Exchange report - Student at KI
Heidelbergs old town
Home university: Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
Study programme: Biomedicine (Master's)
Exchange programme: Erasmus
Semester: Autumn and spring semester 2017/2018
Name: Katharina Koetter
Email address:


Being a born in Germany it might seem like a peculiar choice to go back to Heidelberg for an Erasmus exchange semester and I must admit, most of my friends had a good laugh. What could I possibly learn about a culture I was brought up in and about swedish culture I have been experienced during my Master studies at KI? Fact is that I chose an international masters degree in Biomedicine at KI for the things I have been missing in Germany: A relaxed working atmosphere, cooperation based assignments and new insights into science from a more medical based university. However, I chose to go back to Germany for a Semester because of the things I was missing in Sweden: being in charge of organising things myself, freedom of choice in subjects lectures and a responsibility for my own learning experience. So I decided to do the unthinkable and apply for Heidelberg. Of course I was worried to explain this decision to coordinators and future employers, but I thought that you usually learn more about your own country when you come as a stranger. Most information provided on the website for outgoing exchange students at KI helped me to prepare as well as the intensive information from Heidelberg as soon as I received a place. The journey could start.

Arrival and registration

When I first set eyes on this truly beautiful small town in summer, it captured my heart. The US soldiers have a song thats called “I lost my heart in Heidelberg” and I can see why. The travel from Frankfurt doesn’t take long and the International Office has set up Introductory days for all the new international students in Heidelberg with city tours, moving and language support and a lot of other activities. Also the Erasmus student committee often held Pub nights, parties and made you feel connected and welcome as well as the Neuroscience Master students first Pub-crawl where we had time for one beer at each pub until we met up at ‘Vater Rhein’, an old and traditional guesthouse which served incredibly cheap spaghetti for drunk students.

Looking over Heidelberg from the ‘Philosophers path’


(see Accomodation section)


I was happy to find accommodation with the help of a friend. As very common in Germany I had a sublet in a flat share with two other nice german girls. Its not uncommon to have unlimited first hand contracts for rooms or second hand contracts for a certain time. The girl I was renting the room from was doing an internship abroad as ell and I felt very at home with two other people around to joke and laugh around when we came home. Its very common to invite friends over and have dinner parties and to cook dinner together with flat mates. The cost of living in Germany is generally cheaper than what I pay in my SSSB student home in Stockholm. I payed around 3200 Kr per month for my room in Heidelberg, but of course there are cheaper and more expensive options depending on where you live in the city. A useful german website to find flat shares is:

Every day I enjoyed a nice bicycle ride to university and it really made me appreciate living in a small town since everything is so close. Most students in Heidelberg cycle on a daily basis since its a lot cheaper and easier. Part of the daily struggle is to find your bicycle in the ocean of bicycles in front of the cafeteria or your seminar building.

 If I hadn’t found anything on my own the international office would have offered help to find a place and put me up in the application process for the student dorms, in which you mostly live in flat shares as well. If you feel like living alone there are also rooms. I had a strong feeling of support from the office and their kind reminder E-mails to register with the city and other things you need to organise for a complete life in Germany.

Studies in general

One thing that I valued a lot was the freedom I was given in terms of choosing what I would like to do. I feel that a wide variety and looking for experiences outside the own subject is very welcome in Germany. I had options to look into other majors lectures if I had taken an interest. Also more organisation and responsibility was put on myself  in terms of my learning. For example, attendance is optional for most lectures where you have to take a final exam. The way you want to study is completely up to you and you can follow your own learning style. Generally lectures are competent and always open to answer questions in or after class, however there is more of a hierarchical structure in universities in Germany. In my opinion it does not alter my learning experience except that I think more about the structures of my E-mails to my supervisors. After being used to KI’s group work mentality I found the big lecture halls more anonymous. Definitely german lectures focus more on handing the students a lot of information rather than making sure they are ready to receive it. Sometimes it feels a bit more stressful and the focus in germany seems to be more on your academic development than on developing the personal skills you need to actually work later in life. 

 However most german students seem to have always some extra time on their hands to help you moving, go to party or do sports even though they constantly complain about their workload. The flexible schedule which you could craft for yourself surely is part of this phenomena. If you want to sleep in Monday or do sports Tuesday evening you don’t take classes there, simply as that.

