Vallendar, Germany: The School
I applied for study abroad through the Smith Exchange program, and was accepted into the program at WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management, a private business school in Western Germany. Only around four percent of German students attend private universities, so there are some immediate differences to public German institutions. On top of the fairly isolated nature of this college town, the school has only around 2,000 students enrolled, encompassing both the Bachelors and Masters programs, so you can instantly sense the tight-knit community and first-name basis at WHU.
Studying at WHU has been an interesting and eye-opening experience, but admittedly not a perfect representation of what it’s actually like to attend this institution, due to the fact that us Tauschies (WHU’s fond nickname for exchange students) are afforded certain privileges that actual students don’t have. One of these standout privileges is the fact that exchange students are only expected to take around 4–6 courses on average, instead of the typical 10. WHU also operates on a quarter system by which the courses are split, so I’ve only had three courses this second quarter compared to the four in January and February.
As I am writing this, I am in the final stretch of exam season, with one more finance final to go. Something different and perhaps a bit terrifying is the European collegiate standard in which the final exam counts for 100% of your grade. As a result, much of the workload rests completely on the student’s own capabilities and willingness to study regularly. I was lucky enough to have a few courses where that wasn’t entirely the case–while there were still no regular homework assignments, my grade breakdown consisted of a group project or two in combination with the final exam. On the plus side, I had the opportunity to take courses with actual German students, who were often able to share their tips and tricks for how to make the most of living in Vallendar and Koblenz.
Ultimately, WHU has an aura of pride and familiarity which, instead of resting on its athletic prowess or prime location, rests instead on the faculty and International Relations Office’s strong commitment to the WHU experience and the university as a whole. I’ve been able to take some truly interesting business courses (as well as a fantastic introduction to the German language), and am looking forward to bringing some different perspectives home to Smith.