When studying a globe, it is quite difficult to pinpoint the exact centre of the world. After all is said and done, it is basically a question of your viewpoint. Manuel Mandujano from Mexico and Pil Je Kim from South Korea actually managed to meet up bang in the middle while spending a semester abroad at ISM. In spite of all their cultural differences, their experience of studying in Germany is astonishingly similar.

Discovering Europe

Economic stability, on-time trains and tasty beer – there are numerous reasons why Manuel and Pil Je could have chosen to study in Germany. However, the decisive aspect was its central location right in the heart of Europe. Obviously the best starting point to discover more about the continent and its people. Both of them travelled extensively during their semester abroad. Pil Je even studied at the ISM Hamburg and Frankfurt/Main in order to learn more about his host country. And Manuel has probably visited more countries in Europe than most native Europeans have. They were determined to make the most of their time in Germany, as they both realise the opportunity to study abroad is a great privilege.

Clash of cultures

Both Manuel and Pil Je study at large universities in their respective home countries and were amazed by the excellent rapport between students and teaching staff at ISM. Pil Je believes it would be difficult to imagine this type of relationship in South Korea, as hierarchies and respect play a huge role in the Asian country. Manuel felt the small group of exchange students tended to only socialise among themselves. He, on the other hand, is always on the lookout for like-minded people who have the courage to venture outside their familiar surroundings and run the risk of making mistakes. “Language is a key tool for building bridges between different cultures, learning German is therefore absolutely essential,” says Manuel. “It is important to make the first move if you wish to get to know someone better or if you encounter problems.” Manuel does not find it difficult to approach people. The story of how he got hold of tickets for a Champions League game in Dortmund could have come straight from an adventure book. As he proudly shows off the photographs he took of himself on his smartphone, kitted out in the famous black and yellow of Borussia Dortmund, you start to realise just how difficult it will be for him to say goodbye after his semester in Germany.

Outside the comfort zone

Both of the students acknowledged big differences in mentality. Although they were often part of the recipe for a good laugh, they were sometimes quite taxing. There is always a chance of homesickness striking when even the simplest of daily tasks become a chore. Manuel and Pil Je are both proud of the fact that they had the courage to leave their comfort zone and enter the ‘adventure zone’. “I was somewhat apprehensive about being in a new and strange environment and having to meet new people,” explains Pil Je. “The close-knit community and the activities for foreign students helped me to settle into life in Germany.” Manuel becomes a little anxious when he thinks about returning home to Mexico. He has learned to love the freedom he enjoys so far away from home: being independent and responsible for his own actions away from the watchful eyes of his friends and family.