Exchange report - Student at KI
Home university: Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
Study programme: Biomedicine
Exchange programme: Erasmus
Semester: Spring semester 2017/2018
Name: Julia Foyer
Email address:


Traveling for longer periods of time and experiencing new ways of life at new places has always been a challenge I have enjoyed and found very valuable. Trying to adapt to a new culture, a new place and a new language is something I have found very interesting and rewarding during previous exchange studies in the USA for one academic year during high school, and two months in Tanzania a few years back. Therefore it was clear to me that I wanted to take the chance to go on exchange studies for my thesis work during my sixth semester of the Bachelor Programme in Biomedicine, even though I already enjoyed my life in Stockholm and was in a serious relationship, which of course made it a bit more complicated to be away for five months.

Although traveling far away to a different climate and part of the world seemed appealing, I decided to stay a bit closer to Sweden to simplify being away from my partner for a longer period of time. I had not been much to Germany before and decided that it could be interesting to go there. Germany is an influential country with much history, and I realised I didn't know much about today´s Germany, despite it being rather close to Sweden. Learning a bit of German language also seemed interesting and possibly useful. If you are from Sweden, going to Germany is also simple in the sense that no VISA or specific vaccinations are required. Heidelberg seemed to be a charming German city, big enough to be interesting but small enough to become familiar with over a few months, in the middle of beautiful nature. I was right.

I found the preparations leading up to the exchange period rather confusing and difficult. I lacked information regarding the specifics from both KI and Heidelberg University, and I found it difficult to find the information myself. I found it difficult to understand how the application to the university should be done, and when (if) I would get my acceptance. I felt anxious about contacting potential supervisors in Heidelberg prior to receiving my official acceptance from the university, since I didn't want to waste anyone's time in case there would be problems with the acceptance. I found it difficult to find information about how to handle this process, but by the beginning of November I anyway decided to contact PI´s of interesting groups, since time was running short. I came in contact with an interesting lab and after a Skype meeting it was decided that I would come to them for writing my thesis. The official letter from the university arrived much later, approximately a week before departure, but in the end everything worked out. If I would have been warned to expect the process to look like this, it would have made it less stressful and easier for me to manage.

To any student searching for a supervisor at a German university I want to give the advice to consider that German culture is more hierarchal than what we are used to at Swedish universities. When addressing a potential supervisor in an email, write full title and last name, e.g. "Dear Prof. Dr. Lastname". A also learned that Karolinska Institute is internationally a bit famous and it may be useful to mention in the headline of your email that you are a student from KI, as it might increase the chances of a busy PI to open your email.
Picture of the classic view from the Heidelberg castle

Arrival and registration

I arrived to Heidelberg only two days before starting working in the lab where I was doing my thesis. I see no need to arrive earlier, unless you want to, but it can be good to know that some bureaucracy is required at the university around start. For me this took at least half a day, and required visits to several university offices at various parts of town. I was lucky to have helpful German students working in the same lab as me, who offered to show me the way. The campus itself is quite big and a bit confusing in the beginning, but it only takes a little bit of time before you will know your way around.

Tips! I traveled both back and forth to Germany by train, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone else doing the same trip in the future. If you take a night train from Stockholm you can arrive in Heidelberg early evening on the next day. The trip is beautiful, you get to see much of both Denmark and Germany, and it is so much more environmentally sustainable compared to taking a flight. Give it a try!


I experienced the cost of living in Heidelberg to be comparable to that of living in Stockholm, possibly somewhat cheaper.

It can be good to know that Swedish semesters don't overlap with German semesters, which rather have one winter semester and one summer semester (as compared to autumn and spring semesters in Sweden). This had the consequence of my exchange period stretching over two German semesters, which wasn't a problem, but it obliged me to pay for two semester fees (ca. 150 euros). Except from the semester fee I had no other expenses related to the university. The student fee also gave me the status of an official student, allowing me the advantage of buying a public transport card for a cheaper price. The public transport card lasts for six months, starting from the date you buy it, and also has the advantage of allowing you to travel quite far outside of Heidelberg, which provides a great chance of discovering surrounding areas on weekends.

However, if you live somewhat central in Heidelberg and don't care for traveling much outside of the city you can quite easily get around by bike. Even walking is doable to most places.


My first attempts of arranging accommodation was through facebook pages dedicated to mediating contacts between people who want to rent out, and those who are looking to rent. This approach did not work out for me, and I didn't get a single response from the people I wrote. So I tried a different approach. On a KI event I met an exchange student from Germany who suggested that I should instead look via a website called According to him, this is the biggest website used by Germans themselves when looking for a landlord or a new tenant.

After putting an afternoon of work into writing my own profile, the offers began to come to me. I want to warn anyone who tries this to be careful and a bit suspicious when examining the responders, since I learned after a while that the majority of offers I got were actually nothing else but attempts of frauds. I learned to look for the signs, like the emails not completely answering my questions or being rather unspecific in their answers, and not allowing me to see the apartment before moving in. They also wanted me to pay a deposit prior to arrival, and usually to an account outside of Germany. The apartments were also all located really central and, as I learned along the way, a bit "too good to be true".

I still managed to find my accommodation via this website. I got contacted by a German man who had seen my profile, and in comparison to the others he made a much better impression on me over our email correspondence. I decided to stay in a room in the apartment of him, his wife, and their two little children. It was located in a small town outside of Heidelberg, called Seckenheim, but it was easy to travel back and forth every day with the tram. The travel took approximately twenty minutes in each direction, and I rather enjoyed the ride, being able to look over the surrounding landscape with all the fields, little residential areas, and mountains in the far distance.

