keep in mind why you are studying in the first place to stay motivated, as most courses do require a certain amount of effort and being proactive. But don’t worry – many courses are meant to be passed by people with almost zero prior knowledge.
Expectation Nr. 4: The food will be horrible and expensive
Well, this might have been the meekest fear but it was still there, especially since I’m an unbelievably picky eater. Near my faculty there are actually three canteens, so if the daily menu of one of them does not fit your taste, you can just go to the others – the meal plans can be accessed on the internet or through the university app. Overall I would say that the taste and quality of the food is fairly decent, while there are a few gems that make up for the less tasty meals. This is to be expected though, if you take a look at the prices, which I personally think are quite affordable. And if you really can’t be bothered to get any of the daily alternatives, there’s still the salad bar, different soups, baked goods and snacks. You will also be able to find bakeries, takeaway restaurants and cafés near basically every faculty building, so you won’t be starving any time soon! (Ed.N.: Check out our new Dining Diary segment for new inspiration 😉 )
Having just conquered the first semester of university and looking back at my initial fears and expectations, I can say that none of them turned out to be true. Sure, the food is not equal to mom’s home-cooked casserole, but you will manage. This might actually be the best advice or encouragement I can give you: You will manage. There will be times that have you questioning your decision to study something, and there will be stress before the exams, but it will all pay off in the end!
3. Laura, 19, Major: British and American Studies; Minor: Science of Media and Communication
5 survival tips for your first semester at university
Finally! Finally it is time to start college or uni and this is supposed to be the best time of your life! Just thinking about moving out of your parent´s house, being your own boss and all the famous college-parties that you can go to might get you very excited. But the first weeks are also a whirlwind of emotions and new experiences which might be a little overwhelming to be honest.
Of course everyone experiences uni differently as your first impressions depend on what kind of person you are, what and where you are studying. Moments of happiness, excitement, positivity and motivational and interesting classes are the ideals of your first year of university. But apart from those there are bound to be moments of awkwardness, sadness, pressure and stress.
But don´t worry. If you consider a couple of those tips, you should be able to enjoy your first semester and your studies in general to the fullest.
1.TMI (too much information)
The first week is packed with information about timetables, how lectures and seminars work and when you are going to write your tests etc. (If you´re enrolled at the university of Hamburg, you will also be introduced to the organizational system STiNE, which is very confusing at first, but don´t worry, your tutors in the first week will make you comfortable using it.)
You will also meet a lot of new people and you will surely not remember all of them. That is OK. Accept that you will forget the names of most of the people you meet. The key is to be honest about it the next time you see a familiar face in the hall or on the campus. Don´t be afraid to say, “Hey, I know we met that first week, but I am terrible with names. What is your name again?” You will be glad that you were brave enough to break the ice as I am quite sure the other person doesn’t remember your name either and he or she might become a good new friend to you.
2. Stay organized.
First of all: remain calm. Take one step at a time.
And take your time to think about how to schedule your timetable. It can be a little scary to not having someone who tells you which classes you should or have to attend. My advice is to not overload your schedule but make sure you won´t be bored as well. Maybe get yourself a planner or use your phone calendar and note down your classes and room numbers, because you will need to have a look at those several times before you´ll remember them, trust me. Writing down all your important due dates as soon as you know them will help you stay organized and not overlook or forget anything.
3. Use your free time wisely.
If you´re moving to a new city, it is a must to explore your campus or the city. Especially here in Hamburg there are so many lovely places to visit and it´s a great opportunity to bond with your new friends while enjoying a coffee or during a night out. Talking about friends: It´s great to make new friends – but keep the old ones. All freshmen will be looking to make contacts and they are all going to be very friendly. I met tons of people during the orientation week and now, after the first semester, I am still in contact with some of them, but no one should ever leave old friends behind just because of moving to another city or going to a different university.
