A Tapestry of Experience

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"Live For the moments you can’t put into words.”

The following article is my very own semester exchange experience which is for simplicity broken down into below mentioned structure:


In the winter of 2022–2023, I had the privilege of embarking on a semester exchange journey at RWTH Aachen University, courtesy of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) established between my home institution, IIT Mandi, and RWTH. While I had enticing opportunities from various universities across Europe and Japan, I meticulously evaluated my options and ultimately chose RWTH University as my paramount preference. The selection process hinged on Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA), and fortunately, I secured my top choice.

This decision marked one of the most significant and rewarding choices of my life. As the inaugural member of my family to venture abroad and traverse international borders, the experience was not only enriching but also a source of immense pride. Witnessing the Eiffel Tower’s twinkling spectacle at the tender age of 21 was, undoubtedly, a moment of sheer enchantment.

Academic Experience

During these six months, one of the most enriching experiences I encountered was the exposure to the German education system. Hailing from India, I noticed striking dissimilarities in how the curriculum is structured in both countries. The educational culture in Germany places a stronger emphasis on student comfort, in contrast to the more rigorous approach prevalent in India. The academic pressure in India becomes evident as early as the 9th or 10th standard, with exams such as IITJEE and UPSC serving as notable examples.

Reflecting on the European education system, several aspects impressed me. Firstly, there are no restrictions or time constraints imposed on the duration to complete a given degree. Due to a more relaxed curriculum, completing a bachelor’s degree typically extends to five years, allowing students the flexibility to choose courses at their own pace. This approach enables a more focused study of individual courses, offering ample time to cover the syllabus in a relaxed manner. Notably, the course add/drop portal remains open until two days before the actual exam date, a departure from the Indian system where this window generally closes within two weeks of the semester’s commencement. This flexibility empowers students to explore courses they may not feel confident about, without the pressure of appearing for exams prematurely.

Another significant departure from the Indian system is the absence of an attendance criterion, a feature that I particularly appreciated despite its debatable nature. From an academic perspective, these were some key aspects that stood out to me.

Regarding the courses I undertook, the extended add/drop window allowed me to explore a variety of subjects, a luxury not feasible in my home university. The zero attendance policy further enabled me to enroll in courses with conflicting schedules. Additionally, the provision of two final exams for each course provided ample time for preparation. Among the standout courses were Virtual Reality 1 (including a tour of their billion-euro Cave facility), Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning (an exceptionally comprehensive course), and Implementation of Databases. I initially enrolled in High-Performance Computing but had to drop it due to time constraints. These courses undoubtedly feature on my list of the best during my bachelor’s. Learning from professors with over two decades of teaching experience was truly an honor.

Research Opportunities

The public sector in Germany contributes nearly 30% of the total spending on Research and Development, a figure significantly higher than that in India. This substantial investment creates abundant research opportunities in Germany. I had the privilege of working as a Student Research Assistant, colloquially known as Hiwi. Collaborating with a talented and industrious team, I gained valuable insights during this period.

My focus was on an Artificial Intelligence project aimed at utilizing partial order planning for optimal scheduling of tasks. Remarkably, this research opportunity was compensated, and I received a reasonably substantial amount, thanks to the sufficient research funds provided by the government. This experience reinforced my belief in the robust research culture in Germany, shedding light on the advanced technologies in German automotive engineering and more.


Now, let’s explore the challenges faced by those coming from Asia. The primary obstacle is undoubtedly the language barrier.

Numerous incidents and confusion arose due to the language barrier, leading to major misunderstandings and even some hilarious moments. For instance, during a pizza party, when there were leftover slices, attempting to convey our desire to take them home turned into a 5-minute spectacle of employing every possible hand gesture I had ever learned, making me resemble Dr. Strange but with an Asian twist.

