Maximilian Kollock

Cross-cultural studying evens out education for German exchange student

Maximilian Kollock discovered a different approach to the teaching of mathematics from Germany to the United States in his first math class at Western Michigan University, when his professor advised him their lessons would follow a textbook.

Photo of Kollock at a dinner for WMU Fulbright guests.

Kollock (far right) at a casual dinner for WMU Fulbright guests

Another difference Kollock experienced and enjoyed at WMU was the opportunity to make friends with students from a wide range of disciplines. He said degree programs in Germany are much more focused on the major, offering little to no chance to take classes outside of that major.

“In Germany, math teachers and professors give daily lectures, and then provide handouts with related problems to solve,” said Kollock, an exchange student from Freie Universität Berlin. “In my first topology math class at WMU we used a textbook. I liked that if I missed something from class, you can go back to the textbook and the homework always relates to the chapter being studied. Being an exchange student has given me a different view of my German education because I never had anything to compare it with before. I now appreciate it even more.”

“All my college friends in Germany are mathematicians,” said Kollock, who also received a Fulbright travel grant for his overseas program. “At WMU the friends I made included people from all kinds of disciplines and many countries. Because a lot of students live on campus, it was always easy to find someone to eat or spend a coffee break with. I also enjoyed taking a piano class as part of my program and having the opportunity to sign up for private rooms in the music department so I could practice.”

Meeting new people on campus also helped Kollock advance his English listening and speaking skills, though he admits the language barrier is not as high for mathematicians studying in a non-native language.

“The English you use in math is not an expansive vocabulary,” he said. “One of the main benefits of studying at WMU was that I became more fluent in English because we used it not only in class, but I had to speak with everyone in English. My skills also improved through my campus job—I worked 17 hours weekly as a math tutor in the Rood Hall math lab.”

Kollock arrived in Kalamazoo in late August 2011 for his two-semester enrollment, in time to participate in WMU’s International Student Orientation and Registration Program, which he said provided a great introduction to WMU and the community. He chose to live off campus, renting part of a house from which it took him only about 10 minutes to ride a bike to campus. Kollock was also able to connect with Kalamazoo’s Metro Transit public bus system near the house. His academic load was fairly intense—13 credit hours in the fall semester and 16 credit hours in spring semester.

Kollock with family members at the top of the Empire State Building, NYC

“Before I came here, my math classes were mainly theoretical,” Kollock said. “At WMU, I took financial math and learned a practical application for mathematical models. I also learned a lot about Excel spreadsheets in a computer applications finance class. Most people know how to use Excel for simple things, but in that class we learned how to automate data calculations and set up repetitive functions—we got into the program deep and had time to practice. I studied chemistry in spring semester, which I also enjoyed.”

His interest in math began in elementary school and it became apparent it would be his educational track in high school as Kollock participated in and scored well in national math competitions. A two-week summer workshop that followed his high school graduation exposed Kollock to a wide variety of math specialties to consider for college.

“I am very interested in stochastics, probability theory, and financial mathematics,” he said. “I plan to pursue a second degree in bioinformatics, which is used in the life sciences for the study of molecules and genes. I also have an internship related to bioinformatics lined up in Germany this summer. I hope to someday conduct research in a university or at a pharmaceutical company. My math skills will be useful in helping scientists analyze the data they collect.”

During his nine-month stay at WMU, Kollock traveled to Washington D.C. and Chicago, as well as a few Michigan hotspots—Ann Arbor, East Lansing, and Saugatuck, an artsy village on the shores of Lake Michigan. He concluded his time in the U.S. vacationing with his two sisters, who met him in Las Vegas. While out west, they toured the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles and San Francisco, followed by a week of sightseeing in New York City before returning to Berlin.

“We don’t have downtown city centers like you do in the U.S.,” he said. “In Germany, our bigger cities have a couple centers within them. It was fun to end my stay as a tourist with my sisters.”