It is natural for international students to face difficulties during the initial phase of their studies in a non-English speaking country like Germany. However, most international students are not aware of these issues before they apply for graduate studies in Germany. Now, let us discuss some of the practical challenges faced by international students while studying in Germany.
1. Linguistic Barriers
There is a reason why many German universities insist that the students prove their German language proficiency prior to seeking admission. In Germany, a vast majority of the people communicate in German, and universities are no exception. If your university is in a large metropolitan city like Berlin, this might not seem like a big problem at first. However, that is not the case in smaller German towns. From supermarkets to airports, everything in Germany is in German. It is therefore essential for international students to have at least a basic knowledge of German to survive outside their university campus. A considerable number of German universities offer English-taught programs. Hence, having poor German skills will not affect your grades but will undoubtedly limit your social interactions. However, you can overcome this issue once you are well-versed with your German language skills. We cannot emphasise enough on the importance of improving your German to at least a B1 level.
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2. Academic issues when studying in Germany
In German universities, punctuality is extremely important. If you are someone who has been a late-comer throughout their life, you better change your habits or be ready to miss your class for the day. When it comes to examinations, you should not only make it on time to the exam hall but register for the examination before the exam registration deadlines. If not, you will have to wait for another semester or an entire year to register for the same test, which will affect your long-term academic plans immensely.
On the other hand, not all exams are on paper, which means that you will have exams where you will need to verbally explain certain concepts to secure good grades. This could be a problem if your German language skills are not adequate to do research and understand the concepts.
Remember, once you are admitted as a student at a German university, you have to be very organised. You must follow proper documentation processes and meet the deadlines for all your academic tasks, be it registering/unregistering for an exam or submission of your thesis.
3. Course Duration
The average time taken to complete a master’s course in Germany ranges from 2 to 4 years, whereas the time taken to complete your master’s in a country like the US or the UK ranges from 1 to 3 years. However, there are many factors contributing to the total time taken for completion of the degree. You may take more time for academic activities such as thesis completion and internships. For example, universities in the US provide the option to choose between a non-thesis and thesis masters program, whereas in German universities thesis submission is mandatory for obtaining a master’s degree. Your ability to cope up with the completely new educational system and quickly adapt to it can also affect your course duration.
4. Restrictions on Earning money when studying in Germany
International students in Germany are allowed to work only for a maximum of 120 full days/240 half days in a year with a 20 hours/week limit. Most part-time jobs in Germany pay you an average of 10 Euros/hour, which means that you will be able to earn 9600 Euros per annum if you work without missing a single day. In addition to this, students will have to pay more taxes if they make more than the German tax limit set for students. This amount may be sufficient for students in public universities with zero tuition fees but not for those in private universities.
Thus, it is advisable that you make adequate financial arrangements for living expenses before you step your foot in Germany. In addition to the basic monthly expenses, international students will also have to pay around 100 Euros per month for their health insurance. This amount may vary depending on the city that you are located in.
5. Special Sunday (RuheTAG)
Unlike the hustle-bustle that you experience on Sundays around the world, Sundays in Germany are rather peaceful and quiet. Supermarkets and other shopping centres close on 7 out of 10 Sundays, which means that you will have to stay back at home and rest or spend your day surfing the net and watching TV.
In addition to this, you are excepted by the law to maintain silence even when you are at home. You cannot use any equipment that might disrupt the silence, such as a noisy vacuum cleaner or washing machine. In case you violate this law and make loud noises, a frustrated neighbour can directly complain to the police. If you wish to spend Sunday as a fun-day, then you might find it a bit difficult to adjust to the Germany way.
If you are a meat lover, then Germany has several must-try cuisines such as Bratwurst sausage, Sauerbraten etc. International students with religious restrictions on food consumption may need to find stores that sell halal meat. Since there are a large number of Asian outlets and Shawarma stores that exclusively sell such items, this should not be much of a problem.
However, if you are a vegetarian or a vegan, then your options to eat from outside may be limited. Expect a lot of “kartoffel” in your diet. Kartoffel is the German word for potatoes, and most German recipes use potatoes as the primary source of carbohydrates.
Though you may find many multinational restaurants serving international cuisines in Germany, it is not practical for an international student to spend money every single day to eat from these restaurants. That being said, there is no dearth for fruits and vegetables in supermarkets. You will find everything you need. Learning to cook for yourself at home will take care of your food preferences and will definitely help in saving money.
Learning cuisines of a new country enriches your cultural experience. If you wish to learn German cuisines, visit the link below to learn about traditional German foods and their recipes.
Like most western European countries, Germany also experiences freezing winters and warm summers. Besides this, the country also experiences two major heat waves during the summer. If you come from a tropical country, you might find it difficult to adjust to the weather initially. However, dressing aptly for the weather will help you face any type of tough climatic conditions. There is a German saying “to dress like an onion”. It simply means that layered dressing can comfortably aid in overcoming the tough winters. Over a period of time, armed with the right attire, the variations in seasons will become a fascinating and enjoyable experience.
In this article, we discuss some practical challenges faced by international students while studying in Germany. There can be a cultural shock, especially when adjusting to an entirely new academic system. At the end of the day, it all depends on how you deal with these problems; if you are ready to be more independent, organised and work hard for your goals. Studying in Germany could be a great experience if you consider it as an opportunity to learn something new and grow from it.