“Starting university is a big step for everyone”

In the series myUniMA story international degree-seeking students at the University of Mannheim share their personal stories. This month, Mariana Roa (20) from Mexico City tells us about the experiences she made during her first year in the bachelor’s program Political Science.

Why did you decide to study in Mannheim?

Mariana: I went to a German school in Mexico and also did my Abitur there. The school was very different from what I had experienced before because it was so open-minded. We did not have to wear uniforms, for example. I wanted to study in Germany because I was already learning the language. However, I was not sure where and what exactly I wanted to study. I thought about business administration and Mannheim was of course the first place that came up on google and I was very impressed by the Schloss (laughs). When I finally decided to choose political science, Mannheim was my first choice because I could study business administration as a minor.

Were you nervous before you came here? Or maybe afraid that you wouldn’t like it or that you wouldn’t make friends? 

Mariana: I think I was always very positive on that side. After so many years at a German school, living in Germany had become my dream. I was confident and proud of my accomplishments. My main worry was to disappoint my parents because I know how much effort it takes them to send me here. So I was trying to be very positive, not only for me but also for my parents.

Is it sometimes difficult for you at the university because you are an international student?

Mariana: I guess my university experiences would have been similar if I had stayed in Mexico, because starting university is a big step for everyone. At the beginning, everyone is trying to make friends, have a good time, and go to all the parties. Of course, when I first arrived, it was hard for me to catch up with all the information in German because people were talking way too fast. I wondered how I was supposed to manage my exams if I was missing half the conversation. But I just got used to it and now I can have a fluent conversation. The other challenges were just normal freshmen experiences that come along with living alone, like doing your laundry and going to the supermarket. These struggles are normal for German freshmen but not for students in Mexico. Students in Mexico usually live with their parents, like all my friends there.

Your first year as a student here is already over. How do you like the political science program so far?

Mariana: I love it. Due to the mixture of theoretical and quantitative elements it is never boring and it is the quantitative part that I like the most. But the start was a little rocky. There is only one exam at the end of the semester.  At school, or even at university, in Mexico we have midterms, projects, and essays. So, I thought I could chill the whole semester and just start working two weeks before the exam. Of course, that didn’t go well. I also missed a lot in the lectures, not because I was daydreaming but because of language difficulties. I had to look up everything in the dictionary. In my second semester, I learned from my mistakes. I started reading ahead, showing up to the lecture prepared, and studying a little bit earlier. But I think not only internationals struggle at the beginning, everyone goes through this.

How are you spending your time?

Mariana: I spend a lot of time with my friends. There are for example my friends from the political science program, my Latino friends, and also my buddy and his friends. Often we just meet and cook dinner together, which is also something we don’t usually do in Mexico. I can’t cook but I really like the whole experience of preparing a meal, eating together, and catching up. I also love the Schneckenhof parties. Aside from that, I am a member of the Model United Nations (MUN) team and next year I’m going to be on the board. I am also volunteering in a student initiative called “Studenteninitiatve für Kinder” that gives free tutoring to children. That’s how I keep myself busy and I also study a little bit of course.

Is there something special about Mannheim that you like most?

Mariana: What I like the most here is that I can go everywhere by foot or by bike. In Mexico City, you have to take a car and drive everywhere and it takes you forever to get to places. In Mannheim, it only takes you ten minutes. My favorite place during the semester is the student residence ADH in D6, many of my friends live there. That’s why it feels like home somehow. Right now in the summer I really like to take walks, go running, or picnic with my friends at the river Rhine. This is something we cannot do in Mexico. When my mum visited me in Mannheim she didn’t like it at all and she tried to convince me to study in Heidelberg. But after she got to know my friends and saw how I live here, she finally understood why I like it here and she was very happy for me that I found such a good place.

If you imagine your future, where do you see yourself?

Mariana: That is a tough question. I have a friend who is also Mexican and studies political science. When we talk about the future, we both agree on the fact that there are so many problems in our country that we feel like we should do something about it. But then my friends who are not studying political science always say that we should take advantage of the opportunity to build a future here. So I am torn between the two sides.

Interview: Lina Vollmer  |  Photo: Elisa Berdica  |  July 2016