UMBC Exchange: Kassel University
Major: Information Systems
26 February 2019
I am Thomas Alexander Steinholz. My first name comes from my mom’s favorite Church – St. Thomas in Leipzig, Germany. My middle name comes from “Alexander the Great”, however, my parents refer to me as Sascha for short. My last name is a combination of my parents’ last names “Stein” and “Meinholz”. I inherited my German Citizenship upon my birth in Annapolis, Maryland – due to the fact that both of my parents are also German Citizens.
I chose to take advantage of UMBC’s Kassel Exchange Program to explore some of my family’s German Heritage, as well as to expand my overall knowledge of the country, culture, and language. As I do commute to UMBC, this will also be a good opportunity for me to live on my own and deal with all of the new responsibilities of being an adult. All while being in a new and exciting setting.
When I am not at school, I am working as an Embedded Firmware Engineer in Annapolis, Maryland. Programming, engineering, and development have always been a passion of mine from a young age. My employer has given me an amazing opportunity to show what I know from the age of fifteen and expand it over the course of the past four years. This passion of mine has driven my decision to obtain a B.S. in Information Systems.
When I am not at work, I am most likely driving around. As an obnoxious baby, the only way my parents were ever able to get me to fall asleep was a nice long car ride. While driving cars don’t put me to sleep anymore, they do relax me when I am having a long day. Which is also convenient being a commuter who lives forty-five minutes away from campus. My friends and I will often go on day-long rally events over the weekends to various places around the DMV area and further. This gives us an amazing opportunity to meet more car enthusiasts alike.
When in Germany, I am hoping to make at least one day trip on the Autobahn in a fun car. And maybe even see if I can make it to the Nürburgring. Regardless, these next few months are going to be very impactful to my life.
Thanks for the read,
2 April 2019
My travels to Germany have been quite fun and sometimes stressful. While I planned my arrival with the Program Organizer many months ago, she actually took her vacation during the time of arrival for the International Exchange (Erasmus) Students. While I was fortunate enough to arrive within the proper office hours of the Studentwerk, other students were not. I was shocked to find out that quite a few (American and Italian) exchange students actually spent almost a week in a Youth Hostel, waiting for their rooms to become available. Others rented out Airbnbs. Part of this is also due to the requirement of paying the lease of the dormitory/apartment/studio in-full upon arrival. However, since the University of Kassel only accepts bank wire-transfers, this can take up to two weeks.
I spent the first week in Germany attempting to get nothing but paperwork filled out. Even though I had a studio to myself, I had no wifi (or cell plan). However, the on-campus Eduroam wifi network worked seamlessly from UMBC, which was a blessing for me. Being able to speak conversational-level German has also saved me more than it should have, for sure. Currently, we are still completing our pre-semester German course which prepares us for the semester. Next week is Orientation Week, which they have many fun events planned to get every Erasmus student ready for the upcoming semester.
During this course, I have had an amazing opportunity to befriend people from all over the world. Now I have more Italian, Turkish, French, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, Brazilian, Mexican, and El Salvadorian friends than I have had before. There might even be some nationalities I forgot, since there are so many. Every single Erasmus student I have met has been very friendly and has been able to speak at least conversational-level English or better. I was sort-of sad to hear that most of them did not come here to learn German, like I did. Many are just going for scholarships, resume-building, to learn English, or just to travel. Regardless, we are able to communicate and have a lot of fun together.
The main thing I have been struggling with during my first week in Germany, was the culture around Cafes and Bakeries. Sometimes you pay before you eat, then sometimes you pay after you eat. When you pay after you eat, you’re just supposed to sit down and call a host/hostess to order, otherwise you go to the counter. When you get a dish, you pay one Euro more than the item you ordered is worth, then when you return it – you get your Euro back. This allows you to travel around with your dishes as much as you please, as long as you return it. That being said, you also need to pay extra when you get a To-Go cup. This is because it isn’t as good for the environment as a washable/reusable dish, so there is a tax for it and it is more expensive for you to buy.
