What It’s REALLY Like Studying Abroad In Germany
One year ago, in September of 2016, I was about to embark on the most amazing emotion- and knowledge-filled journey. I was packing my stuff to set off to study abroad in Germany during one semester.
But let me begin this story some time before the aforementioned events. I am from Ukraine and, one year ago, I used to be a fourth year student doing my Bachelor’s degree in International Economics. I was a dreamful traveler with a secret desire to stay in Europe for some time – not like a tourist, but like a local. And, moreover, I wished to experience what it was like to be a student there. Luckily, life has a way of satisfying our wishes. At least, I hope that’s what has happened to me!
I have been given the opportunity to study in Germany for one semester as an Erasmus exchange student at European University Viadrina. It is fair to mention that Ukraine is starting to make developmental strides with regards to Erasmus (considering how our Erasmus program used to be years ago). However, our student community still remains under-informed on all the programs available, as well as of the whole concept. So, before my semester started, I knew nothing about Erasmus itself and what life as a German exchange student would entail.
Reminding myself of this fact awakes tons of warm memories towards Germany, and endless feeling of gratitude and respect.
How Germany turned out to be a country of extreme hospitality for foreign students
The first thing which surprised me was the International Office in Viadrina. It was open to answering all of our questions (and there was more than 300 of us Erasmus students!). It was also always helpful and ready to guide us through even the hardest of times (well, in case such times came along).
Secondly, have you ever heard of ESN? This abbreviation stands for European Student Network, which is a non-profit organization designed to help and lead students throughout Europe. they also aim to support and develop student exchange.
Almost every town and university has its own division of ESN and, in my case, it was Interstudis ESN Frankfurt (Oder). You cannot even imagine how grateful I am for all their work and effort, because behind this organization there are real volunteer students! They are always there to help, hold parties, create events and organize a lot of trips each week! These are people whom we thanked for being behind most of the friendships and unforgettable moments we made. These are the people who made our stay comfortable.
Every Wednesday, in one small pub, we had what was called a National Evening. Students of the same country had to present their cultures and we would just hang out there chatting and getting to know each other. Viadrina’s International Office sponsored such events because the overall effect was positive for each party, as our ties got stronger with every Wednesday that passed.
Okay, no more it’s-so-much-fun-to-be-a-German-exchange-student talk. What about real studying? Will it surprise you if I say that actual studying in Germany is something amazing, too? Well, it was. All the professors were so competent, the presented material was clear and practically useful.
My semester there was divided in two blocks: each one lasted for one-and-a-half months and was followed by a week of exams. One block was made up of two subjects – and that’s it! Here, in Ukraine, we study up to 13 subjects over the course of five months and then have an exam week for all of them at once. In contrast, at Viadrina we had time to focus on each subject through narrowed learning which was indeed effective.
Another warm memory of Viadrina is its library. I used to spend long hours there working on essays, problem sets and articles. Additionally, it was a place where I could meet all my friends during a break; a place designed for comfortable studying. I couldn’t just procrastinate there! Unfortunately, at my home university, we do not have enough comfortable places where we can study on our own.
As to the examination process, I won’t lie that it was quite demanding (maybe because I am used to far less strict rules in Ukraine) but, in the end, fully feasible.
Some other facts that you may find useful:
- Being a German student means studying in atmosphere of freedom and fairness. You are the one to design your schedule and the only one who is responsible for any absences.
- The German grading system is a bit converted, with 1.0 being the highest mark (A). Everything lower than 4.0 means you failed the course (FX).
- German universities provide students with dormitories which are really comfortable and not so expensive.
- German students are obliged to pay a semester fee of up to €200. It includes public transport throughout the one German federal state your university is located in.
To be honest, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Being a student in Germany is much more interesting and fun that any words can describe, so if you have the opportunity to experience it, do not pass it up!