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Study Abroad in Marburg, Germany

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Why Marburg? Why Exchange?

I spent my Fall 2015 semester at Philipps Universitat Marburg in Germany. I chose this university because out of all the options of exchange programs, this one provided the most all-inclusive package. The program fee covered the program, tuition, housing, meals, administrative fees, semester ticket, language courses and three excursions with guided tours and activities. This program was offered through the International Undergraduate Study Program (IUSP), and it included students from the United States, Canada, Japan and Korea. UT Dallas students enroll in a semester-long exchange program, and IUSP handles it from Marburg’s end. Credits from courses taken abroad get transferred back to your UT Dallas transcript. A bonus was that it was perfectly acceptable to not know any German beforehand, because they teach you when you get there.

Program Structure

Our first six weeks in the program, we took intensive German language from 9 a.m. to noon everyday, Monday through Friday. This was very helpful, as they taught us valuable vocabulary, and they placed us in courses according to our ability.

Additionally in that first session, we had German Culture class from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.. We learned not only German history but also how German government works and current events. There was a lot to learn about German institutions and a lot of discussion to be had on current events, especially since it was during a critical time in Germany with the refugee crisis. Syrian refugees were entering Europe during this time, and each country was handling it differently. Germany was the one country that had opened its doors with welcome arms. Our own city of Marburg had a large refugee camp that I got to visit. The class was interesting, and we even got to have a simulation re-enacting the reunification of East and West Germany, with different outcomes.

IUSP also coordinated three cultural trips throughout the semester. The first one was to the capital, Berlin. Berlin is known for not being “romantic” or “beautiful” like other landmark European cities, but rather for being “cool” and “hip.” We got guided tours and learned the historical significance of the city, especially in terms of World War II.

We went on an especially perfect weekend, as it was the 25th anniversary of the reunification of Germany. So the capital had a ton of events and celebrations going on. The most stunning moment for me was when a friend and I went up on the tallest Ferris wheel that night where the celebration was going on, and right as we stopped at the top, the fireworks happened, and we got the best view.

IUSP also took us to Leipzig and Nuremberg. Nuremberg was a very important city in Hitler’s reign, so we got to see a lot of the important sites. One of these was the arena where Hitler gave many of his speeches, and it was a profound experience to stand exactly where he stood.

The second session of the semester we took our regular courses. I took a course called Foreign Aid: The Effects of Multilateral and Bilateral Assistance. This course was really what got me extremely interested in world development, and I continue to study it now that I’m back at UTD. It impacted me more than I thought it would, because when it came time to write the term paper, I was very eager to research and create a strong product on a topic I was actually interested in. I wrote my final 17-page paper on how I find Arab donors to be particularly interesting because they have created an aid-giving coalition based around cultural, religious and linguistic ties. Their aid is among the highest in volume and most effective in the world, so I argued that other regions could also benefit from creating aid-giving coalitions. I benchmarked Brazil and the PALOP (Portuguese-speaking) countries such as Angola and Mozambique to Arab donors to prove that both regions have built upon a very great idea of supporting their own region in order to better the world through foreign aid.

Another course I took was called Women in U.S. Startups: History and Present. It is interesting that they offered a course regarding the United States, but Philipps Universitat has an entire department called North American Studies dedicated to topics like this. In this class, I got to expand more on my entrepreneurship knowledge and tie that in with history.

Women have apparently been entrepreneurs since the foundation of the United States, and this course took us chronologically through entrepreneurial women in indigo farming to present-day leaders like Oprah Winfrey and Ariana Huffington. My professor, Silke Schmit, took a special interest in me because I had discussed with her my studies at UTD, because my concentration in business administration is in entrepreneurship. She was so fascinated by this that she actually requested I create a PowerPoint on my study program here to show my German classmates. She wanted them to know that entrepreneurship is essentially its own course of study here, because they don’t have that there. It was followed by a question-and-answer session, and my friends and classmates were really eager to learn more about it.

My last course in the second session of the semester was German Conversation. It was a very small class, because it was optional as part of IUSP, so it only had six students including me. Our teacher was also a student at Philipps, so the course was very fun and engaging. He inspired me to continue learning German and to travel more in order to expand my perception of the world. I still keep in touch with him and keep him updated on my German language progress. We had classroom work in that class, but we also went out to eat as a group to practice ordering food in German and paying. Although learning German is not transferrable into my degree plan, learning it really has been one of the highlights of my college career.


