“Our system is not really centralized.”
This is the understatement of the year, spoken by the speaker at the Erasmus orientation. The orientation was largely useless, seeing as I knew most of the information presented. If anything, it was just frustrating. German bureaucracy in general has been complicated, but not impossible to get through. By contrast, the “system” at Universität des Saarlandes has been a hopeless clusterfuck. Let me explain by example.
There are at least three different departments in charge of German language. One is the Germanistik (German studies) department, which is for the German major (and I don’t know much about that one). The second is the Deutschkurse department in the International Office that provides German as a foreign language courses to the international students (such as myself). The third is the Max Planck Institute (MPI) German language department/group that provides German as a foreign language classes to Informatik (comp sci, etc.) students (such as myself). You have to take separate placement tests for the latter two. For the Deutschkurse department you have to take a new placement test each semester, even if you were already in their classes before. In addition, there is a Foreign languages department which teaches many other languages (Arabic, Russian, Italian, French, English, etc.), except German, and you need placement tests if you want to take those too.
Now in terms of your major, at the start, you have to sign some sort of student contract (I don’t know what this is yet). After that, each department has a completely different system for class registration, exam registration, and grading. If you are taking classes from multiple departments, you will be dealing with multiple systems.
In some cases, such as in the Hochschuhsport (sports) and Fremdsprache (foreign language) departments you register for classes online as soon as registration is open and places fill up fast. In other cases, like for my department, you either register much later or perhaps don’t register at all (I’m not sure). In all cases, you register for final exams separately. After you pass your finals, in some cases you get a Scheine (certificate) or Noten (grades) from the department, in other cases you get a certificate or grade from the International Office. At the end, you collect all your certificate/grades and take them to pick up your “Transcript of Records”. Depending on your department, you pick it up either at your department or at the International Office. By the way, every single department has its own webpage, which does not correspond to a common template, so finding information on all of this is very frustrating. In short, studying here, is like studying at 5 different schools at once, and having to collect grades from each of them at the end.
In regards to my department in particular… Well, there are two coordinators for my department. The first coordinator is for the “Language Science & Technology” group, which is the master’s students who will be here for two years. The second coordinator is for the “Language & Communication Technology” group, which is for the Erasmus students (such as myself), who will only be here for one year. The classes for the groups are the same… but for whatever reason, the mailing lists across these two groups are not shared. This means that as an LCT I get different information from what my friends in the LST group; however, all the information is relevant to me! Thankfully, I have a friend in the LST group and we’ve been forwarding everything to each other.
The confusing web pages and the lack of communication made it very hard to know anything about my schedule ahead of time. I knew where and when I had to show up the first day, and that was basically it. The fact that class registration for languages and sports started before I knew my schedule meant that I just had to blindly sign up for those things and hope that the schedule will work out somehow. The problem is aggravated by the fact that I don’t know when my language classes would be, since I don’t know how well I’ll do on the placement tests.
Anyway, I took all the language placement tests figuring I’ll see where they put me, and I basically gave up on sports, signing up just for a Saturday 3-session introduction to climbing. I’ll be riding my bike everywhere anyway, which will be quite good exercise. On the plus side, it looks like you can attend some courses like the language courses without signing up for the final exam, and it seems like nothing negative happens (i.e. it doesn’t go onto your transcript as a fail or anything), so hopefully I can learn a little even if the course doesn’t quite go with my schedule… I hope I’m right about this.