Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Studying in Germany - A Survey

Objective: As I got more and more queries about different universities in Germany, I realised that my perspective was necessarily restricted by my experience and that of my friends, most of whom belong to University of Stuttgart and RWTH Aachen. So I decided to create a survey form and send it to common forums to get some general feedback from people in different courses, living in different states.

Scope: The survey was designed w.r.t prospective students in mind and the questions they often ask - types of universities, application pre-requisites, course expenses, career prospects after graduation etc. The participants of the survey can choose to be anonymous and in keeping with this policy, no effort was made to verify the information they provided.

Design: The survey used Google forms and the questionnaire can be found here. Although google forms offers to generate the summary of responses, in cases of multiple options being available, the tool is not suitable and hence excel was used for certain calculations.

Statistical Significance: The results here are from 87 responses. Every effort was made to ensure that the distribution is not biased w.r.t the two universities listed above.

Summary of responses:
Since Europe in general (leaving out UK) and Germany, in particular, has become a popular destination for higher studies only in the last few years, it is of interest to many people chose Germany as their first option, why and for what.

Application and Visa

Course Duration and Details
In general, a masters course will be 2 yrs or 4 semesters long. Some students take 2.5 years or 5 semesters to complete (based on intership and master thesis requirements). The survey confirms this fact since 80% of the participants completed the course in 2 years and 9% in 2.5 years.

Career Prospects after Graduation
The responses in the category "other" refer to those that are still studying. 5 participants answered this question with 'Don't know'. These responses were excluded from the statistics.

Living - Most popular states
For various reasons, Western Germany is generally preferred to Eastern Germany with Berlin being an exception (hasn't it always been one ?)

Studying Experience in Germany
Different questions were posed in this category. To avoid listing each of them, here is a summary of the salient points.
  • 83-87% of the participants agree that universities are well-equipped (infrastructure, research, lab etc.) and courses offered are well-planned (content, teaching etc.)
  • 69% of the people believe that cultural integration is a challenge while the remaining do not see it as one.
  • 79% agree that universities offer help in settling down (official formalities, accommodation etc.)
  • 87% believe that knowing German is important for studying in Germany.
  • Only 53% agree that getting visa extensions during the course of study is easy.

Job Market/Work Culture in Germany
As in the previous category, only the salient points are summarised.
  • 79-84% agree that job prospects in Germany are location-based (certain cities are better than other) and industry-based. They also agree that the work culture in Germany is good (colleagues, flexible working hours, vacation etc.)
  • 47% believe that the job market in Germany is stable
  • 66% agree that secure employment in Germany is a perk (clear contractual terms w.r.t working hours, notice period etc. , unemployment benefits)
  • 88% believe that knowing German is important to work in Germany.

Other comments:
I had asked participants to jot down any comments or suggestions that come to mind and below given is a summarised list.
  • When a student applies from India he/she does not know the difference between FH and TU. The former is called University of applied sciences and the latter is called Technical university or simply university. Only after studying in Germany one would realise that TU is more advanced in terms of academic research. After completing graduation in FH, if one wants to do a PhD in Germany he/she has to pass a lot of exams at that corresponding University to get an admission to PhD research.
  • Knowing German is even more important when working for consultants because of the documentation in German.
My comments:
  • In general, the results of the survey are as I expected. The only result that surprises me is that only 87-88% believe that knowing German is important. I was expecting it to be in the 95 plus scale.
  • W.r.t job market and financial stability, I believe Germany, Netherlands and France are reliable but since they often go to the rescue of other EU countries, their inland capital markets may suffer, albeit not to a disastrous extent, since they always have contingency measures to protect the common man.
  • Unemployment benefits are a boon, true. But one can avail them only on fulfilling certain conditions. For example, I should have worked for at least a year before I became unemployed and should have registered at the Arbeitsamt with all the necessary forms on or before the first day of my unemployment (In that case, one can get 60% of his/her net salary as an unemployment benefit. The period will be determined by how long one worked. More details here)
Above all, this survey is intended only to give an idea about what is more common and does not necessarily dictate the terms for everyone's tenure in Germany. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, keep an open mind, take initiative, learn German and not much can go wrong; if it does, it becomes a learning experience or at the least a blog post ;)

I want to thank all the participants for taking time to complete the survey. I especially want to thank SK, a fellow blogger in Germany, who provided valuable input in creating the questionnaire.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mudiyala !

