From the start, I applied to CEMS with the idea of going to Germany for the exchange semester, or in one of the German speaking countries. The main reason for this was that I had studies German during my bachelor and I wanted to improve it, because I consider that the best way to speak a language is to interact with the native speakers. Besides, Cologne was my first choice, because I had studied a lot about the university there, meaning not only the courses it offers, but also extra university life, student organizations and events, having in mind the permanent contacts with corporate partners that it encourages. Moreover, I knew that internships are regarded as an essential part of the high education in Germany and I thought I would have a better chance to find my CEMS internship with this opportunity.
2. Preparation Phase
This phase was a bit confusing for this year’s exchange students to Cologne, because due to the new CEMS program, which was launched this year, many of the CEMS courses have been changed. That is why, even though I had some courses in mind that I wanted to attend, I didn’t receive any information about the new CEMS courses until a few days before departure. Some of the old CEMS courses were still available, though, it’s just that the new courses are worth 7.5 ECTS each, while the old ones just half of it. That’s why most of the CEMS students chose to attend the new CEMS courses, even though there was more work involved, instead of taking two old CEMS courses for the same amount. So, we could choose among 6 new CEMS courses, out of which 5 were in German and 1 in English, but this we only found out when we were in Germany. Many of the old CEMS courses were in English, though, but another reason why I chose the new courses was because I wanted to improve my German skills.
Another confusing aspect was the business project, which until this year was possible to write while being on exchange, but starting with this year there is a new CEMS rule stating that we are only allowed to write the business project at the home university, so during the second CEMS semester. At the beginning, we had received information about these business projects, I had already applied, but just before deadline they took it back and told that actually it had been a mistake and we can’t write the project abroad anymore. It seems that they became a bit late familiar with the new rules. That was a bit annoying, because normally in Cologne there are attractive business projects on offer and that had been one of the reasons why I had chosen Cologne as my exchange host, but it turned out to be only an advantage for the German students.
The visa procedures were a bit complex, due to my Romanian passport. So, I first needed a tourist visa for Germany, which I got from the German embassy in Copenhagen, for 3 months, in the basis of acceptance documents from Cologne and health travel insurance. On the basis of this tourist visa, I was entitled to apply in Cologne for the residence permit for 5 months. The tricky part was that I got no work permit, even though according to the law, every student in Germany is entitled to 90 work days per year, but in my case, their motivation was that I was exchange student and take no graduation in Germany. Besides, both for tourist visa and residence permit you have to pay a certain amount (see financial report).
3. Arrival at the Host University
The International Office in Cologne (ZIB) is quite well organized and it provides a vast program of introductory and social activities, which are very helpful for the students to get to know each other and also to get acquainted to the city and surroundings. Every student is allocated a buddy, who helps you integrate easier. The last week of September was there the block seminar, I chose to go to Kleinwalsertal in Austria, where most students from Cologne went, because the topic was interesting (Environmental Challenges for Business Management), the transport was organized by the school (by bus) and the costs were not high.
Throughout whole month of September you can attend a free intensive German language course, which you can continue the whole semester. The course takes place every day in September, mostly in the afternoons, and twice a week for the rest of the semester. To get into the right level, you take a written language test after the first introductory week, which includes listening and reading comprehension as well as a grammar section.
In order to receive the student card, every student has to pay a Euro 104 fee at the very start of the semester. The advantage is that with this card, you can travel with every means of transport within the city and on a 30 km area around the city without paying anything more. Besides, you receive subsidized food in the students’ canteen, called “Mensa”. It takes about 4 weeks until you receive the student card, but you receive a provisional receipt to use as transport ticket in between. In the canteen, you can pay by cash or use a “Mensa” card, which doesn’t offer any advantage, except that you don’t need to carry cash.
There are 2 places where you have to register to use computers in the school. One is inside the building of “Wiso-Fakultät” (which is the place where you belong as a Business and Economics student), located at the very end of the university main building (computers are at the ground, second and sixth floor). Registration is made at the ground floor and it takes 15 minutes until you receive a user name and a password. But the most popular place to use internet is in the so called Rechenzentrum, which is located 10 minutes walk from the main building. Registration is made in Rechenzentrum or at the main hallway of the main building; it takes one day until you receive a user name and a password. For printing, you need to open an account for each place.
There are copy machines all over the main building and you need to acquire a special copy card. Copying in the main building is quite expensive, though (about 20 cents per page), so I recommend it for emergency cases only. For printing books, there are cheap copy shops, with 3 to 4 cents per page situated close to the main building.
