Culture Shock: Being a Grown-up
Studying in Germany requires being a grown-up: Students need to stand on their own feet and handle situations themselves.
by Duygu Bräuer
Germany is popular among students from all over the world due to its reputation of high quality education and relatively low cost for living. Compared with the university fees in the United States or the UK, German state universities have practically no tuition fees. This makes Germany as a student magnet. Living and learning abroad involves a lot of responsibility. Thus it can be challenging: Students in Germany need to take care of almost everything themselves.
For your study in Germany, you ought to become a paperwork expert. From the beginning til the end of your study, you need to deal with German bureaucracy: Applying for your study, obtaining a health insurance during your stay, applying for a funding or a student job, finding an apartment, registering at the Bürgeramt (local administrative office), even scheduling a visa appointment, if you are from abroad. It can be very complicated if you are not familiar with this bureaucracy, or you do not have much experience. It is expected that you are an adult and hence find your own way to deal with the necessities of your study and personal life.
For example, students need a place as a basic need. In the United States, there are residential campuses where most or all the students live in dorms directly on campus that are operated by the university. It creates a strong connection between students and universities because campus becomes their home. In Germany, universities may help place students in housing by giving some advice on where to search for a place (e.g. studierendenWERK’s halls of residence). Student residences are in most cases not incorporated into the campus like in the US, so the distance between the university and flat can be quite long.
But being treated as a grown-up also gives students more freedom. From what I observed in Turkey for example, there are harsh rules in the halls of residence, such as gender-segregation, strict opening hours, or a need of family permission in case of staying overnight. In Germany, both living in a student residence and WG (shared flat) is totally independent and free.
In the US or the UK, universities guide students much more through their student time. For example, in the UK every student is assigned a personal tutor during their study, who offers academic and also personal guidance. The university provides housing, dining halls, a variety of activities, health services, various types of counseling, and staff members to help if there is a problem. Being a student at a German university involves much less guidance. In Germany, students have to organize their own studies and lives. They mostly have to create their own timetable, having to pay attention to the regulations and compulsory modules for their course. Students in Germany are expected to learn the course material and pass their exams. The burden of learning is on students. But it can provide a freedom comparing to the strict rules of classes at Korean universities for example, such as electronic attendance systems.
Everything outside of academics is the student's responsibility as well. It's on you to figure everything out, live in a strange country or city, study, obtain a health insurance, balance your study and personal life, and find a place to stay and so on. You are responsible for getting your act together and handling the various difficulties: You need to be “grown up” with an efficient how-to-do knowledge!
However, it is always possible to actively seek help or advice. studierendenWERK offers a range of services, some of which are especially designed to fit the needs of international students. Counselling on social and financial issues, psychological counselling, workshops on studying while working (including all the bureaucratic stuff) and many more…