RUB Bauwesen CompEng

In the winter semester of 2009 the Master’s programme Computational Engineering was established at the Vietnamese German University (VGU) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. In the summer semester of 2010 six VGU-students travelled to Germany and completed a research stay at RUB (read relevant article here). Now another step has been taken to further the student exchange between the RUB Masters course and its sister programme in Vietnam. Two German RUB students spent 6 weeks and one semester, respectively, at VGU to get an impression of what it’s like to study at a newly established university in an emerging Asian metropolis.


What expectations do you have if you’d like to spend some months abroad during your studies? Before I decided to go to Vietnam in my 7th semester of mechanical engineering it was clear to me, how a semester abroad has to be like: a country of a different culture far away from Germany. To avoid an extra semester at home it should fit into my university’s curriculum. And of course, the quality of the courses should be nearly the same as in Germany and held in a language I could follow. Enquiring about the regular exchange programs for mechanical engineers I found out that none of these programs met all my expectations. Disappointed about that situation I decided to keep my eyes open for an internship abroad. But then I heard that the RUB Computational Engineering Masters course had established a sister program at the Vietnamese-German University (VGU) in Ho-Chi-Minh City (former Saigon), Vietnam. There was no exchange program so far, but I thought if there is cooperation there will be a chance to get there.

Comp Eng Coordinators Jörg Sahlmen and Julia Lippmann, both responsible for organizing the contact between the RUB and VGU courses, supported my plan to go to Vietnam. They more than helped me to get a PROMOS-scholarship from the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) in cooperation with the RUB International Office – I am still very thankful for that. In this context I would also like to thank Ms. Schmid and Ms. Fuckel from the RUB International Office, my local contact persons concerning PROMOS.

Packed with a pocket full of expectations and – I have to admit – also some apprehension regarding my stay in Vietnam (it was my first time in Asia), I took the 14-hour flight from Frankfurt to Saigon. When I arrived in Vietnam the first things I noticed were the high temperature (33°C) and humidity (80%). It was rainy season in South Vietnam for the next two months. But to avoid misunderstandings: despite it was rainy season I had a great time I’ll not forget so soon. I concluded my first day in Vietnam with a short walk through the Backpacker’s District and some Vietnamese Food recommended in Lonely Planet. Yummy!

My first day in Vietnam started with a 14 km bus ride to university. VGU had its own bus including driver who picked up the VGU staff every morning in the center of Saigon. To a European like me it was really an adventurous ride through thousands of motorbikes humming through the streets. From far above they must have looked like ants finding their way through the Saigon jungle. At first it seemed to me that there was no system they follow. But later on I found out by riding a motorbike myself that there was just one rule: never look back! And with the low speed of around 30 km/h you felt comfortable soon. But to get back to my first bus ride it was not only the number of motorbikes that was impressive. You cannot imagine what can be transported on just one motorbike. Take a look at the pictures and find out! The bad road conditions and the crazy bus driver made this ride a true adventure every day.

But, for sure, not only the daily bus ride was special. Once arrived at VGU I was quite impressed by the equipment of the university with its brand new computer labs, air conditioned classrooms with projectors installed and Wi-Fi access everywhere. That day I also had my first course in Vietnam. The class consisted of ten Vietnamese CompEng students that were rather shy at the beginning and the class atmosphere was totally different than in Germany. A small class with nobody playing around with his mobile phone or computer and, at the beginning, just one student had the heart to ask questions. All of them were also newcomers at VGU and they told me that in Vietnam it was not usual to ask questions or to interrupt the lecturer. It seemed that the respect they had for the professors made them even quieter than they already were. This was the first big difference I noticed. Vietnam has a strict hierarchic society and as a young student you are expected to show respect for older people and especially for teachers, who have a really high reputation in Vietnamese culture (they even have a teacher’s day like we have a mother’s day).

What else has been special about my Vietnamese fellow students? They were sport maniacs, so much is for sure. Sport was a big part of their life. If you want to see how mad they were about sports take a look at the picture of Vietnamese students playing volleyball on a really bad concrete court. Some of them did not even wear shoes! Barefoot on a field of concrete – this was unbelievable to me! Apart from volleyball football is very popular in Vietnam. They knew everything about the European top leagues and some of them got up at night just to watch their favorite European players in action. But not only watching the games was popular, they also loved to play football. So we decided to organize a small football tournament, the so called ‘VGU-Cup’. It was a Sunday full of nice playing and fun. Even the hot burning sun could not stop us.

Talking about the highlights of my time at VGU, my trip to the close-by Vung Tau Beach with all the CompEng students definitely deserves mentioning. The VGU-bus took us on this 2 ½ hour trip to this really “Vietnamese-Style” Beach. On the way to the beach the other students bought crabs, fruit and beer. Naturally, my first question was: How to keep the beer cold? No problem, we bought some ice at the beach and everything was fine. With rented plastic furniture and umbrellas the 5-star Vietnamese picnic was ready to begin. After some swimming in the nicely warm water I learned how to eat crabs the right way and I had the chance to eat tropical fruit I had never seen before. And there was also the beer with ice in it. Mot-Hai-Ba Yo! That means nothing else but “one-two-three Yo”. It is the Vietnamese way to say “cheers”. Thanks to my VGU friends for making this day at the beach really special to me.

What is left to say? Of course there was a lot to do for university. But the small classes with not more than ten students and the effort the teachers put into their subjects made it quite comfortable to prepare for the examinations. The highlight was a project on programming finite element software. Everything was taught in English by lecturers mainly from the Ruhr University. The block course system made it possible to stay there for a shorter time than one full semester. In addition to this, VGU Comp Eng Coordinator Dr. Matthias Baitsch really takes care of his students. His effort in helping me and other students was outstanding. Thanks again for this wonderful time at VGU.

Even though preparing for university was a lot of work, there was still some time left to discover the loud and noisy metropolis of Saigon and to learn to know some new people. I’ve met more than a dozen new friends from all over the world and I will never forget the time we discovered Saigon and its surroundings together.

At the end of my stay I had some time left for travelling. It was again a time of totally new impressions. Mostly beautiful und funny ones, but also pictures of the most brutal war after World War II and its following wars in Laos and Cambodia. I gained lively impressions of what is happening besides high economic growth and all the problems Vietnam and its neighbors still have to struggle with. This, however, is way too much to tell in a few sentences. But why don’t you make a picture yourself?

If you are interested in studying in Vietnam please find the attached pdf-document for more information.