A major problem for foreign exchange students is having to adopting to new cultural norms, and by extension, understanding what other university students find fun or interesting. For me, the switch from California to Germany was relatively easy as they both have similar cultural laws and traditions. But what students’ interests and even the most fundamental reasons for going to university are different. So here are my top five tips about what to expect from student life in Germany…
1. Don’t expect college parties in Germany to be as crazy as LA
Coming from California, the land where college parties are almost as ubiquitous as sunshine, traffic jams and surfing, I naturally assumed that this was true everywhere and of course, college parties are always the coolest. Indeed many people, both from California and elsewhere, have enrolled in university there for that very reason. But while the parties in California are awesome, (so awesome you won’t remember most of them) the reality is that you never really meet people there.
College parties in Germany are different: going to a bar with a group of friends, drinking a few beers and talking about stuff. Maybe you meet someone new. This form of partying is much more sensible for your health, wallet and brain. This is not to say that there are no awesome college parties in Germany; there are. It’s just not as common or positively looked upon to drink yourself into a stupor.
2. Be prepared for a slower approach to dating
Social life in Germany tends to be relatively conservative. It is not easy to work your way into the socializing network if you have a strong foreign accent (that can be true everywhere, but I found that in the US it was seen as a huge plus). If you want to date someone, you have to be friends with them first, because believe it or not, almost all relationships (even in college) are based on actually liking the person for who they are.
3. Steer clear of taboo topics
If you are a foreigner, there are some topics you should NOT broach until a German does. Personal questions about a relationship, even amongst best friends, are simply not asked. Financial wellbeing is another obvious no-go. Then there is the elephant in the room, the Nazi era. This is a topic you can ask about very delicately with friends. Germans will be very frank and sincere about all answers on this topic. The worst thing you can call someone really is a Nazi, so please don’t (yes I am talking to you drunk Americans). This is a very emotional topic for Germans, even for the younger generation.
4. Make friends by choosing a shared flat (‘WG’)
German university students tend to stay close to home when attending university, and many live in their parents’ home. The rest usually live in cheap apartments where the bathroom is shared. Only a small minority of students actually live in student dorms. These are not dorms in the way Americans think of them, but rather individual apartment right on campus. They are owned by the university and are relatively cheap, but naturally hard to get. Another great student accommodation option is the so-called WG (short for Wohngemeinschaften, meaning a shared flat) – a great way to get an instant social network.
5. Tell your story, in German
German students love to meet new people. If you are an interesting person (and everyone is), then they will love to hear your story – and especially if you tell it in German; Germans are very impressed when someone speaks their language very well.
So there you have it: five insights into student life in Germany. If you have any questions or want to share your own experiences of student life in Germany, please leave a comment below.