Life as a university student in Germany (versus in North America)

Money buys you lots of things. Like Rolexes, BMWs and baskets full of cute kitties. In this case, the thousands of dollars we spend on university tuition in North America gets us things such as our own guidance councillors, plastic student cards and a very user friendly web portal that lets us enrol and register for courses in the comfort of our own home.

These things seem so simple, and yet when you’re studying in Germany, they seem like distant luxuries. There’s no one to hold your hand and guide you through anything, the average wait time in university lines takes about 3-4 hours, and simple things like enrolling at the university is like a 25 step process. Then again, university is also free in Germany, and the only thing I’ve had to pay for are student fees (114 euros a semester), and a gym membership (15 euros a semester) so it’s a bit hard to really complain.

Living in the student residences

Student residences in Germany are nothing like the ones in North America, which are filled with crazy, loud students and daily episodes of drunken debauchery. It’s nice to be new to a rez, and have others be excited to meet everyone living together in a rez. North American rez are all about endless parties and making lots of friends. Most people leave their doors open when they’re home and not busy for others to come visit them, and I especially love the weekends, when someone always knocks on every door, so get a bunch of people ready to go out for a crazy night in the city.

In Germany, student rez are for living in during the school year….and that’s pretty much it. Some people might offer a “hi” in acknowledgement when you walk down the halls, but many Germans go back to their hometowns during the weekends, and it’s perfectly normal to walk down the hallways on a Friday or Saturday night, and feel like the rez is totally empty. A few of the rez co-ordinators at my rez organize weekly “bar nights” in this big “party” room we have here, but of course bar night takes place on a Tuesday night (since most people have gone home during the weekends), and like many typical German parties go, people come with the one or two friends they have, buy a beer, and stand in their group, and leave the “party” without talking to anyone new.

On the other hand, German rez prices are really reasonable, and they never charge you over the roof prices like they do back home. So it’s great if you’re on a budget, but very disappointing if you’re looking for a fun social-able experience (I’ve lived in one for almost a month now, and I think I’ve seen maybe 5 people out of the 200 who live here!)

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Open and closed doors

In North America, generally at a university, an open door is inviting, and a closed door means the person isn’t there. When you need to speak to a professor during their free hours, or an academic advisor for example, their doors are always wide open, and someone always greets you when you walk in, making you feel happy and loved.

In Germany, doors are always closed, which I always find intimidating, since you have to knock first and open the door, without knowing who (or what!) is behind the door. There’s also always paper signs plastered on all these said doors, reminding you in German of all the rules and things you’re forbidden to do before you should even consider knocking. It’s even worse when you have strange room numbers like 0.302* and half the time you fear that rather than your room, you’re going to interrupt some important conference led by the Dean of the university or something.

Lack of school spirit

I feel like most North American universities are huge on school spirit. Some people go to a university primarily based on the fact that they’re a huge party school, or have amazing sports teams for example. At any given university bookstore, it’s also expected to find rows of shirts, hoodies and mugs proudly declaring your university….and for the students to wear these uni hoodies around campus with pride.

German universities generally have a small section where you can buy uni merch, but it’s uncommon to find anyone wearing them around campus. Things like sports teams, fraternities and sororities are also rare. Then again, I spent half of my undergrad years in art school, where school spirit was non-existent, and I didn’t mind at all.

Student friendly prices

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One thing I love about German universities is the fact they they actually know that students are poor, and not potential pools of cash, like they believe in North America. Rather than charging you ridiculous prices for everything from tuition, student housing, food on campus, and those unnecessarily expensive textbooks, German universities seem to make everything so affordable, every student can easily have enough money left over to get drunk on the weekends! (and everyone knows alcohol is already cheap in Germany!)

Lots of classes don’t even require textbooks (but trust me, there’s still a lot of readings to do!), since many of your required readings are available online as PDFs. And even for those classes that do require textbooks….they only cost about 20-23 euros!! (In Canada, I think I’ve paid close to $400 for all the textbooks for a class once)

German cafeterias (called a “Mensa”) are also popular places to get a home cooked meal (rather than being full of fast food chains like in North America)…and once they’re open during lunch, there’s usually long line ups….but for good reason too! A typical meal costs just 3 euros and is actually quite good!

(I have to also add that, maybe it’s because I’m in Bavaria, but it’s funny how these Mensa lunches seem to only serve very stereotypically German food….sausages, schnitzel, potato salad, pork meat, etc!)

And of course, there’s going to be many, many more updates to come about my life in Bavaria! But until then, how many of you have studied in Germany? What differences have you noticed?

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8 Comments

  1. October 26, 2013 / 2:22 pm

    Very interesting – not how I pictured German university at all! Is it free even for international students??

    • November 8, 2013 / 4:23 pm

      Yes, most courses are free for everyone. Most states in Germany have laws against tuition fees. Some MA courses charge money, but even then it’s usually not much.
      In Germany, the more expensive a university is, the lesser its reputation. A university which charges a lot would be counted as a university for spoilt (and usually not too intellectual) rich kids.

      • Michelle
        Author
        November 10, 2013 / 4:26 pm

        Yep! It’s great! Even as international students, you only have to pay the 114 euros semester fee, and that’s it! They even offer additional free German language courses….and those alone in Canada would cost about $500 a semester!

  2. tinys
    November 3, 2013 / 12:01 pm

    Hi! I’ve just discovered your blog and I really like it! I’m an Italian Erasmus student and I’m studying here in Germany (Niedersachsen) for the Winter Semester.

    • Michelle
      Author
      November 10, 2013 / 4:27 pm

      How are you liking it in Germany?! 🙂

  3. November 5, 2013 / 5:55 pm

    Very envious. We really are ripped off when it comes to secondary school education.

    • Michelle
      Author
      November 10, 2013 / 4:28 pm

      It’s true! It’s very no frills here, but most students here never have to worry about student loans or debt when they graduate! Imagine that! Haha

  4. Megan
    September 6, 2015 / 8:36 pm

    Hi! I just discovered your blog, and it is awesome! I am very interested in getting a Master’s degree in Germany. I have visited there twice, and I absolutely love it. And free tuition just makes it more enticing. Do you have any suggestions on getting started??

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