How Hard is it to Study Abroad in Germany? | Top Universities

How Hard is it to Study Abroad in Germany?

By Felix von Wendorff

Updated March 7, 2021 Updated March 7, 2021

Before I begin, I want to say that I encourage everyone to study abroad. What you learn in those years is incomparable. I can only recommend this once-in-a-lifetime experience to everyone – but it is certainly not a path for the faint of heart.

Recently a German friend of mine was asked on Facebook from the person who she lived with for a few months while attending high school in the US whether it was true that universities in Germany don’t cost anything, most classes are taught in English, and if Americans could go to study abroad in Germany. She replied that it was all true and she knew of an American (me) who was currently studying alongside her.

When I read this, I wanted to post that while this was all true, it’s also true to say that studying in Germany is no easy task. And let’s not forget, my parents are German and I spoke nearly perfect German before I moved from the US to study abroad in Germany. Yet still, it has been one of the more difficult things I have done in my life. So let’s talk about some of the challenges you’re likely to encounter if you study abroad in Germany, or anywhere else.

There’s a language barrier

German is an incredibly difficult language to learn, with a very different grammatical structure than English. But worse still, you cannot write the way you speak in German. There is a very particular rhythm to writing in German, and it is hard to learn that if you did not grow up writing the language. “So what if the language is difficult?” – you might say – “I can speak English, and so can everyone in Germany.” Well, you might be able to get yourself through the day with other people’s English, but it will have a huge social cost, and you may not be able to have the university life you have always wanted. Many Germans (especially German university students) actually really want to practice their English, but it is a weird thought to have: “Is this person only meeting me to improve their English?”

You may feel like an outsider

People in every country prefer to give their fellow nationals the benefit of the doubt over those from elsewhere. This isn’t a major thing; it’s an accumulation of lots of small ones. You may find it difficult to get a student job or get the apartment you really wanted, for example, while you see locals getting an easier ride. I find that this is a constant everywhere in the world; people from other countries will always be treated slightly differently.

You’ll be laughed at, lots

Despite actually having German parents, and having now having lived here for more than a year, many of my classmates still find my “accent” and sentence structure amusing (you should have seen the pandemonium when I did not pronounce their favorite beer brand correctly). It is a problem that will likely continue to plague me and other international students until I leave this beautiful country.

It’s not totally free!

All things concerned, are universities in Germany free? Yes, to the extent that they don’t charge tuition fees. But the costs of studying in Germany are still high. This is a challenge that should not be taken lightly. But as I said to start with, I would encourage everyone to take on challenges like this – just be prepared!

This article was originally published in December 2014 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

Felix von Wendorff studies econometrics as an international student at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. He grew up in California and moved to Germany to take advantage of the great (and free) education system. In his increasingly shrinking free time, he enjoys running, budget traveling and reading. 

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