I also enjoyed living with the family, since I got the chance to be more around German culture and language. They were very open to involving me in their activities, so sometimes we went for Sunday walks and cake, or for hiking in the mountains, so I think I was lucky with my housing. I payed 300 euro per month for my room, but then I was also allowed to hang out in all of the common rooms, and I thought it was a good price.

Studies in general

Since I was doing my bachelor thesis in a research lab I cannot say much about study environment or teaching methods at the university. To a high extent the whole city is filled with students though, and my impression is that at least most German students really enjoy studying in Heidelberg, and that it´s considered a good university. If you are doing your thesis work in a research lab, like I did, it all comes down to whether or not you are lucky with your supervisor and your lab co-workers. And this is true at a Swedish university as well, I noticed no difference. Since biomedical research is a very international field, this might be a reason for experiencing less differences between an internship or a thesis at a Swedish university, and one at a German university.

My closest supervisor (who was originally not from Germany) was very, very helpful and generous with his time and encouragement, but this was pure luck and had nothing to do with my hosting university. My placement was at a department purely dedicated to cancer research, and except from my own private student errands, I did not interact with the rest of the university much. I really enjoyed my department. The building and facilities were nice and most things worked very smoothly.

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 6 at KI

The success and level of content you experience from doing a thesis, I believe, is always most dependent on the supervisor you have and how much they are willing to invest in you. I was very happy with my supervisor, since he always had the intention of passing on knowledge to me that he thought would be useful for my future. He was generous and altruistic in the sense that he wanted to build me up for the future and help me develop long term skills and deep knowledge, rather than focus on me producing as much data as possible only for his own sake.

I think I gained many of the most valuable lessons and experiences that you want to achieve from a bachelor thesis work, including learning how to plan and take responsibility, write and edit a longer scientific text over a longer period of time and how to approach scientific tasks. My supervisor's awareness in giving me freedom to be independent, while always being there to guide me when needed, as well as always being uplifting and never judging me for my mistakes, really gave me the chance to shine and develop as a young scientist.

Sunset from the lab

Language and Culture

I would have really liked to take a language course, but from what I found, there was no course offered for me at the university. I decided it would be worth it to look and pay for an evening language course myself, however, in the end I didn't take any course since I thought I would not find the time to do a course several evenings a week. Instead I tried my best to learn on my own, from the people around me, and online. I challenged myself to order in German at cafés etc., and while it was more difficult than I thought to learn the language, I definitely improved a lot from these attempts.

I didn't experience any major cultural clashes. But one thing that is good to know for anyone who is moving to Germany is that all or most grocery stores are closed on Sundays. Take this into account if you arrive on Saturday evening for example, so you don't have to starve on your first day.

Leisure time and social activities

I had a rich social life in Heidelberg, but I believe that was much due to luck. I had one contact in Germany before, who introduced me to her group of friends in Heidelberg. This group of friends was very friendly and inclusive, which allowed me to spend much time with them, as well as to widening my social circle when in turn meeting their friends. Because of this, and since I was not taking any courses at the university, I did not experience much student life.

However, I really took advantage of a student benefit, called "University Sports". If you are a student at Heidelberg University you have the privilege of taking parts in training sessions every day of the week, in many different sports depending on your preferences. Most of them are for free. I often went to fitness classes with my lab mates, as well as a few gymnastics trainings and dance classes. I also wanted to play soft ball, but ran out of time.

Except from University Sports there is quite a lot to do. There are many pubs if you want to go out and drink a beer, and even though I wasn't looking I came across a few facebook events related to gatherings for international students. If I would have wished for something, it would have been a richer live music culture. From my experience it's difficult to find live music, unless you possibly know the musicians yourself. At least that's the only way I managed to find any...

The nature around Heidelberg is great and there is really good possibilities for hiking. I did some hiking in the mountains, and really loved it. Although i didn't try it myself, I also know there are some possibilities for outdoor climbing not too far from Heidelberg, for anyone interested in that.

Hiking in Schriesheim, close to Heidelberg with public transport


My exchange studies in Heidelberg, Germany, have made a lasting impression on me and, I believe, have changed me for the better. The many experiences I have had, most of them positive but many of them more or less challenging, have helped me grow in many ways, both personally and scientifically. I believe the whole experience and the fact that I solved any problems that came up has helped me feel more grown-up and more self-reliant. I have developed my self-trust and I think this experience will significantly increase the chances of me having the courage to move abroad in the future for shorter or longer periods of time, even without any organisational help. And that is something I am grateful for.

I also believe that any international experiences are useful for a future professional career, especially in a very international field, such as biomedical research. I believe that a more broad, wider platform of experiences help to build both understanding and confidence for the future.

I feel very grateful for having had the chance to go on exchange for one semester, and I am very happy that I took it. I would not have been the same person today if I would have stayed in Stockholm. My semester abroad gave so many new experiences during a relatively short time, and therefore provided many more learning experiences for me compared to if I would have stayed at home. I am not saying exchange studies are always easy, because they are usually not, but I believe that it is most often worth it. If you are expecting some hardships and challenges you will find so many chances to grow, and on top of this you will hopefully, and probably, also have quite a lot of fun!
Going home late had it's perks sometimes