Ennadhu idhu (vaidvelu style) ????

Rajini thalaila yaaro karakozhambu oothitanga ! Aishwarya thailaila thanni vitta electricity generate pannalam polarukke !

I agree that Rajini is trim (or is the word emaciated ?) and does not look his age with all the make-up. He did really look much better in Shivaji than in Baba and commanded the screen presence as always. Mottai Shivaji....chance illa po ! But isn't this taking it too far ???

Someone should talk some sense into Shankar....a song shot in Peru should have exotic costumes...agreed but why make the beautiful Aishwarya scary (she is ok in this pic but there are a number of scary ones !) and should-act-his-age-atleast-at-times Rajini funny weird ??

Rajini fans, unmaya osichu sollunga, idhu over dhane ??

Photo Copyright: Sun Pictures

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dubai kurukku sandhu....

Dubai main road, Dubai (close to Dubai busstop), no, its not where I stayed when I visited Dubai but anytime anyone mentions Dubai, I chuckle (thanks to Vadivelu)!

When I was booking tickets with Emirates to India, I realized that a weekend stop in Dubai would cost me nothing. I was wondering if I could get away with a transit visa and since my stay was for less than 36 hours, I could. I was hoping that I don’t end up spending a day at the embassy getting a visa but I never expected that all it would take was sending a filled out application form, my residency status in Germany and a photograph (that I generally use in my resume, was too lazy to take passport size photos in some weird format that are sold only in triplicate….those I would probably never use since one can never smile in these fotos) by email to the emirates office. My visa was emailed back to me - a .pdf I had to print and take.

I had my visa, I was going to see Suja akka on my way to India, the flight landed early – everything was perfect….until I saw the queue at the immigration counter. But then I had an iPod and the excitement of being in a new country, so I stood and I stood and I stood….45 minutes later with only 10 people ahead of me in the queue, I was approached by a heavily bearded man in Kandura (the long white cloak they wear) who asked me for my passport. After examining it, he looked up (yes, he was much shorter than me) and pointed a finger at my eye. I was thinking “adapaavi, airportla vechu kanna kuthuvenu solre” and then when I decided to consider seriously what he was meaning he did the same thing again and pointed to a sign board. All I saw was ‘Visas’ and since I already had mine, I stood there blinking at him. Finally a man next to me said “eye scan” and I thought he was kidding until I saw this poking-my-eye-with-finger-man vigorously nodding his head (I was trying hard not to laugh in his face!)…never heard of or had an eye scan before.

So I go in search of this eye scan counter and to my dismay, there is another long queue there. I was for once glad that I was in a ‘conservative’ country because there was a separate women’s queue which was a little shorter than the men’s queue. Another 30 minutes and I finally had my irises scanned and my visa stamped! I learnt later that if you had your eyes scanned while leaving the UAE, then you can never enter the UAE again! So far, so good…

With this stamped visa, I go back to the immigration counter to realize that I am again standing in a long queue (unreasonably thinking - where are all these people coming from!?). I noticed with envy the ‘Marhaba’ counter that was almost empty and a few people being taken there. I thought it was for diplomats but then learnt that it was a paid-welcome-service (Marhaba means welcome in Arabic). I am sure this is a blessing for desis living in Dubai since visiting parents can get through immigration with a very reasonable fee (More Info here)

Anyway, coming back to my queue, I noticed a couple of women with kids and another pregnant woman being escorted to the front. I was seriously considering if I should fake some sort of illness by clutching my head and falling down with a faint to get ahead in the queue when I heard an uncle in a thick desi English accent telling the eye-finger-man “You must inform people in advance about the eye scan”…since the man hardly responded this uncle went back to polambifying to the aunty. He was loud enough for the whole queue to hear him and I felt bad for them…when I can get so frustrated about waiting what about those 50-yr olds (or more) who are probably outside India for the first time to visit their son/daughter. So I decided to do my good deed for the day and said to them “neenga munnadi ponga” and that immediately started a train of conversation where I confirmed that all my assumptions were true (and secretly scolded the son for not arranging Marhaba for his parents!)…atleast we kept each other company until reaching the end of the queue (finally!) and I was relieved to get to the baggage claim and finally outside after nearly 2.5 hours (from landing!)

