The 450,000th Erasmus student:
Stefan Zenkel is an enthusiastic European
Why did you apply for a semester abroad?
In the last semester of my bachelor's studies, I somehow had the feeling that I had seen all of Munich. I wanted to do something different and get out of the daily routine of studying. Also, I really wanted to get to know a new culture.
Why did you choose Stockholm?
My girlfriend and I were especially interested in the Scandinavian countries right from the beginning. She works as a pre-school teacher and accompanied me to complete an internship at a German school kindergarten. I applied for Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland.
How was your stay?
Great! I really learned what Europe is all about. It was fascinating to fly from Stockholm to Munich without really having to show an ID. I noticed that all is one. Semesters abroad are infamous for being pure party-semesters – and of course, you can go about things a bit easier than at home and join in some of the party-fun – but all my fellow students went to university regularly and took part in the lectures. Some even completed an additional internship, like I did, or found work.
Where did you do your internship and what do you think about the studies and the organization in Sweden?
I did an internship at Austrian Airlines, which I organized privately. Thus, I could get to know the people, the country and the culture right from the beginning. The people in Sweden are incredibly pleasant and friendly. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to establish really deep friendships.
It probably takes more time to really get to know people.
In Germany, if you meet for coffee, you'd quickly be talking about profound things – but that just takes longer in Sweden. Due to the Buddy-Program of the partner university, I was invited to several Swedish events, such as Festival of Lights and other Swedish celebrations and private events you would probably not be invited to without knowing someone from Sweden. Anyway, this allows for a good insight into the Swedish culture and broadens the personal horizon.
How is the work routine at the university?
What I really liked is that the scientific work goes much deeper, compared to the frontal teaching in Germany. I wrote quite a lot of papers myself and read even more. The exams were strange. For us Germans, it was very unusual that you have about three or four hours to complete tests in Sweden. Most Germans were finished after an hour or two – when the Swedes started to unwrap their snacks.
Is the Swedish mentality more relaxed than ours?
Yes indeed, it's all much more relaxed than it is here. Still, all the work is accomplished on the same level. I really learned to appreciate that. The most striking example: Bus travel! No one gets angry about having to wait. In Sweden, you have to wait quite often – at the supermarket, for example – because everyone discusses the latest gossip at the checkout. There's none of the artificial stress we have here.
What did you learn about the people in Sweden?
It is typical for Sweden that you have to draw a queue-number, because everyone is treated equally. Whether at the pharmacy, at the ticket counter or at university. Equality is a very important issue in Sweden. What happened to me on a bus once is this: I wanted to let a Swedish woman get on first, saying "Ladies first!". A big mistake: I had to discuss equality-issues throughout the journey. In Sweden, this commitment goes so far that there are often gender-neutral toilets.
What advantages did your stay abroad have for you personally?
I finally learned to stand on my own two feet and take care of everything myself: Finding an apartment, for example. My English has improved a lot, because all the courses were in English. At the TUM's Language Centre, I had previously taken a course in Swedish.
And what were the advantages for your studies?
I could finish my master's course more quickly, although it cost me quite a lot of effort to get all the courses accepted here. There, I also took part in the most interesting course for me – Strategic Management – and got to know the best professor of my entire course of studies.
Did the stay abroad have any disadvantages?
Well, you obviously need quite a lot of money. The Erasmus-funds help, but most of the students want to do some extra traveling, which costs quite a lot. I went to Lapland, for example. In Stockholm, everything is far more expensive compared to Germany, especially foodstuffs. In the end, it was worth every cent.
How come you were awarded as No. 450,000?
The DAAD and the Ministry of Education organized a national kick-off event for ERASMUS+ in Berlin. ERASMUS+ combines all four study abroad program areas: university, school, vocational education and adult education. Participants from all these areas were invited and awarded. As TUM had sent by far the most people abroad, two students could be nominated. In the end, I was able to go to Berlin.
Would you go abroad again?
Yes, immediately. My girlfriend and I are thinking about going abroad again for a longer period of time. Maybe to Stockholm once more – or to the north of Sweden. My opinion about freedom and about Europe has changed completely.
Do you really feel as a "European"?
Definitely, yes! Simply from an economic perspective: No matter where you are, you always have the same tax-number. You can transfer money back and forth without taxes. Also, you can travel. If I had listened to my grandmother, who said "Ooh, do you really want to go? That's so far away…" and if everyone were to reason like that, we would still be thinking in categories of small states. You leave this way of thinking behind once you've traveled around in Europe for a while.
Stefan Zenkel was born in Fürth. He spent one semester abroad in Stockholm. Just recently, he completed his master's degree in Information Systems at TUM. He is self-employed and is currently building up his company aConTech Enterprise IT Solutions GmbH, which operates in the field of modern cloud technologies.