Another challenge, specific to vegetarians, is the difficulty in finding good vegetarian food. It’s a playful exaggeration to say we don’t get grass there, but coming from India, bid farewell to your taste buds for another six months. The only widely available option that is relatively healthy is salad. Even burgers come with patties made from beef, chicken, or pork. Shockingly, there isn’t a potato patty; in the name of a vegetarian burger, the patty is made from cucumber, jalapenos, etc., further diminishing the taste. To all my vegetarian friends, I offer my prayers — it’s quite an adventure. However, if you happen to be a runner-up on MasterChef, you have a lifeline — you can cook. That’s precisely what I did. I handled the business (buying all the ingredients), and my friend mastered the chemistry (creating the dishes).

Personal Growth

Throughout my semester exchange at RWTH Aachen, personal growth became a significant facet of my journey. The academic rigors of the courses I undertook not only expanded my knowledge but also sharpened my critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The privilege of utilizing High-Performance Computing (HPC) through a dedicated course provided me with hands-on experience, enhancing my understanding of complex computational tasks.

Engaging in a research internship further enriched my skill set, particularly in research methodologies and Python coding. This experience not only bolstered my academic pursuits but also instilled in me a deeper appreciation for the iterative nature of research.

Living 7,000 km away from home proved to be a transformative experience. The challenges of adapting to a new culture taught me resilience and adaptability. Learning to prepare my meals not only satisfied my gastronomic cravings but also instilled a sense of independence. Maintaining a schedule, being responsible for daily tasks, and navigating life in a foreign land fostered a newfound sense of self-discipline and maturity.

You may call it a decent meal

One of the most profound lessons was the art of resetting by my own accord. Navigating through the highs and lows of a semester abroad, I discovered the importance of self-care and mental well-being. This journey has not only enriched my academic and professional skills but has also sculpted a more resilient and self-reliant version of myself.

Memorable Moments

Amidst the rigorous academic pursuits, the semester at RWTH Aachen gifted me with an array of unforgettable moments that extended far beyond the confines of the lecture halls. The highlight of these moments was the incredible opportunity to embark on a European tour with friends. It’s a dream shared by many, and traversing through iconic destinations like Paris, Switzerland, and Italy added a surreal layer to our collective experience. Witnessing the Colosseum up close, standing beneath the Eiffel Tower, witnessing the Mona Lisa and ascending Mount Pilatus were not just checkboxes on a travel list; they were manifestations of dreams coming true.

Every venture, every shared laughter, and every breathtaking view contributed to an extraordinary chapter in our lives. The map of places we explored serves as a tangible memento of the adventures we undertook together. The exposure to diverse cultures, historical landmarks, and the sheer beauty of Europe left an indelible mark on our collective memories.

Train routes I took during my Europe tour.

Attempting to encapsulate this experience in words proves challenging because it transcends mere description. It was a life-changing journey, fostering camaraderie and broadening our perspectives in ways we could have never imagined. These moments of exploration and shared joy added a vibrant, kaleidoscopic dimension to our semester, making it truly one for the ages.


In conclusion, my semester exchange at RWTH Aachen has been a mosaic of academic challenges, personal growth, and unforgettable moments. Navigating the intricacies of German academia, delving into cutting-edge research, and honing my skills through diverse courses have left an indelible mark on my academic journey.

Beyond the confines of the classroom, the cultural immersion, the trials of independent living, and the joy of exploring Europe with friends have collectively shaped a transformative chapter of my life. The exposure to new perspectives, the resilience forged through challenges, and the camaraderie built through shared adventures have elevated this experience beyond a mere academic endeavor.

As I reflect on the map of places visited and the memories created, I am reminded that this semester's exchange was not just a checkbox in my academic trajectory but a rich tapestry of growth, exploration, and lifelong connections. The lessons learned, both inside and outside the lecture halls, will resonate far beyond my time at RWTH Aachen, marking this period as a pivotal and cherished chapter in my personal and academic journey.

Written with love, Yash Sharma