The main library used by students is the city library, located 3 minutes from the main building. It has lots of sections, including economics and also computers with internet access (you receive a user name and password when registering for the library, it’s free). There are libraries in the main building, on several departments, and also one in the “Wirtschaftsinformatik” building, located 15 minutes walk from the main building.
4. Subject Description
As described earlier, there were old and new CEMS courses, but I preferred to take the new courses, because they were more interesting, had 7.5 ECTS each (so only 4 courses were enough to complete the semester), and were mostly in German. The courses started in the middle of October, but it took some time until the final choice of courses was made and the schedule was settled. One course was canceled at the very last moment, than a new course was offered instead. So, I took the following CEMS courses:
- Electronic Business – Theory meets Practice (Prof. Dr. Dietrich Seibt): the course covers practical aspects of the E-Business sphere, accomplished by presenting real corporate problems to the students. Students are divided into small project groups and work together with the corporate partner to develop a business solution to a problem, which is offered to the company and presented to the other students in special seminar. There is also an intermediary session in which the students present current stages in their work process. The course is very interactive and everything is conducted in German. The students have freedom to settle meeting sessions together with the company representative, but also need to attend lectures and company presentations, which are organized every other week. The literature mainly consists of articles and internet data, collected by the students themselves when writing the project. The grade is given exclusively for the project. I strongly recommend the course.
- International Brand Management and Communication Policies for Consumer Goods (Prof. Dr. Uwe Specht): the course is organized like a 3 day block seminar and all sessions take place at Henkel KGaA in Dusseldorf. Transportation by bus to the company offices is organized by the university. The theoretical part is presented by Prof. Dr. Uwe Specht, while the practical part, which presents company marketing strategy, as well as several case-studies, is conducted by company representatives. Lunch is served by the company. The teaching language is German. Attendance is obligatory and the course ends with a 2 hours written close book exam, with 4 general questions regarding theory presented in the course. It is compulsory that the exam is written in German. The literature for every session is indicated in the course syllabus, is all in German and a bit dry, but there is a huge amount of thick slides which cover the whole subject and is enough for the exam. I strongly recommend the course.
- Financing Investments by Leasing (Prof. Dr. Thomas Hartmann-Wendels): the course presents several aspects of leasing as a possibility to finance and reveals its advantages and disadvantages as compared to other forms of financing, mainly credit. Strong emphasis is placed on leasing contracts, balance sheet and risks. The course form is weekly lectures, 2 hours per session and is all in German. Interaction is not so much encouraged, but the professor is very helpful and answers every question when something is not clear. It is a difficult course, not because of the subjects it covers, but because of the language, as it uses many financial terms that the exchange students are not very familiar with. The literature is indicated in the syllabus, is mostly in German, but is very difficult to read, also because of the language. Slides are very helpful for the exam. The exam is 2 hour written close book, there are 14 theoretical and practical questions, which can be answered very shortly, in German or English. I recommend the course for those interested in getting more familiar with “Wirtschaftsdeutsch”. I don’t recommend the course to finance students, as the subject area that it covers is pretty narrow.
- Global Competition in the Aviation Industry (Prof. Dr. W. Delfmann, H. Baum): the course offers an overview on the airline companies and their market, specific challenges for airlines and air transport policy and specific management and theoretical concepts applicable to this industry. The course is organized as a 4 day block seminar, including an excursion to the Lufthansa Cargo offices and site on the last day. Students are divided into 6 persons groups, which have to write a project on several topics, which are provided by the professors according to students’ preferences. The literature is provided by the advisor, but extra research conducted by each group is very much encouraged. Everything during the seminar is conducted in English, including the project, but the language used during the meetings with the advisor can be also German. During the seminar, each group has to present the project and answer questions within 1.5 hours. Students’ participation in class is carefully watched by the professors and influences the final grade. There is no exam as such, but there is a grade on the project together with the presentation. Overall, it is an interesting course, which I strongly recommend.