The central part of my study-abroad experience was living in the city of Marburg, Germany. It is a very small city, designed essentially around the university. Nearly everyone who lives there is in some way affiliated with the university, as perhaps a student or teacher. The city is beautiful, walkable, and there are some parts of it that really seem magical. My three favorite things in the city were Das Schloss, die Oberstadt and the Kaiser-Wilhelm Turm.

Das Schloss is the castle that overlooks the city; it is very elevated so getting there is a short hike. I would go up there a few times a week at night, before it got too cold, and just sit there because one can see the entire city from the top. I brought my sister there when she visited me, and seeing it through the eyes of someone who hadn’t seen it before made me appreciate it even more.

The Oberstadt is the old part of the city, and it looks like what one pictures classic European style to look like. It has the traditional cobblestone path and a variety of little shops. It also has the town hall at the Marktplatz, and my favorite coffee shop called Con:text. I love Con:text because it has a great atmosphere, and you can even go downstairs and see its World War II bunker.

Lastly, the Kaiser-Wilhelm Turm, or as it is colloquially known, the Rapunzel Tower, is one of the coolest places I’ve seen. It is a very long hike up, about three hours, but the view is spectacular. The three times that I went there, my mind was blown each time. The top of the tower is the highest point in the city, and the air is unbelievably fresh; and whatever troubles I would have seemed to disappear every time I went up there.


In Marburg, IUSP students are assigned to one of four dorms, and I got to live in Fuchspass. Fuchspass is the dorm that is kind of up on a mountain, and the bus stop is about a 10-minute walk down. Walking up such a hilly area every day was great for my calves. The bus could take me from my street to the Hauptbahnhof (Marburg’s train station) in about seven minutes, which was incredibly convenient for travel. My dorm was small; it only had three buildings, but it was nice. My floor was the unique floor in the building, as it was only half of a floor, because the other half was the building’s laundry room. The other floors had 20 people, while mine only had seven including me. This made it much easier to know my neighbors. My floor had two Americans (both of us from IUSP), one Colombian, one German, one Dutch, one Italian and one Syrian. We hung out plenty of times and had floor dinners, where we would all cook. I still keep in touch with two of the girls because we became such great friends.

My only issue was that I did not have Internet. The trade-off for being so close to the train station was unreliable sources of Internet. Some of the IUSP students in Fuchspass were able to pay their neighbors to use their Wi-Fi, but unfortunately, no signal extended to my room, so I spent the entire semester without Internet. This was problematic for doing homework and contacting parents. Oddly enough, though, I feel really thankful in retrospect that it turned out that way. Not having Internet kept me fairly unplugged and kept me out of my room. I know many other IUSP students who spent a lot of time on Netflix during the semester. I was essentially only in my room for sleeping or when I had friends over. I will not lie, it was a really big obstacle for me to get used to not having Facebook to look at as I fell asleep, but this was one of the things that really changed me. I feel like I have much more strength as a person, because we oftentimes don’t think about how essential things like Wi-Fi are, until we no longer have them. It sounds so much like a first-world problem, but I feel incredibly proud that I was OK with it, and even happy about it. It taught me the value of optimism, and that Internet is really kind of luxurious.

Lasting Impression

I can’t speak highly enough of my study-abroad experience. Germany is truly a wonderful country that I want to live in in the future, perhaps for higher education or for work. I am so glad I committed to this experience and made the most of it.

Going back and looking through photos, or even listening to music that I listened to there, transports me back immediately to special moments that I intend on keeping with me forever. Living abroad really changes a person, and I am totally OK with that.

After coming back to the United States, I found myself hungry for more travel and more adventure, and that’s really how I know that those five months changed me. I have a newfound desire to live life more fully and make it richer with experiences. The world is so big, and there is so much of it that I haven’t seen, and I would like to continue doing that.

Toward the end of our program, our German Conversation teacher asked us what we thought of it all, and we all pretty much said we feel like different and more fulfilled people. We want to spend money on experiences and not things, we want to create bonds with diverse people, and we want to keep exploring the unknown. The experiences and friendships I made impacted me and shaped my thoughts in some profound and special way.

Hira Saleem

As a business administration major at the Naveen Jindal School of Management concentrating in innovation and entrepreneurship, Hira Saleem became an intern at Bell Helicopter to learn more about human resources and broaden her knowledge of the business world.

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