….and then I immediately cheered up because Suja akka was waiting with her whole family outside ready to take me home :) ! To be continued……

PS: A word of advice to the Dubai airport authority – either tell people in advance that an eye scan is needed or put the eye scan counter in front of the immigration counter !

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Suja Akka....

.....walking down the road in her orange sari, green blouse, with a brown handbag on one shoulder, her long black plaited hair swaying to and fro, the single red rose.....I liked everything about Suja akka (name changed to protect her privacy) and when she came back from the office, she would flash a radiant smile, stop and chat with periamma and all along I would be staring at her.....she was the grown-up, but not as grown-up as periamma or periappa, she would still talk to us about cinema, tell us jokes, stories, dress us up for an occasion, she did wonderful Mehndi designs for us, taught us dance moves for the new year celebration, she was always an integral part of my annual holidays since she lived right next door to my cousin's place where we all met every summer, she is in fact the only person I voluntarily call Akka.

I still vividly remember the day Suja akka came to our house with a photo in her hand, with a sort of blush. She gave it to periamma and said ''ivar dhan ponnu pakka varar'' and I was too excited for words. I was 14 years old then and I had learnt from many helpful tamil movies that ''ponnu pakardhu'' was a very romantic, exciting ceremony. I wanted to see who that person was who was going to marry my Suja akka. When it was finally my turn to see the photo, I noticed a very pleasant looking guy and I immediately thought ''Dear God, let Suja akka get married only to this guy''.

Then came the wedding day. I used to ogle even at Suja akka's everyday wear, so you can imagine what I did in her wedding. She wore a bright green sari for the reception and a red rose in her hair (sridevi style). The wedding was probably the last day I saw her properly. She went away to her inlaws' place in a different city and I went in a different way - school, college hostel and then Germany. In fact I didn't even see her in my wedding.

Then one fine day I learnt that her husband was coming to Munich on a business trip. When I met him I realised that although it had been more than a decade, he hadn't changed much and neither had his grey eyes, soft features and shy expression. We had a great time and when he left he promised to bring Suja Akka and the kids (they have 2 kids) for xmas vacation since he was going to be in Munich for business anyway. Come they did…we had a great time and it was really exciting for me to be treated as a grown-up by Suja akka. I flushed with pleasure when Suja akka pointed to me and told her 13 yr old daughter “sowmyava pathuko, neeyum avala madhri varanum”! When they left they made me promise that I would visit them in Dubai sometime.

I never realized it would happen so soon but on my way to India, I got a chance to take a weekend break in Dubai (getting the 36 hour transit visa is a piece of cake, you can do it via email and the visa is just a .pdf that you print out yourself !). Suja akka had informed all her friends and neighbours there about my visit and I was completely flattered when everyone I met said something like “neenga dhan sowmyava ?”. Needless to say, we did a lot of talking, ooru suthifying inspite of the beastly warm 45 deg C weather, shopping, gossiping (:D), eating and when it was time for me to leave, the kids came up with a number of ideas on how I can postpone my flight at no extra charge :D !

Childhood heros (and heroines) are always special but what is even more special is coming across them later in life and getting the nod of approval from them! Do you agree ?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chinna pasanga neenga

There are certain songs that are dear to one’s heart. Of course a lot depends on the music but there is another important factor – the phase in your life that you associate with the song. For example, you will never forget the songs you liked when you fell in love. These songs always bring a smile, irrespective of how the love affair ended, for they trigger those fond memories buried deep inside. Even if it is a passing crush, every song you hear about a beautiful girl will remind you of the girl you have a crush on, any duet will have you as a hero/heroine in it.

I had all these thoughts when an acquaintance mentioned the problems he was having with his 14 year old daughter. He was frustrated with how she was listening to the same song over and over again, and how she kept texting/emailing all day long. Finally he confessed saying it was a nightmare having to deal with a teenage girl and that he would easily raise three boys in place of one girl! I have to say I agree with him. Boys generally are or at least seem uncomplicated. Young boys get into trouble too but usually the kind of mischief is foreseeable and they will come around in their own pace. On the other hand, girls go around assuming they know what is right, so there is no hope of them coming around unless they have a revelation; a lesson learnt the hard way and sometimes even that wouldn’t help! They are confused, sneaky, subject to mood swings and the worst part is one should always expect the unexpected with them.

