“They welcomed me with open arms”
Sustainability and mobility are topics that have fascinated Nigerian-born Olurotimi Olagoke for a very long time. He moved from Lagos to Geislingen in order to complete a master’s degree in Sustainable Mobilities. He’s now working at a company in Bielefeld, but Geislingen is still very close to his heart.
When Olurotimi Olagoke boarded a plane in the Nigerian capital, Lagos, in the autumn of 2019, he was full of anticipation and excitement. Finally, his dream would come true: he would live and study in Germany and then use what he learned to make the world a little bit better.
In Lagos, Olagoke had studied sociology and anthropology. For his master’s degree, he wanted to go abroad. Initially, the US and Canada were top of his list of desired destinations. That was until his uncle, who studied in Aachen in the early 1970s and has been living in Germany since then, convinced him to give Germany a try.
So Olurotimi Olagoke registered for a German course at the Goethe Institute and swatted up on vocabulary and grammar. At the same time, he kept a close eye on the website of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to find the perfect degree course. It didn’t take long before he chose Nürtingen-Geislingen University (NGU). “The master’s degree in Sustainable Mobilities won me over because I believe that this issue will become more and more important in the coming years”, he explains. “Also, I wanted to move to a smaller city, where it’s easier to integrate into society”.
Geislingen has just under 30,000 inhabitants. However, it would be a mistake to think of it as a sleepy little town far away from everything. “Geislingen has excellent transport links to Stuttgart and Ulm, and even to Munich it’s not that far”, explains Julian Bansen. He is also an alumnus of the Sustainable Mobilities degree and is now working as a research associate for the university. Numerous major employers from industry are located in proximity to Geislingen. “All of the global players are here in the surrounding areas”, says Julian Bansen. Anyone who studies in Geislingen has good prospects of finding a job close by after graduating.
Studying entirely in English: The Master Program "Sustainable Mobilities" in Geislingen
But before Olagoke was able to start at NGU in Geislingen, all of the formalities needed to be taken care of. Most importantly, he needed a student visa, and to get the visa, he needed a letter from the university. “I wrote lots of emails with all of my questions to the university, and I always got a response right away. You can tell that the university is really interested in attracting students from all over the world”, Olagoke recalls.
Julian Bansen agrees: “Our degree program is entirely in English”, he reports, “Students don’t have to attend any courses in German. That makes it very attractive to our foreign students. We also have a very strong interdisciplinary gearing. People from all kinds of specialised areas, such as urban planners, architects and business and economics graduates, come together here. These different perspectives make for very lively discussions in the lectures.”
The degree program itself has a strong focus on research. Students learn how to recognise a problem and then create and implement a research project. “Our students also go on trips and get to tackle real-life problems”, says Bansen. For example, this year they were in Paris, where they talked about the idea of the ‘15-minute city’ with the urban planning office. The question was how to succeed in creating a city where all of our everyday needs can be reached in just 15 minutes on foot or on a bike. “When searching for solutions, the students should always also think about where they come from”, explains Bansen. “Because the things that can be implemented in Bangladesh or India are different from the ones in Germany”.
Like Olurotimi Olagoke, roughly two thirds of the students on the Sustainable Mobilities program come from abroad. At the beginning, they all have the same questions: Where can I find a place to live? What about health insurance? Is it possible to get a scholarship? Nürtingen-Geislingen University is there to help students with advice around these questions.
Making Germany a home after graduation
But there’s one thing that even the most dedicated university cannot change, and that’s the weather. “The first winter here was a challenge”, laughs Olagoke. It was much colder than he expected. He had only ever lived in tropical Nigeria, where temperatures seldom fall below 30 degrees. By contrast, winter in Geislingen calls for hats and gloves.
Yet despite the cold, after three months he felt like he had settled into his new home. He likes the calm, peaceful nature of the place and the fact that he can go everywhere on foot. In his home city of Lagos, a sprawling metropolis of 16 million people, he had to take a bus to go anywhere. But just as he started to feel at home, the world got caught in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic. The first lockdown meant that the lecture halls had to close. “It was a challenge, but the university supported us really well throughout all the lockdowns”, recalls Olagoke.
He didn’t find it boring. He studied during the week, and at the weekend he went on trips to the surrounding areas with his friend Claus Huber, who he met through his neighbour. “We visited cities, palaces, castles and other tourist attractions”, says Olagoke enthusiastically. The added bonus was that Olagoke’s German got better by the day. He also volunteered with the Volkshochschule Geislingen and in return they let him do German courses for free – he passed everything up to B1. That’s because he always knew that he did not just want to study here but to stay in Germany long term.
And his dream has come true. He now works at Bolt, the fastest growing mobility company in Europe and Africa (according to the company's website). They want to make urban mobility more sustainable with electric scooters and electric bikes. “Micromobility has been my passion since I was a student”, explains Olagoke. “I wrote my master’s dissertation on the topic of how to improve the parking situation for electric scooters in an urban environment”. In his job, he looks for new ways to make environmentally friendly means of transport appealing to the general public and profitable for companies. If successful, this would one day make them a fixed component of the mobility infrastructure.
Tip for international degree-seeking students: Check out the whole range of courses Nürtingen-Geislingen University (NGU) has to offer and explore our study search to find further English study programs in the field of sustainability and mobility in Baden-Württemberg.
Author: Claudia Doyle