“My time in Germany was the most challenging yet greatest experience of my life. I feel as though I came back to Canada as a better person, more understanding and appreciative of different cultures and customs. I also became more confident in my ability to communicate with others and driven to become more familiar with the German language.”
Looking back at his experience as a Canadian exchange student in a foreign country, John Adamek is still thrilled, even after six months.
From September 2013 to June 2014, John lived in Germany, studying civil engineering at the Technical University of Munich. He was a fortunate participant in the annual student exchange program at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Waterloo (UW).
The exchange program is a flagship for the international character of the faculty. It was established in 1979 with the Technical University of Braunschweig (TUBS), Germany’s oldest technical university. It was a perfect match, since TUBS, just like UW, is a highly research-motivated university in a wide spectrum of technology and is known around the world for its excellence.
Over the years, more and more partnerships were established between the UW Faculty of Engineering and several German universities. Notably, two additional members of the TU9 (the top nine technical universities in Germany) became exchange partners with UW: the Technical University of Hamburg Harburg (TUHH) in 1991, and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) in 2011. To date, more than 100 Canadian UW Faculty of Engineering students have participated in exchanges with German Universities.
It was the foresight and conviction of University of Waterloo Professor Pindera, who had been a political prisoner during the Second World War and who had a strong sense for the value of international collaboration, to create this student exchange program. His vision was to create a student exchange program between these two Universities to promote bi-cultural understanding and a solid base for international co-operation and friendship. The success and continuation of this exchange for more than three decades is a testimony to Professor Pindera’s vision and insight.
Students and professors from both sides of the Atlantic benefit not only academically, but they also gain deep cultural insights. Canadian exchange student Vincent Ren:
“I’ve met so many different people from different nationalities and seen so many different places; it has really broadened my perspective on life and changed the way I think. These experiences showed me how small of a bubble I was in before and changed the things that I hold important. We would do anything for friends, family, people, and places that we keep as home in our hearts, but going on exchange and living in another country can teach us how to keep the world in our hearts. And it’s really the experience of being and sharing with other people that makes all of this real.”
The incoming German exchange students at Waterloo participate with domestic Canadian students in classes and become involved in joint student design projects, leading to innovative design solutions. The domestic students gain from the different perspectives brought by their German colleagues, while the German students benefit from immersion in the entrepreneurial culture of UW’s Engineering Faculty, one of Canada’s leading engineering schools.
Students also acquire fluency in a different language. While Canadian students must have some knowledge of German at the time of departure, upon returning they understand and converse in the German language, and can even give public presentations. Says Ren:
“In between all the travelling, I had been taking engineering and German language courses at the Technische Universität Braunschweig. It was a real challenge to learn the technical content while learning the language, but I found out that the best way to learn German was to drink with Germans!”
Mastering a foreign language is extremely important in the increasingly unified global exchange of technical information and ideas, which makes exchange students highly competitive in the international market place. They become members of the international community of professionals and scholars, and have no difficulty in finding permanent work with Canadian/German Engineering companies.
Employment prospects are a huge motivation for the exchange program. Many former exchange students have completed their final degree projects in research laboratories at UW; they become so highly skilled that Waterloo professors compete with each other to use these students as research assistants and to direct their research efforts towards obtaining their degrees.
Returning Canadian students unanimously have extolled the experiences. They enjoy their studies at TUBS, TUHH, TUM, or the other exchange partners, and appreciate how the different teaching and learning environments in Canada and Germany broaden their perspectives.
They are also amazed at the age, tradition, and history of the German culture. Their eyes are opened to understanding the breadth and depth of European, specifically German, civilization through their travel opportunities and participation in cultural activities while studying in Germany.
“At first, living in Germany was not too different from my life in Canada, as both countries have strong economies and are world leaders in categories such as education, renewable energy, as well as many others. But quickly I found a few differences. Firstly, their Fußball-Mannschaft (=soccer team) is better und the beer is cheaper! But most noteworthy, the efficiency with which German culture operates is astounding. The ability to analyze every little detail while at the same time keeping in mind the bigger picture is something I hope have brought back with me.”
“After being back in Canada for a few months, it’s hard for me to imagine what I would be like without my exchange experience. I realized it was just a beginning. New worlds have opened up and even more are waiting to be discovered.”
Karen Thürnau, Social Media, Press and Cultural Affairs
Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany, Toronto
With contributions from Prof. Emeritus R.M. Schuster, Prof. Emeritus P.H. Roe and Canadian Students John Adamek and Vincent Ren
The UW Faculty of Engineering receives direct support for participating students from the local Bitzer Education Fund of the German-Canadian Business & Professional Association, which provides generous scholarships for two students each year on exchange at the German exchange Universities. Find out more about general exchange programs with German institutions by visiting www.daad.org/canada