When I saw ‘Vinnai thandi varuvaya’ the first thought that occurred to me was ‘paavam pasanga’ (poor men!), I really pity them for having to deal with such confused girls. And in the movie, Trisha was supposed to be an intelligent working woman. If a girl like her does not have some clarity about what she wants from life, then one can imagine what teenage girls will be like.

Mind you, just because I supported men in the last few sentences does not mean I am going to let my kind down! It drives me nuts when I hear filmy dialogues like “naanga ponna partha udane decide panniduvom, ungala madhri payyan kitta panam irukku velai irukanu pakka maatom’ (Man cares only about the girl, girl cares about his job and money) because it simply makes no sense. Men are, in most of the cases, superficial. If a girl is good looking, half the work is done. Then they just look for other reasons to complete the rest of the work. For women, its much more than good looks, it’s the ability to be able to count on him for everything and to inspire this kind of trust, it either takes time or at least a few gestures. Irrespective of how career oriented a woman is, there are certain times when she wants to be dependent on her partner financially (for eg: when she is in the family way or when she takes a break from her career to raise the kids).…so no wonder she wants to know about how he makes money and how much. A princess marrying a pauper happens only in the movies.

I am digressing…..I was listening to Satrangi re today, a song that touches a key in my heart anytime I hear it and there were times when I used to listen to this over and over again and drive appa crazy :D! This time it spurred on the rest of the thoughts too (and hence this post). I think youngsters today have a lot to contend with. Needless to say, there is the school/college/career pressure. Besides that there are numerous temptations right from facebook to easily accessible porn and the technology gives them a loophole to sneak around more easily since most parents are nowhere close to being tech-savvy. I don’t see any problem with some kadalai (harmless flirting) on one of the online forums or sms but many of them get carried away unnecessarily and make decisions that they would probably end up regretting for the rest of their lives. The sad part is there is no use in pointing it out to them because they will never understand it before its too late.

Girls are becoming more and more vulnerable – an arrear or even a gain in weight depresses them and they fall for the next guy who is nice to them and swears that she is the most beautiful/talented girl on the planet. I can understand how such compliments at the right time are ego boosting, well, enjoy those compliments, revive your spirits and move on! What is the hurry in making a decision to marry that guy then and there?! Well that seems like the most natural thing to do according to the recent blockbuster they saw!

Boys (am not sure they are men!) are becoming more and more pathetic – fall in love, yes, but please hold on to your self-respect! I am getting sick of these orkut invites I get from unknown guys and when I check out their profiles to make sure I really don’t know them, more than half of them claim to die if they don’t get the girl to agree! Sure, some of them are just words but the very attitude behind them liking and displaying these words is disturbing. Guys, please, take a stand, have some ego.

What they both don’t understand is that they haven’t seen enough of life yet, once they go out of their ‘world’ for studying or working, they are likely to meet many interesting people and many of them then realize with a sigh that they are already committed leading to nasty break-ups (I am seeing far too many news items right from stabbing to acid throwing!).

It is completely natural to have a crush, have a soft corner for someone or to like someone. But why make a drama out of it and petrify the parents (who probably met for the first time on their engagement or even wedding day), why blow it all out of proportion and make the front page?!

Girls/guys, enjoy being young, make friends, have fun, flirt, but keep your head and don’t worry about the ‘right’ one now…..

This is all most likely going to fall on deaf ears but I am considering it my good deed for the day....

Monday, July 12, 2010

A dreamy wedding.... probably an expression that all girls use fairly often. I attended one such wedding on Saturday and I have to say I still have a hangover (a romantic one, not alchoholic). While I love (and had) a typical 3 day tambram wedding with unjal, nalangu, singing and all the rest of it, there is something incredibly appealing about the long white dress with a long white veil. I have only seen such weddings in movies and ever since I came to Europe I have wanted to see and be a part of the live version. For some reason, all my friends here either were not interested in getting married or chose the city hall to say “I do” but all that changed few weeks ago when I got invited to Kitzbühel Sonnbergstub for a wedding.

