Habtom Kahsay Gidey left Ethiopia for Germany in 2012, to do a Master’s degree in Computer Science at TUM. In this interview, he tells us about his eventful life and his experiences in Germany.
Why did you decide to study Computer Science – and why at TUM?
Ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to become an academic. I managed to complete my Bachelor’s degree in Ethiopia. Afterwards, I applied for a place at several universities around the world that all had excellent reputations. Most of them were very expensive, so I was very surprised to learn that education in Germany is more or less free. That was a big plus for Germany. And TUM was perfect for me, because it combined both – top rankings and low costs. At many universities you have just a limited amount of choices as to which courses to select. But at TUM there is a huge variety and you can have a look at many interesting subjects. I was not used to having so much flexibility in terms of designing my own studies according to my interests and abilities. That is another reason why I decided to study Computer Science at TUM.
Do you enjoy studying here?
Yes, a lot! For example, the facilities compared to those in Ethiopia are excellent. These might be things German students don’t even consider thinking about because they regard them as normal. But the internet facilities alone are like a dream to me, with high-speed internet available at all times, whereas we had power blackouts on a regular basis in Ethiopia. Here you can rely on the organization, and courses start on time, and so on.
What are you plans after completing your Master’s degree?
I want to do my PhD and I really hope to do it here at TUM. I want to be a researcher.
Did your family support you when you decided to go abroad to study?
Well, my parents have no academic background. In fact, they didn’t go to school at all. But they are really proud of what I am doing. They always wanted my siblings and me to have an education and they wished that their children would enter further education.
What was your education like?
I completed a degree at a Technical College as one of the best in my class but then I worked for three years because I had to support my family. The economical and social situation after the war was not easy in Ethiopia. But I really wanted to study further, so I enrolled in a Computer Science program. I took evening courses so I could still go to work during the day. That’s how I got my Bachelor’s degree. Luckily,my brother had finished his studies in the meantime, so he was also able to start supporting them. This is why I could even consider going abroad.
How do you pay for your expenses now?
I work as a "Hilfskraft" at the university. The scholarship is an immense help for me, the money from the Deutschlandstipendium changes things a lot. It covers a big chunk of my expenses, so I can finally relax a little. It frees my mind, I can think of other things than money. It definitely helps a great deal. I still work, but I can reduce my hours now and focus on my studies and also on learning German.
Have you already started studying German?
My courses at uni are in English, but I want to learn German. Because knowing the language is the only way you can truly connect with people and get an understanding of their culture and country. I live in Munich, so I want to learn German properly and as quickly as I can. With the language comes an understanding of habits, mentality, philosophy... When you can talk to people in their own language, you can participate in normal life more easily.
How was it like coming to Germany, did the country and people meet your expectations?
Well I had the usual stereotypes in mind and they sounded great to me: industrious, organized, and so on... and I got what I was hoping for – and much more! The facilities, of course, are awesome. But it is the standard of education that really impressed me, it’s excellent. And also the community and the freedom I have, the opportunities I get. Germany and TUM exceeded my expectations.
How did you learn about the Deutschlandstipendium scholarship program?
One day some friends invited me to an event at the Katholische Hochschulgemeinde. I got to talk to the coordinator – Sabine Gerhard – and she told me about the program. She sent me a link and showed me that applications are possible in English, too. She also explained some expressions to me and advised me to write an honest cover letter. Even though I have good grades, I didn’t think I stood a chance. In the computer pools I saw so many people filling in the online application for the Deutschlandstipendium over the last few days of the application period. When I received the message that I had been accepted, I was genuinely surprised and very happy.
What does the scholarship mean to you, personally?
Well I am in Germany now – in a society that I haven’t contributed anything to. So far, I have just contributed to the system of my home country. And now in Germany I am gaining free education for one thing and that’s a big opportunity. But not only that, I have been awarded a scholarship, too. I am accepted in the same way as the German students. And that respect towards me as a person means a lot to me. It’s not only supporting me, it’s more...it’s supporting the future of my family and also supporting my country in a way. Through my sponsor I am also hoping to develop some good contacts to the private sector.