Back to exploring: Get together in groups and go on a nice Saturday afternoon stroll, get in contact with locals or use guides like tba to find your new favorite hot spot. Just make sure you have enough data for Google maps or have an actual map in your pocket (and yes, I know it would look weird but everyone will know you´re a freshman anyway as soon as you change your direction because you walked the wrong way).
4. Cha ching?!
Don´t forget you´re independent now and have to do your own grocery shopping. It goes without saying that it’s great because it means you can buy all the food you want without hearing your mom complaining about your diet, but believe me, by no later than your third weekly shop you´ll recognize how expensive food actually is.
In addition to that, did someone tell you how expensive course material can be? This was only my first semester and I have already purchased books worth over a hundred euros. Unfortunately, I didn’t look out for cheaper alternatives which you definitely should do (learn from my mistakes). If you know what materials you need, start with past students, rent books from libraries or have a look at online sellers like Amazon.
Even if your parents are supporting you, it is quite useful to look out for a job that´s not too time consuming but enables you to go out in the weekends without worrying to not have enough money to pay your bills.
5. There is no place like home
Of course this won’t necessarily happen to everyone, but don’t be surprised if you get hit with a sudden wave of homesickness sometime during your first semester. For some, it happens right after their parents leave and for others it might be later on, once the initial excitement settles down.
Make sure you have a contact list of all your loved ones, family members and friends just in case you feel the urge to message or call them. Also don´t wait too long with your first visit back home. Especially the first weeks at university can be overwhelming and enjoying “Hotel Mama” with home cooked food and the right words you need to hear might be the perfect thing to recharge your motivation and energy.
All in all make sure you stay you. You are the one responsible of how you will remember your experience of university or college. Find a good balance between studying, working and free time and I´m sure this will be the best time of your life. Make yourself proud and happy.
Laura was listening to Erykah Badu “green eyes” while writing this article.
4. Olivia, 21, Major: British and American Studies; Minor: Cultural anthropology
I love new beginnings.
They’re terrifying but that is part of what makes them great.
The first two or three weeks of uni I was practically jittering 24/7 and the fact that I didn’t get into any courses at first didn’t help. Fortunately I got into two courses later which solved my problem.
During the first few weeks I went out more than ever before. (Coming from a small village there was never much “clubbing“ going on.) I also made use of the “free ticket“ for freshers, which I think is a great offer. I enjoyed spending my free days exploring art galleries and even managed to go to the opera once.
So far I enjoy studying and I hope to make the best of my time here at Uni Hamburg.
To infinity and beyond… or something along those lines.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Some words from an oldie (well…)
Maria. 23. Graduating with a M.Ed. (English and Biology)(teacher at secondary school) this summer.
So you’ve read those very insightful lines about some of your fellow students’ impressions of their first semester here at Uni Hamburg and I’m sure you can identify with some, maybe even all parts of it. This little segment wasn’t planned but when I just edited my colleagues’ words I recognized how much I could still relate to all these fears and experiences. Been there, done that, as they say.
There’s one BIG truth in this article that you should take away: IT’LL BE ALRIGHT. Generations of students before you had to endure the first semester, had to be called “Erstis”, had to get used to this stark change of environment. But if you’ve come this far and you ticked off that last day of your first semester in your calendar, that last exam, that last lecture last week or very soon, it shows just how strong of a believer in yourself you already are for not having given up midway and if you keep believing in yourself, the next five semesters will possibly become the greatest time of your life.
University is the place that enables you to enrich your mind and gives you the right tools and theories on hand to do what you want to do later in life, maybe even become the person you always wanted to be when you grew up. Some of you might fail at this, some of you will doubt it all and quit, but really, university is the place for you to figure out WHO you really want to be. This is the time when all the doors are open and it’s your call whether to enter the door or to keep searching (after all Regelstudienzeit seems to be a myth anyway). Be true to yourself, always. Believe in yourself, at all times.
All the best to my fellow writers, some of whom I call true friends now, and everyone else reading this article.