KitzbuehelI have been in Kitzbühel before and even as I saw the invitation I could imagine the bride walking down the aisle with some gorgeous landscape as the backdrop on a glorious sunny day (yeah, yeah, its true, no one really cares about the groom. Like Seinfeld says, its just one of the men in the black tux!). So we left on a Saturday morning; me bubbling with enthu and Ashok amused at my excitement (somehow men never get it!). My heart jumped when I got there…it was just as I had imagined – flowers and ribbons everywhere, an arch for the ceremony facing the beautiful mountains and a band in the traditional Lederhosen.

weddingThe ceremony began, the bride walked down the aisle in her beautiful white flowing gown (with Ashok muttering – white dress poi ipdi tharaila peratrale....), the relatives of the bride and groom read some excerpts about love from the Bible and Quran respectively (the groom was a muslim, the bride a catholic), then there was a song praising the Lord following which the priest spoke a few words about the couple and they finally said ‘I do’ before kissing. What surprised me was what the priest said afterwards “You are all here today, thank you for taking the responsibility to help the newly wed adhere to the vows they have taken today”….and I was thinking “ahaaa…idhu enna pudhu kadaya irukku”….! At the end of the ceremony, the bride and the groom let a couple of doves fly and then they opened a whole box full of doves, it’s a pity that they were reluctant to get out and fly and did so slowly, otherwise it would have been a very movie-like moment with doves flying away into a glorious sunset ! Then the guests were asked to let balloons fly away; each balloon was tied to a greeting announcing the wedding with a request from the newly weds that anyone who finds it send it back to them with a good wish. Some of the balloons were caught in the trees but am sure a few will find their way to people who will indeed send them back.

heart of fireThen came the champagne and the strawberries, followed by the appetizers and they kept on coming until the dinner buffet was ready. Needless to say, it – a salad buffet, a grill buffet and a main course buffet - was sumptuous with enough delicacies even for a vegetarian like me. Dinner was followed by a fire show. Even though the tricks like ‘swallowing fire’ was something I was familiar with, the part I loved was when the bride and groom were asked to set fire to a huge heart that was constructed on the fire show area. The ‘heart on fire’ burned for a long while, the sun had set, a light breeze was blowing from the mountains and there was soft music playing, the groom asked the bride to dance and dance they did….it was so dreamy and romantic (times when I realize that I can be really girly too!) that other couples joined the dance and out of the blue, Ashok asked me to dance too and dance we did....

wedding cakeThen came the dessert buffet and by then we had moved into the party hall. As we were enjoying the pastries, the chef brought in the wedding cake. A DJ took over the party hall after the cake was cut and gave us another surprise – 2 pairs of professional dancers who set the mood by dancing to different numbers. While one pair swung to Walz and tango, the other twisted and turned to chachacha, salsa and finally they all ‘rock’ed and ‘roll’ed and opened the dance floor to everyone. They have my heartfelt thanks because they made Ashok dance with me for 2 numbers! Too bad I was in a sari** since it wasn’t the ideal costume to rock n roll...but the slow numbers worked wonderfully!

I have no idea when the last person went to bed but I was beat when I hit mine at 2 am and could hardly open my eyes on time in the morning to get ready for the brunch at noon with the wedding party (they put us all in hotel rooms and yeah, it was an expensive wedding!). We ate again, took some time to go around Kitzbühel and came back to Munich after a truly great (or should I say romantic…stupid grin….) weekend.

**I was in a blue silk sari and every girl at the wedding (I am not exaggerating) told me both the sari and I looked gorgeous. Ashok was wearing a kurta and got similar compliments. I never understand why desis attend weddings in Europe in ill-fitting (since many do not have a figure that go with such dresses) and extremely expensive ball gowns of the same sober colors (black, grey, brown) when they can be the centre of attraction by wearing one of the numerous traditional costumes they have lying in their suitcase !

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

An interesting encounter...

I have read somewhere that life is like a box of assorted chocolates, you never know what you will get was this thought that first occurred to me when I met Mrs.Rani at a party (name changed to protect her privacy). She exuded so much warmth that I was immediately drawn to her. One moment, she was asking about my job and was making intelligent remarks and the next moment, she was urging me to try the desserts in the dinner buffet. I felt so comfortable and attached to her that I took her invitation to visit her home too gladly.

