Sunday, April 19, 2015

Reflection 1: When you need something, ask for it.


Now it has come to a full month since I first landed in Germany. And of all the lessons I have learned during my stay, certain some are what I deem as most important for a fledgling embarking on a journey to live in a new country, particularly in Saarbrucken, Germany, anyways. And since I'm an inexperienced blogger I have decided that one topic at a time is already to long to write, so I will post this as a series of posts titled "Reflection #: [Title]" where # is the number of the post in the series and [Title] is simply the title of the post.

For example, today's topic is: "When you need something, ask for it.", so the post would read "Reflection 1: When you need something, ask for it."

A. When you need something, ask for it.

More often than not, you might be surprised at how easy it is to get what you want. All you need to do is ask, as it has happened to me in many occasions.

Today after watching the Coursera course: Learning how to learn, specifically about the benefits of exercises, an epiphany flashed through my mind. I took off my jeans and wore sport pants instead, grabbed my sneakers, drank plenty of water, took the keys and walked out the front door. Initially, I planned to jog along the Saar river but then I spotted a group or two of different ethnic people playing Basketball in a piazza just a few hundred meters from my student dormitory. I would like to ask if I can play with them. Questions and doubts started to popup in my mind like...'Would then let me play?' - 'I don't even speak German.' - 'OMG I'm the only Asian within the vicinity' - etc. etc., but I dismissed them all. I walked to them and asked "Kann Icsh spele....Kann Ich speile mit Euch?" And wala, they let me play. Then the universal language and rules of half-court basketball took over. Mission accomplished.

There was this time as well when I first arrived still searching for a place to stay. Of course I had booked a place at one of the student dormitories around the city. However due to the number of overwhelming new students each intake, it could take up to 6-10 months to be on the waiting list before you get an offer. My friend on the other hand did not run out of luck and got a placement even before we came here. In truth, I only had myself to blame since I did not apply for the accommodation as early as I could. The thing is, while I was searching for accommodations, mostly expensive private apartments, my friend had to go to this students dormitory office to sign some papers or something and I tagged along. And when I was there I said "Hello, I would like to know if you have a place for me to stay. Which queue am I on the waiting list?", then they asked for my identification such and such. And wala! After a few minutes they told me they had this room available for me. And a very good one too!

Point is, of course it was very much possible that the guys at the Basketball court would not let me play and that the administrators of the student dormitories would argue against my request, but I would never know until I asked. There are many similar situations, as I have said, but I think you get the point. It wasn't begging either, since I simply asked for their opinions on the matter. And if it's all right with them then that suits me fine.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Yet Another New Beginning, MSc in Computer Science at Saarland University, Saarbrücken.


All right, it's pretty conclusive or rather determined that I must come to Saarbruecken, Germany, for the Master's in Computer Science(CS) at Saarland University (Universität des Saarlandes). The university is situated in a valley surrounded by forests and hills. There won't be a single day that you won't hear birds chirping as you take a walk around the campus, but I digress....

I'm well aware that the reputation* for CS here isn't the best in the world, however I'm sure, after hours and hours of research, that Saarland University is a best place for CS in the whole Germany, if not the entire Europe. [*Reputation does not necessarily reflect quality.]

It's not that I was without options either. I have applied to many other places, all inside Germany though, namely TU Munich, University of Bonn, University of Freiburg, TU Kaiserslautern. Adding Saarland University to the pile and that would make five universities in total. And fortunately, I was accepted into four of them except for the University of Bonn since they required that I have some level of German language skills, of which honestly I had none at the time. But four out of five is not itself a bad result for a guy with a undergrad CGPA of 2.94/4, granted I had luckily published an academic paper with my advisor during the last year of college.

I have to admit it's a puzzling dilemma whether I should have chosen TU Munich or Saarland University, since the CS program at TU Munich is ranked the best in Germany according to QS ranking. But then again I have heard that QS ranking for German universities is as accurate as the bus schedule in my country. [Well actually the DAAD & CHE ranking shows that Saarland is the best MSc in CS program in Germany according to many factors, especially for research.]

Computer Science at Saarland University works in collaboration with many other research institutes including Max-Planck institute for Informatics (CS), Max-Planck institute for Software-Engineering, German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), and Intel Research Center for Visual computing, etc. This reason itself has brought much research funding and grants to the students here, and along with the following reasons, thus I chose MSc in CS here at Saarland University.

Nonetheless, whether the Masters program here would live up to its reputation, it would remain to be seen until the Semester starts in April, and possibly a few months thereafter for me to conclusively decide, of which I will update promptly if I'm not preoccupied with other things.


The first thing that comes to my mind is that everyone here speaks Deutsch (German) very well. English is another matter entirely. It's been a bit difficult for me to communicate, especially at shops and supermarkets. Though most young adults here can speak English to a certain level, so I suppose I scrape by. Furthermore, I have learned to pick up some of the more frequently used German phrases like 'welcher Zeit möchten Sie öffnen und schließen?' and 'Ich brauche [insert anything here]. I'm not too worried since there will be a free course offering basic-advanced German language training once the semester starts, of which I half-heartedly intend to do exceptionally well.....depending whether I would have much time for it since I also have to study intensely for the Computer Science courses as a priority.

Well, Saarbrücken is a lovely town. A simple and safe place to be. The crime rate is unheard of. Five out of five people I have asked confirmed that it is safe to walk around in the city at midnight without getting robbed. And that suits me fine.

The opening office hours for administrates, shops, fitness centers differ from day to day. Some days they might open at 8:00 AM, other days they might start at 2:00 PM. It would be wise to plan everything beforehand, ideally a day before. Nothing opens on Sunday except for the good ol' McDonalds, so the supermarkets would be crammed on Saturday afternoon since all the people in town would be racing to buy groceries in order to survive and cave-in on the long Sunday ahead.

The public transport schedules here are very precise! Precise to the point that if the bus drivers arrive at a bus stop too early they would park at the bus stop for a moment in fear that they might arrive too early at the next stop and consequently miss out a few passengers who come precisely on time.

I have also found out that many of the German etiquettes that I have read from the outdated web articles do not apply anymore. For examples, one that says that I should wait for a lady offer her hand first before I can shake it to introduce myself. I find that if you do that probably you won't get to shake hand with any lady here for that matter. It is also confirmed by German friends of mine that they aren't even aware of the rule. Another one is that I shouldn't say 'Ja Wohl!' when I'm fascinated by something because that would make me sound like a nazi (no offence here). Instead I should say 'Super!', 'Toll!', 'Hervorragend!', 'Klasse!', or a combination of them. Also I find that many Germans say 'Ciao' instead of 'Tschüss' as a parting goodbye, of which I find amusing since it's an Italian word. And I'm pretty sure there are so many other cultural things that I have yet to learn. But so far it's been an enjoyable experience.

I'll be sure to update as often as I can. Ciao! Tschüss!