Challenges for an international student in Germany

Challenges you have to deal with and differences you should adopt as an international student in Germany.

From the moment one decides to go abroad for studying, he or she will face a variety of challenges. Some of the challenges are kind of similar everywhere and it does not make any difference where and which country you move (i.e., missing your hometown, family, friends etc.) but some of them are country-specific differences and challenges. In this article I will mention some of the challenges or major differences that most of the international students, including me, are dealing with here in Germany.

Language barrier

As you may already know, the biggest challenge for international students in Germany would be the German Language. This mainly concerns the students who come to study in an English program and they do not have sufficient German language knowledge. In this case, apart from the university or dorm environment where the main communication is more or less English, everything else will be challenging. I started my studies in an English based program and for me even the first steps were challenging.

It begins with registering your address and residence in the city hall and opening a bank account because all of the forms and documents are in German. I can’t imagine how it was about 15, 20 years ago without having the internet or smartphone! Thanks to the smartphones and availability of translation apps which are becoming more accurate slowly, that part of filling the forms can be done with a little bit of effort. I was using translation and dictionary applications on my smartphone or just googling anything all the time. The University of Stuttgart has a so called international buddy program which is basically connecting new international students with a senior international or German student to help them with their very first steps at the university upon arrival. Programs like this eases the way for new students in the beginning but the language barrier still remains as a challenge and part of new life for a couple of years.

New country, new environment

One of the biggest challenges is environmental change that can have a substantial influence on your physical and mental wellbeing. It depends from which part of the world you are coming from but if you used to have a lot of sunny days in your home country, here it will be challenging for you. Based on the program you study the semester can be started from April or from October. Students who are starting their first semester in the summer semester from April like me, are lucky, because there are more sunny days ahead and daytime is longer. But if the first semester starts from October, there are less sunny days plus the days are shorter. In this case, even with some sunny days it is really hard to get the minimum amount of Vitamin D and it makes a lot of people feel tired.

The empty Campus Vaihingen.

Apart from the gloomy autumn and winter days, if you are living in one of the small cities and towns around Stuttgart or any small cities in Germany, you may have already noticed that these cities become in a state of pin drop level silence after four or five o’clock in the afternoon which is referred by the Germans as, Tote Hose, literally means dead trousers! It doesn’t have anything to do with the pants but for describing the silence, dullness and uneventfulness of a town. Because of this I found that involving myself in some student groups or some sport clubs or gyms are extremely important.

Place you live

There is some sort of things that are related to you and the place you stay. Couple of days after registering your address in the city hall, the very famous ARD, ZDF and German Radio Broadcasting fee (in German: Rundfunkbeitrag or GEZ Gebühren) will find the way to you asking for a monthly payment of your choice for 18,36 per month. In the beginning it is a little bit confusing and does not make sense why should I pay TV or broadcasting fee even if I don’t have TV or I don’t watch TV! But as a rule, every month, every household in Germany has to pay a broadcasting fee (often still called the “GEZ” fee) of €18.36 per month, even if the residents have neither TV, radio, nor internet access.  What I did for this fee is sharing with other residents of the flat. If you are living in a student dorm or in a flat share or WG (Wohngemeinschaft), you can share the fee with other residents. There are some ways to be exempt from this payment but it doesn’t include the students in general.

Another issue related to the place you live which I had to adopt was letting the fresh air circulate wherever I am living. Apart from the health benefits that fresh air can bring to you, it is necessary to open the window for some minutes every day especially in winter because of the less sunny days and high moisture to prevent the walls and ceilings from molding and getting fungus.

One of the important things also related to where we stay and live is waste separation. This is a little bit confusing in the beginning because it takes some time to know exactly what kind of waste should go to which bin. For example, pizza cardboard normally goes to a paper bin but if it has oil on it is not in a clean state it will go to the residual bin. Or in campus dorms there is no separate bin for bio waste and it is mixed with the residual waste. For glasses, it is categorized with the color of the glasses and disposing of the glasses should be done before the quiet time which is before 22:00 and the whole Sunday. In the beginning it is very difficult for a lot people to adopt for the Sundays because in Germany everywhere including supermarkets are closed on Sundays. This is one of the first major differences that most of foreigners have to adopt.

Cashless payment

Germany is one of the few countries that has a very strong cash culture. I don’t know if it happened to you or not but in pre pandemic time there were a lot of restaurants, bars and cafes which were not accepting cashless payments. It can be because of several reasons like protection of personal data, security, confidentiality of payments or just it is simple and has universal usability. During the pandemic, this method of cash payment changed rapidly in Germany but from my personal experience you are still encouraged to pay by cash instead of using credit cards.

Overall, with all of these challenges and differences that I had to adopt, I found it very interesting and exciting to study abroad and learn a new language, new culture and explore around one of the best cities in Germany surrounded by spectacular nature.  



Rebin bilal

June 2, 2022 10:09:53 AM 

Germany is one of the few countries that has a very strong cash culture

Chandu Shekar

May 27, 2022 2:35:41 PM

It's good and informative. Keep posting these kinds of content I would love to read.

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