A Semester at Temple University – A Short Report on Studying, Culture, and Life in Philadelphia- Petrus Beck (2023)

A Semester at Temple University – A Short Report on Studying, Culture, and Life in Philadelphia

Let me start with a warning: With this short article, I hope to convince you to also undertake a semester abroad. Considering my personal experiences, I shall make a strong point for an exchange semester at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. Given the array of possibilities, opportunities, and experiences provided by Temple, this should not be too difficult.

Temple University in Philadelphia offers a one semester-long exchange opportunity for students from the University of Erfurt and vice versa. The underlying idea is to enable American graduate students to experience the German style of studying and in return to offer the same experience to German students with an interest in the United States, both academically and culturally. Participating in the exchange program means more than an academic opportunity to further one’s knowledge, but is also a cultural experience extending one’s horizon. 

First of all, the difference between the academic system and the classroom experience is one if not the most striking reasons to participate in the exchange program. Obviously, the viewpoint from which any subject in class will be discussed isn’t a European one but will offer an alternative perspective through the lens of American experiences. This also applies to the topics of the classes. Compared to German curriculums, subjects like Indigenous History, Military History, and also Gender History are far more present, both as separate courses and as perspectives within courses. For students interested in these and similar topics and approaches, Temple will make a great offer.

Apart from the content of the courses, the makeup of the entire academic experience is even more markedly different. The underlying idea of the courses is not necessarily to provide in-detail analysis of specific subjects, but rather to equip the student with a concise understanding and knowledge of a given area. While this sounds superficial in theory, the practical side of this approach will ensure that depth won’t suffer from extent. Unlike in Germany, reading will not be reduced to selected chapters but will cover entire books, each with a specific, course-related subject. One book per week is the norm, offering the necessary in-depth material to guarantee both comprehensive as well as expansive knowledge of the subject in question at the end of the semester. Several smaller assignments over the course of the semester will also ensure that the material will be used productively. Book reviews, precis, presentations, and a potential final paper (Seminararbeit) are expected in each course with variations determining the exact workload and necessary time investment.

While this sounds like an overabundance of both work and material, the reality is more nuanced. Reading the entire book is welcome, but not always required. Instead, the main task is to extract the underlying thesis of the book, the author’s intention, and the gist of their arguments. Therefore, „skim-reading“, that is the reading of select parts (introduction, conclusion, chapters of special interest) is the way to go. This can take more or less time, depending on personal interest, energy, and available time. Productive and engaged participation in the weekly discussions is the point of measurement as to whether the personal engagement with the material is adequate.

As to required papers and other assignments, these are usually done during the semester, not during the holidays. While this leaves less room and time for the paper itself, this approach is usually accompanied by thorough guidance by the professor, which, next to personal diligence, is very important for writing a quality paper. This also means that the holidays can be entirely dedicated to leisurely activities.

Outside of class, both Temple and the city of Philadelphia offer plenty of opportunities for sightseeing and social life. Temple, like all American campuses, boasts a wide variety of clubs, ranging from sports clubs, discussion clubs, arts and crafts, and more. Participation in these clubs is a great opportunity for international students, no matter for how long they stay. The Campus Festival at the semester’s start serves as a means to get an overview and to inform oneself about schedules and locations. Arguably, club activities are the easiest and most enjoyable way to meet new people, to have fun, and to be productive outside of the classroom. From personal experience, I can recommend the Wrestling Club, where both experienced wrestlers and beginners are welcome. Since wrestling is also a very traditional college sport, it is also a great way to experience life at Temple not solely as an exchange student, but as a true college student. Apart from that, Temple itself will provide further chances for activities and events all semester long, leaving no want for opportunities to socialize.

Philadelphia as a city is also ripe with sights to see and locations to go. Some most impressive museums are located here. To name just a few of the most renowned: The Museum of Art (with the Rocky Steps in front), the Eastern State Penitentiary (where Al Capone served time), the Museum of the American Revolution (which hosts several reenactment events over the course of the year), the Mütter Museum (a medical museum with a wide assortment of exhibits), and the various historical sites like Independence Hall, City Hall, the Benjamin Franklin House, etc. These last ones are also indicative of Philadelphia’s historical significance, which in itself is worth checking out to its fullest. Free-roaming exploration is also highly rewarding, mostly due to the famous murals, and is almost required to experience the real town. Just make sure to be safe as some areas can be rough. But even there, people are forthcoming, polite, and helpful.

Finally, I can also recommend picking an area of the USA to spend the time between the semester’s end and departure (up to 60 days). Washington D.C. and New York are both nearby, of which I can recommend the first because the latter is very expensive in both living and sightseeing, but of course worth checking out. Otherwise, a trip to the South is also recommendable. It will offer a completely different view and experience of the United States, which cannot be found in the North of the country.

I hope to have spiked your interest and wish you safe and happy travels.

A Semester at Temple University – A Short Report on Studying, Culture, and Life in Philadelphia by Petrus Beck