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10 Tips for a Successful First Semester at a German University

Successful First Semester at a German University

German universities are known for their high-quality education and excellent research facilities. Most publicly-funded universities in Germany do not charge tuition fees too for international students. Hence, thousands of students from around the world choose to study in Germany every year. The requirements to study in Germany are manifold, and the application process is laborious. However, you have passed those initial hurdles and made it through to Germany with your packed bags and study permit in hand. As you start your journey as a German student, you might feel overwhelmed with many changes around you – cultural difference, language barrier, absence of family and friends, etc. Keeping that in mind, we have outlined ten tips that can help your first semester in Germany to be a successful one.

These tips and suggestions have been sourced from international students currently studying in Germany, which will help you successfully make it through your first semester at any German university.

First Semester in Germany

1. It is okay to be Homesick

International student in Germany

Homesickness is a common issue among international students, especially in the first few months. The best thing to get over it is to spend a little time every day talking to your family and friends from back home. Skype calls help initially but do not overdo. Some students get addicted to their gadgets and forget that they came all the way to Germany to learn and experience a different country. Also, bring traditional food items that do not perish quickly. Carry neatly-packed dry snacks that last long and give you the feel of home. Asian and Indian grocery stores in Germany do stock these items but buying from such stores while on a student budget can be heavy on your pockets. Follow the below tips to tackle your homesickness:

  • Find time to keep in touch with your family and friends.
  • Bring non-perishable food items from home that can last long.
  • Focus on why you are here in Germany, your end-goal.
  • Keep a busy and productive schedule.

2. Bring 2-3 important books

Books to study in Germany

This tip is particularly crucial for students in technically oriented courses. If you have a Maths or Physics textbook from college that you learned the foundations from, it is a good idea to bring them with you. Some university courses can be exceptionally challenging, and it helps to go back to the fundamentals and refresh your knowledge base. If you can find soft copies, that would be even better since books can add a lot of extra weight to your luggage.

3. Get your Documents in Order

Folder with documents

Have a folder with all your important documents neatly kept in labelled stacks. As an international student, you will have a lot of paperwork that needs to be carefully stored. You can categorise them into:

  • Identity documents like passports, biometric photos, original school certificates, other extracurricular certifications, volunteer work certifications, etc.
  • Residence documents like the contract for your room.
  • Financial documents like blocked account papers, proof of financial means, bank statements, tax number, etc.
  • Insurance documents that you will regularly receive from your insurance provider.
  • University documents like your university acceptance letter, transcripts, etc.
  • Career documents like your CV, cover letter, recommendation letters, etc.

There are also some cards that you permanently need to carry with you while you are in Germany. Your residence permit, health card (from your insurance company), your debit card, and your thoska (university ID card) are the four most important ones

4. Speak the German you know

Learn german written on a book

If you want to have a successful academic life, the first and foremost thing you need is to improve your German language skills. Speak in German every opportunity you get. Your German does not have to be perfect – your grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, everything can be faulty but do not let that stop you from trying. Germans are kind and friendly people who appreciate foreign students attempting to speak their language.

Everything in Germany is written in German – from information in supermarkets to train timings at the railway stations. Even if you have been accepted into an English-taught program in Germany, learn German. An excellent way to naturally learn is by changing all your devices (mobile phone, laptops, iPad) into German so that you get used to reading and understanding some commonly used German words. Being fluent in German will take time and effort, but it will not only help you communicate better with the people around but also give you a sense of belonging. Here are a few tips for learning the German language:

  • Converse in German as often as you can, once you begin your language lessons.
  • Gain maximum exposure to the language by surrounding yourself with people who speak German, watching German videos and practising every day.

5. Choose your courses carefully

Study courses in Germany

The German academic system is bound to be completely different from what you are used to. Have a thorough understanding of your course syllabus from the university website. You may have to take a few mandatory courses, and some modules will be optional. There will be a minimum number of credits that you will have to complete to graduate. Before enrolling for classes, find some students who are in the same program as you or have already graduated. Get details about the professors, work-load, grading, etc. Choose your optional modules carefully keeping all of these factors in mind and also making sure that it aligns with your interests and career goals. Some tips to help you in this regard:

  • Do thorough research on your course using both online and offline sources.
  • Choose subjects that align with your career goals and interests, which also have the potential to score good grades.