My computer lab work place during my internship

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 3 at KI

My freedom of choice in terms of courses was vast. Heidelberg has a Molecular Biology Master programme, for which you apply in one speciality track in which you choose your courses. These are Cancer Biology, Infectious diseases, Systems Biology, Developmental biology, Evolution and Ecology, Neuroscience and Molecular Plant Sciences. Since Heidelberg is more focused on basic research than KI they have a variety of focuses which KI doest offer. For me as an Erasmus student all of the specialities were up to choice. However I focused on Systems biology and Neuroscience since I was interested from the start. I took a fun hands on 1 Week course in Neural Networks, where we could simulate neuronal connections with special neuron boxes. For the finale of the week our class was split in half and we build our own little ‘Herbert’ , which simulated two brain regions talking to each other after a light signal change. That course was so simple and still taught so much more since the teachers left us alone with our protocol to play around and checked in on us regularly.  Other than that I could take a few optional lectures in Neurodynamic modelling ,Neuroanatomy and Artificial Intelligence from the Informatics Master. However there were not credits for the optional courses but I took so much from there since I could tailor my learning experience to what really interested me without much concerns. For filling in the credits needed one can take a variety of courses which are very practical and hands on.  

I also did an internship in the department of medical psychiatry where I helped two psychologists in an eye-tracker study. It opened my vield of view to a different side of Neuroscience and working with psychologists gave me a different insights in handling science and other kinds of data, which you usually don’t have in the wet lab of a biomedical research team. During my time there I couldn’t have asked for better supervisors, who gave me so much freedom and were very open about my outsider opinion as an biologist.

 I do feel that all of these courses helped me in a professional sense and certainly were relevant for my degree and my career. The most important thing I learned was that even if the course was not optimally structures, that it was my responsibility to learn for my self.

Hello ‘Herbert’

Language and Culture

Since I am a native German speaker I did not take part in the international language course which was offered prior to the start of the semester. All of the university courses  were handled in english, however in daily life it is definitely useful to speak some german when asked what you want at the local bakery. I know that many people struggle with german as a language, but I think if you give it a chance you will discover “the cuteness in it” how my old British roommate used to put it. She was constantly amazed by what funny expressions germans have for various kinds of rain and how accurately the words match certain situations. 

Im terms of culture its hard not to smirk a bit if you see it from the outside. I think the book “How to be german in 50 easy steps” written by Adam Flechter sums it up perfectly:

In his book he describes tiny german quirks apart from their love for punctuality and tidiness such as their love for pessimism, their desire to do everything them selves DIY style or just that there is nothing better in summer than an Apfelschorle (Apple juice mixed with sparkling water). While some stereotypes are clearly outdated, I would be proud to call myself half-german and embrace the ‘Allwetterjacke’ (lit. All weather jacket). Germans don’t go for style but for whats sensible to wear, since you never know how the weather is going to be if you’re out. I found that the german attitude to life is one of better being prepared, for - I don’t think most of them know- what. But you never know, right?

Leisure time and social activities

My social life was a blast in Heidelberg. I tried to continue my hobbies - Theater and Bouldering- in Heidelberg and met a lot of friendly people during that time (both germans and foreigners). Heidelberg offers a lot of activities: You can BBQ next to the river until autumn on the Neckarwiesen and go hiking in the mountains or visit the beautiful castle. There is a nice little street with lots of pubs and they are as lively as Stockholm (The Erasmus society ESN offers pub nights every monday to get together). There are a lot of seasonal activities in Heidelberg, but the best thing here were definitely the various Christmas markets open all day for 3 weeks and full of people with crepes, mulled wine and ice-skating (even though that one is not as impressive as in Stockholm). All of the Christmas atmosphere was there even though there wasn’t nearly any snow all winter. When I returned to Stockholm I enjoyed how bright the snow made the winter seem and how nice it was when the sun finally returned to my life in early April.

BBQs on the Neckarwiesen


Even though it was certainly a strange choice to go back to Germany for my Erasmus it was an eye opening experience to my own culture as well as to Swedish culture. I appreciated the Swedish easiness and the comfortable lifestyle in a more stressful environment and I definitely could say that coming to Sweden for part of my journey was great. I think going abroad tells you as much about who you are in your culture as about the country your visiting. I learned that germans humour is just saying ‘No’ with a straight face to a normal question and starting to laugh after 30 seconds of uncomfortable silence, that there are many similarities between Sweden and Germany as well as differences. I also learned that part of me is now more Swedish after living in Stockholm for a while. Because even though I was born in Germany I wanted to pay 10 Kr with card and forgot my cash constantly.