She wanted me to visit her for dinner but time permitted me only to visit her for tea. When I saw the spread she had prepared, I was glad I had just had fruit for lunch ! There was everything from dhokla to samosa to tikki.

I still cannot believe I spent 2 hours with her because time just flew by. We talked about a variety of topics from travel to inter-caste/race marriages and I was taken aback by her open mindedness, perspective and understanding. She is probably as old as my mother and when she told me that she was/is completely ok with her son having married an American girl without the slightest hint of regret, I was surprised.

When my son told me he wanted to marry an American girl I asked him why, he said ''she makes me happy'' and when I asked her why she wanted to marry my son, she said ''He takes good care of me'' and then I said yes, what more does one need from a marriage?

I was completely stumped by this narration ! I have seen many people boast of being open minded but the rules are always different when it comes to their kids. But here is someone who practices what she says !

Then she showed me pictures and I saw an american girl dressed in a salwar, with mehndi in her hands, entering a house after having toppled the rice bowl - she smiles and tells me that she wanted to give her daughter-in-law a desi welcome and there I saw the perfect mix of tradition and changing-with-times attitude in her.

I was seriously envying her life. Having grown up with a father who was with the army and now living with a husband who is in the army, she has had an interesting life.
- Growing up in the Red fort and seeing Nehru’s funeral procession
- Traveling with her year old son to Sweden (was her first air travel!)
- Living in Vietnam
- Experiencing the bitter cold in Russia
- Visiting almost every nook and corner of India
are just a few chapters from her life.

And what is more she could intelligently talk about all these moments, while still making me finish everything on the plate, discussing my life and giving me parental advice ! I can’t help but gape at how she still manages to be a home maker with a beautifully decorated house and 2 well-brought up children (a son working abroad and a daughter working in India) and did I mention that she also works as a school teacher?

When I told her this, she laughs and says I just taught my children to be independent. I always told them – “Don’t fall sick, amma does not have time for that and neither do you” and then she proudly narrates an incident when her son, who was then 6 yrs old, came looking for her on his bicycle when she had’nt come home at the usual time. I then confided in her about how I was worried that having kids would affect my life since I hardly see many of my friends who have kids and that I was afraid that I wouldn’t be a good mother either since I cared too much about work. She immediately comforted me and told me in a matter-of-fact way “Children teach us everything, I didn’t know the first thing about babies when I had my first one. My son taught me everything, how to understand if he is hungry/sleepy or simply wants to play, what to do if he is sick. My priorities changed and I didn’t even realize it because he kept me busy but once he was grown up enough to take care of his needs even partially, my priorities changed again. Everything is just a phase, you will adjust automatically to each phase if you have the will to do so”.

Even now, I don’t know why I confided in her and how everything she said comforted me so much.

She is also a great photographer without even realizing it. She has an old canon digicam (one of the first models with the teeny-tiny screen) and as I was flipping through it, I was amazed at the pictures – there were people, places, flowers, animals, sunsets, waterfalls and all pictures showed professionalism, she really has an eye for photos and when I suggested that she and I take a picture, she modestly smiles and says that she is not very good at taking photos! Nevertheless, we did manage to take one together. There was no way I was leaving the place without such a souvenir !

When I finally left, she waved goodbye until my car disappeared from her view.

Even though we meet a lot of people in our lives, there are only a few that make a lasting impression….Mrs.Rani was one such person...I miss her and I hope to see her soon. For all I know, I can probably run into her even in Munich! After all, isn't life full of surprises ?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Me like it !

I was sending an email and when I pressed the 'send' button, this is what happened.

It stops avasara kudukais like me from being embarassed and from having to send a second email ! Adra sakkai !

Update (for users without Buzz):
A friend of mine tried writing 'I have attached a pony to a donkey' and tried to send it. The email got sent without a pop-up, so its not just searching for the phrase 'I have attached' but it also takes contextual information.

What did you try ?
Hit Counter
Website Hit Counter I had decided to have a counter only after I hit a 1000 views and since it happened last week (as on 14 Dec 2009), now is the time to see some stats :)