Studying at Universität Heidelberg

Universität Heidelberg is as old as the city itself. It was founded in 1386 and is the first university in Germany. I thought it was one of the oldest in Europe but apparently many Italian universities are a lot older – the University of Bologna, for example, was founded in 1088. Still it’s the second-oldest university in the German-speaking world, following the University of Vienna, which was established in 1365.

The Alte Aula, or old lecture hall, can be found in the historical building of the Alten Universität (Old University). We have special lectures and sometimes concerts here
The Alte Aula, or old lecture hall, can be found in the historical building of the Alten Universität (Old University). We have special lectures and sometimes concerts here
Max-Weber-Haus, where my current German class takes place, is just across the river, directly facing the old castle
Max-Weber-Haus, where my current German class takes place, is just across the river, directly facing the old castle

The campus is spread out all over the Altstadt and Neuenheimer Feld. Arts departments are mostly located in Altstadt whereas Neuenheimer Feld is the school’s science campus. My major here is Romanistik (French and Italian) but for this semester I’m also doing some general and Neurolinguistics and language courses, which are also around the old town. The farthest class from my place is only across the river right next to the old bridge, so it’s really convenient.

Studienkolleg in Neuenheimer Feld, where I had my intensive German class
Studienkolleg in Neuenheimer Feld, where I had my intensive German class

The intensive German class back in September took place in Neuenheimer Feld, which I find very different from Altstadt. I often told people how it reminded me of a North American campus since most buildings were farther apart, newer and a bit taller than those in the historic city center. But a lot of my friends who live there complain that it’s quite inconvenient as there isn’t even a supermarket.

My class was on the ground floor, right behind the bikes
My class was on the ground floor, right behind the bikes
Brunch buffet on our last day of class
Brunch buffet on our last day of class

It was one of the best German classes I’ve ever taken in my life. It was engaging and pretty demanding but that pushed me to improve a lot faster to keep up with my classmates. Everything was neatly arranged: tests, classes, extra lectures, excursions, etc. so my first month as a student here was overall smooth and easy. But the best part? Free breakfast every day! I still don’t get why they provided breakfast and even a brunch buffet on the last day – no complaint here though!

Classmates enjoying brunch (Sep 28, 2012)
Classmates enjoying brunch

Not so far away from the Studienkolleg is the school’s botanical garden, located next to the Neuenheimer Feld canteen. It’s a nice place to hang out with friends after class on sunny days.

The main building of the Botanischer Garten Heidelberg
The main building of the Botanischer Garten Heidelberg

In Germany, university semesters run from October to March and April to July, with lectures usually starting in mid-October and lasting for 14 weeks during the winter semester.

Registering for classes in the regular term in Heidelberg can be quite complicated, depending on each faculty and department. For mine, I could’t do it online like some other departments; I had to send the professors emails before the semester started or go directly to their offices to sign my name on an actual piece of paper (for some reason I still find this unbelievable – we’re in 2012!); or in some cases, just show up in the first lecture and sign up there. For me as an international student, the “system” is completely bizarre (but it works, sort of).

I have a few lectures at the Neue Universität on Uni-Platz
I have a few lectures at the Neue Universität on Uni-Platz

Another bizarre thing here is the credit system. The credits, which they call “Scheine”, can be collected in different ways, depending on different courses’ requirements. Most of my classes require me to attend 80% of the lectures and tutorials, write a paper or sit an exam. If I pass, I’ll be given a “Schein” – again, an actual piece of paper. At the end of the year, I can bring all these “Scheine” to the academic office to have them validated and get a transcript-like certificate.

I asked my German flatmate L what would happen if I lost these fragile pieces of paper; to which he replied, “why would you lose them?” Oh well.

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