“Everyone in the program has very strong abilities and we all inspire each other”

The myUniMA November story is about Xi Lin 25 from Beijing. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, he is currently in his first year of the fast-track master's program in economics with a strong research-oriented focus. In his myUniMA story, Xi explains where his fascination with his subject of study comes from and why Mannheim is the perfect university for him.

Why did you come to Germany and choose Mannheim?

Xi: The reason I went to Germany is the approach to economics that is predominant here. In China economic research is more rather qualitative. It is based on observations and images of society. Here, or more general, in the Western economies, the research is mainly quantitative. Quantitative researchers are for me almost like magicians. They transfer the real world into a world´ of numbers, equations and models. In this abstract mathematical world, I find that my professors have super powers. Some people don’t believe in their results, but I really believe that we need to abstract first before we can draw any conclusions. Why Mannheim? I had several options, but the University of Mannheim is one of the best: in comparison to other German top universities, like Cologne or Berlin, Mannheim is more international, especially the faculty as well as the research contents.

How does the structure of your current program of study look like?

Xi: There are two tracks in the master’s program. The regular one focuses on applied economics. I chose the second track, which is more research-oriented and leads to the PhD. At the beginning of September, there were about twenty students in my track, but by now almost half of them have already quit including some of the PhD students. Now, there are three master´s students and nine PhD students. If we think that we can’t handle the research track anymore, we can also transfer to the regular master´s program of study anytime. This flexibility is one of the reasons why I picked this program of study. In total, there are roughly 50 students in the entire master’s program. I really enjoy this structure because for me learning success is strongly linked to class size. Compared to other universities, this is a strong advantage. In the first year, we have six introductory courses each semester dealing with every aspect of our discipline. It is rather theoretical and involves a lot of math. After the first year, we pick our research specialization. I want to focus on applied micro-economics which deals for example with auctions and game theory. This field connects theory and practice.

You mentioned the strong international character of your school. What is so special about it?

Xi: So far, I took part in four courses. Two of the instructors were foreigners; one from Korea, the other was Italian. Among the tutors, there are three internationals. That strongly shapes the research orientation. The faculty is also very supportive when it comes to language barriers. For instance, jobs are always posted in English and the secretary also translates all essential information. This is  not  commonplace. I would say foreign students are treated almost equally as the locals in every aspect. The international orientation of the school is also reflected in the structure of the student body.

Do you know many other Chinese students studying here?

Xi: I know many of them, however, it is impossible to know everyone because the number are high. I meet some of my Chinese friends frequently. In my building, there are also two or three other students from China. But most of them study in the Mannheim Master in Management. At my school, there is only one other Chinese guy. Other students I know are also usually full-time students but I guess 80 percent of them study Business.

How do you cope with the workload?

Xi: There is a lot of pressure. But when you do what you really like, what you really love, it is easier to cope with it. Every week and for every class, we have to do a homework which takes about ten hours. Therefore, after all the lectures, tutorials and reviewing the lectures, we have additional 40 hours of work each week. But I know that at the top universities in the USA the situation is the same. We don’t compare ourselves with the top 100, but with the top 50 or 25 universities. After the first year, it will get better and we will have more time to think about our future projects. Nevertheless, within the program, we work very closely together. I really enjoy this atmosphere. In China, students are very competitive and the whole society is rather competitive. Within our group, it doesn’t matter how good you or your classmates are – only if we work together, we will be able to master the high demands. At this point, the materials we study cannot be found in textbooks or via Google. It is all based on human thinking. Everyone in the program has very strong abilities and we can all inspire each other. For me, this is a source for passion about my studies.

Where would you like to pursue your PhD? Do you want to stay in Mannheim?

Xi: Staying here for ten years in total might be a little bit too long. But after the first semester here, I have to say, the quality is extraordinarily high. In the US for example where I studied for one semester, the system is different. They start from the very basics and give every student the chance to adapt to it. Within this framework, some students show a higher performance whereas others a lower one. Here, everybody needs to meet a certain level. If you can make it in a program that is structured like this, this is very positive for your future. I like to read the résumés from my professors to find out how they achieved their current positions because one day I want to stand there, too. Most of them have gained experience either in the USA or in the UK. I suppose I will finish my studies here and then do the same. But I also think that China’s future is very promising. I don’t like the structure of economic studies in China for now, but at some point they might need my knowledge.

How do you like to spend your free time?

Xi: I am a big sports fan and I really enjoy the offers of the Institute of Sports. For example, I will attend a skiing trip to Austria. This will be a great opportunity to relax. Generally, in Mannheim or in Germany, there are many things to do. I prefer the balance between work and life here a lot. This is not typical for China. Although I attend this demanding program of study, the general pace of life for me here is much slower than it would have been in China.

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