The International Office in Cologne (ZIB) takes care of finding accommodation for all exchange students according to their preferences expressed earlier in the application forms, filled out together with other documentation from the University of Cologne (submitted by fax). I had my own room in a private apartment in Annostr. nr. 53, together with other 2 international students, whom I spoke only German with. It can also be an advantage at the beginning, as there is no fear of making mistakes. When talking to the Germans you will learn the right way anyway and there is a lot of interaction with the Germans everyday, both at the university and in the day to day life. Besides, the apartment was 15 minutes walk from the center and not far from the school, only 4 tram stops. It is 2 minutes walk from a populated shopping street, where you have all shops you want, including supermarkets, from the cheapest to the most expensive, as well as banks, kiosks and fast foods. The block doesn’t look very new, but the rooms are clean and well equipped, with TV and radio. There are 9 students living in this place, only foreigners, no Germans. There is no internet or phone included in the rent, but this can be arranged with the owner if you like his offer. In our case, we found it too high (contract fee of Euro 60 per apartment per month), so we only used the computer room at the university and the mobile phones. The rent I paid was Euro 260 per month in a small room, but there are also larger rooms that cost Euro 320 per month. It is more expensive than Efferen, for e.g., which is a popular student dorm situated very far from the school and not much better quality.
6. Social Life
There are many parties, trips and sports activities organized by the university. Every Wednesday there is an international night, starting with indoors sport games in a hall close to the university and followed by a reunion in a pub called “Museum”, similar to “Studenter Huset” in Copenhagen. Most of the social activities are packed in 2 introduction weeks in September and one introduction week in October, just before the CEMS courses started. These include not only parties and drinking, but also excursions in the neighborhood and extreme sports, like water skiing, for instance. However, CEMS Club Cologne organizes many other activities during the rest of the semester as well, like cheap movies in the university buildings.
Cologne is one of the most liberal cities of Germany and most people say it is a very good city to live. That is because of the large young population, it is a student city, with lots of facilities for students. There are whole districts designed just for students, where you will barely see anyone older than 30. Getting to know the Germans is not difficult; they are very friendly and polite, quite curious to meet foreigners, especially when it comes to students. Another attraction is the very nice breweries, which sell their own in-house produced bier, especially in the old city, situated around the dome, which is the most attractive part of the city for tourists.
7. Other Practical and Economic Conditions
Cologne is quite a cheap city to live, compared to Denmark. Even though I was paying for accommodation more than I pay in Denmark, the rest of the expenses were very low, starting with food, both in supermarkets and fast foods and ending with going out. Besides, the students’ canteen – “Mensa” is one of the best in Germany, they provide lots of kinds of food, it is open both for lunch and dinner and have pretty low prices (for Euro 2.5 you can have a big meal, with main dish, salad and desert). This will also help you save a lot of time on cooking, which will become just a weekend activity, when “Mensa” is closed.
You will also save a lot on city transport in the basis of the student card, described at point 3 of this report. Overall, all transportation costs are cut to Euro 104 per month.
Apart from my savings, I didn’t have any extra funds or scholarship, except for the DKK 3700 from the CBS, which was helpful enough in the first month of exchange. In spite this, I must say that I lived reasonably well and I didn’t ever struggle to save any money.
I chose to travel from Copenhagen to Cologne by day train; it costs about DKK 900 and takes about 9 hours. The risky part is that you will have to change trains in Hamburg, where you have only 17 minutes. This would not be a problem on the way to Cologne, but when you come back to Copenhagen, you might experience delays from the German train and miss the Danish one. Surprisingly or not, German trains are always late!!! That is why I chose to come back to Copenhagen with the night train, which is direct, costs the same, takes about 12 hours, but you can sleep very well, it is very comfortable and you avoid the risk of missing the connection. Besides, you might have more luggages when you come back, as Cologne is also a very good place to shop and they have discounts just before the end of your stay 
8. In Retrospect
I certainly had a very good experience in Cologne; overall it is a great city to spend your exchange semester, especially when you are a CEMS student. I cannot say how the rest of the courses at this university are, but the new CEMS courses are very well organized indeed, in regards to the teaching method. They are very interactive, in close relation to companies, with a limited number of students per course and the idea of blocked seminars with 3 to 4 lectures a day is very attractive, as it saves time and offers more continuity. Besides, you have time to read a lot between the sessions and you are not pressed with deadlines, especially when there is one month time period between two seminar days.
However, there are some things that might be improved:
1) More information sent to the students regarding course description, requirements and exam conditions;
2) This information should be sent to the students earlier and not so close to the deadline for course registration, so that students have more time to consider their course choices;
3) More information about the visa, residence and work permit requirements, because all the information I received was a bit chaotic and these conditions are still not clear to me;
4) Better communication between the International Office in Cologne (ZIB) and the various departments offering the courses;
5) Wider variety of 7.5 ECTS CEMS courses.
The academic evaluation of the University of Cologne might not be accurate, due to the limitation to the new CEMS courses that I attended, which might not be representative for the overall specific of this university.
• Academic score: 5
• General score: 5
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