6. Manage your time

Time to study

Punctuality is paramount. Your first semester in Germany will be a test of your time management skills. In Germany, rules are meant to be followed. The same applies to university application deadlines, assignment deadlines, showing up on time for classes, meetings and appointments, registering for your courses, registering for your exams. German universities have all their seasonal activities, including examinations laid out in advance, which means you will be able to prepare for your exam beforehand. Missing a deadline for exam registration will compel you to wait for another semester to register for the same subject.

Punctuality is vital in German social life too. Being late to meet friends is considered disrespectful in Germany. In other words, to be successful in Germany, you need to manage your time well. If you have the habit of procrastinating, that needs to change. Have a calendar (Google calendar works perfectly). This will undoubtedly help you keep track of your academic and social life. Some tips for time management:

  • Maintain an electronic calendar to jot down all your tasks, deadlines, appointments, etc.
  • Plan ahead and stay organised, so you do not miss out on the crucial things.

7. Socialize with students

International students socialising

As an international student in Germany, you have an incredible opportunity to engage and interact with  people from different parts of the world. Cultivating friendships with people from diverse backgrounds is one important reason why studying abroad is a life-changing experience. If you are lucky, you will come across students from different cultures, speaking different languages in your class. There is a tendency for students from the same geographical area to form friendships and to stick to only those groups. That is not a wise thing to do. You should use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with people from diverse cultures, who may impart knowledge and offer different perspectives. If you are an introvert and find it difficult to build on small talk, a great idea would be joining a student club of your choice.

Depending on the size of your university, you will have different student societies to choose from. Actively participate in university fests and other campus events that will help you build your social network. Engaging in extracurricular activities like sports, volunteering your time for language learning programs, etc., are excellent ways for all-round personality development. In essence:

  • Join a student club, debating club or any student group of your choice and socialise.
  • Make friends with people from different countries for a culture-rich experience.

8. Travel around Europe

Travel around Europe

Living in Europe is a dream for people who love travelling. You can travel to 27 countries that are part of the EU without any hassles of getting a visa. Travel is cheap too! As a student in Germany, you can hop from one country to another on a shoestring budget. A well-planned holiday around Europe with your close group of friends will create wonderful life-long memories to cherish.

9. Do not forget to study!

Students raising hands

Securing good grade is ultimately every student’s goal, but academically performing well in an entirely new educational system can be challenging. In order to overcome this gap, associate yourself with a study group. They will help you understand difficult topics, encourage you to find your area of expertise and improve your research skills. Be an active participant in your class, and do not hesitate to contact professors personally during their office hours if you need any extra help. Take notes during lectures and spend an hour or two studying every day regardless of whether you have an exam approaching.

10. Relax and enjoy student life

Girl tensed books

As a freshmen university student in a foreign country, you may feel overwhelmed managing your new course work, social life and personal life. Besides this, international students might also find it difficult to adjust to this new lifestyle, food and culture. Make a schedule for yourself every day and try your best to follow it, but avoid overstressing yourself. Stick to a schedule that is entirely focused on your academics, but also add recreational activities, sports or just some personal time off to relax. Try to engage yourself in stress-relieving activities such as sports or participating in a club of your choice. Visit your university’s guidance counsellor who can help you plan your course and prepare you for your exams well in advance.

Conclusion

Studying in a new country can be an overwhelming experience, especially to study in Germany, which is a non-English speaking country with an entirely different academic curriculum. However, you cannot let that affect your academic success. Here is a condensed version of the article that can be of use to you.

  • Don’t spend too much time being homesick. Stay curious. Explore.
  • Have all your paperwork in order. They are extremely important.
  • Learn German and learn fast. Don’t be shy to speak in German.
  • Actively participate in your classes. Maintain good rapport with professors.
  • Engage with people from all nationalities. Don’t be judgemental.
  • Be punctual. Treat your time and that of others with respect.
  • Join a students club. Socialise with people. Make new friends.
  • Look for ways to travel and see new places, on a budget of course.
  • Don’t forget to study well. Good grades will open many doors.
  • Nothing is more important than your mental and physical wellbeing.

Aligning your focus in the right direction will help you perform well, even as a fresher. This article on ten tips to make your first semester a success in a German University will surely help you achieve your academic ambition.

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