This is the same with any type of bottles you buy from the store. Plastic or glass, there is a tax for buying the bottle. When you return the bottle, you get some money back. Some people do not feel like returning the bottles, so it is also acceptable to leave the bottle sitting next to a trash can. This way, a homeless person can come by to pick up the bottle for some money – this is very common. The bottles are also typically much higher quality than the American ones you can buy. In the Central Cafeteria (Menza), the bottles are made out of plastic but as hard as glass. I found it much easier to just continue to reuse these bottles since they’re made in such a high quality. It is also very convenient, given my tap-water is pre-filtered and safe to drink. It actually has a higher health rating than some of the bottled waters.
I am very happy to be able to practice my German daily, be immersed in the culture, and make so many new friends in the process.
7 June 2019
Starting classes in Germany has been stressful. Unlike in the United States where we can pick and choose which class works for us at which time a semester in advance. Here, we do not know with certainty, which classes will be offered until the semester starts. Then, when the semester starts, you can start to visit lectures and seminars to see what you like. During the first few weeks of courses, you can then start to finalize your registrations. For example, I had to register for my courses at UMBC next semester before I even knew exactly what I was taking here, when or where. This can also be complicated when one of those courses that you need to take in the current semester is a prerequisite for the next semester.
Getting back into work has been a little bit more difficult than I would have anticipated. It was really inconvenient to not have any internet connection in my room for the first three weeks I lived here. Fortunately, I had a very nice Study Hall type building in front of my place; which I could use to work in with the WIFI at the time. However, even with an internet connection in my room, I find it difficult to work. Just because I like to keep my work separate from my living space. Regardless, I have been able to put in an adequate amount of hours.
To take a break from all this school and work, my international friends and I took a short trip to Berlin. We went for three days and two nights with fourteen people. Traveling in Germany as a group is really price efficient, as we were able to just get big group tickets on the ICE Train straight to Berlin. Then we were able to get to our place with the U-Bahn in Berlin. The public transportation within the city was also extremely cheap, which allowed us to see most of the city in the first two days we stayed. We kept the last day simple as we had a long last night out.
Within the city of Kassel, you will find a lot of Turkish and Arabic stores, shops and restaurants. Way more than you would find German restaurants. However, this is very convenient as they remain open through the night and most German holidays, while all other stores are closed. However, there are some areas in this city that do not feel as safe as others. Most people do not wander around the city alone at night. However, the area in front of where I live is very new and you feel safe around there. You can tell that the school is trying to get people more involved and have fun with their events and organizations.
The thing I value the most here in Kassel is my friends. I have been able to meet very many people from all over the world. This has given me the opportunity to see how a lot of different people think, what they value, and how they deal with their problems. Being open-minded, respectful and understanding is very important when cultures are being merged. For me, this is a lot of what studying abroad experience is about. Nobody knows everything, and nobody is perfect, but if we all work together we can all be much better off together.
Thomas Alexander (Sascha) Steinholz
23 July 2019
The past few weeks have been nothing but studying Mathematics and Working with the occasional social outing. I have been working very hard and I hope my hard work pays off. I am writing this after finishing my last exam (Mathematics). It was quite difficult as the tests always seem to focus on what you do not study in depth. There was really a lot to study for and the test just incorporated most of the topics together briefly. I am hoping that I have enough to prove my comprehension of the subject.
Now, I have to deal with the first of my friends leaving as well. Since everyone is still here for the first people to leave, almost everyone accompanies those to their bus or train station for the final goodbyes before they leave. Hopefully, the goodbyes are not forever, but it will be for at least a while – as we live all over the world. With the ending of my math exam, I have much more free time to work and spend some time with my friends for the remainder of my time here.
Tomorrow marks a week away from my departure and I am going to have to start getting things ready for that. With that I have my room inspection, packing, and paperwork to do. I am looking forward to being able to allocate more of my time for working and I need to organize the 20 days I can work full time before our next Fall Semester starts. While in Germany, I also need to think about any gifts to bring home, what I can fit in my luggage and more. I also need to visit one of Kassel’s largest attractions, Hercules. I have spent my time traveling and working while here, so my first opportunity to visit it is this week.
Thank you for reading,
Thomas Sascha Alexander Steinholz