1. Public transportation is your friend
Seriously, you aren’t in the US anymore. There are trains, metros, streetcars, and buses in EVERY city and they are safe, clean, and affordable. As a student, you can get a monthly student ticket that is dirt cheap and will usually take you around the entire state. That way you can tell your parents that you can’t afford NOT to travel.
2. Oral Exams
Germans are fond of the oral exam as a substitute for regular tests. For Americans, who are used to essays and three exams a semester, this can be daunting. Prepare yourself for a few sleepless nights getting ready, but at least there is no wondering afterwards if you completely failed or not!
3. One exam a semester… and it’s a doozy
Okay, so oral exams are much more common, but there will be one monster of an exam at the end of every semester. It can be brutal, but you will have ample time to prepare. Remember, though, you have to REGISTER for the exam at the beginning of the semester, otherwise you are out of luck. Usually the registration office is on the other side of campus and has odd hours, so check it out before you go!
4. Goodbye, sweatpants and flipflops!
Those of you that have a few semesters of university under your belts here in the US may be familiar with the college uniform: sweatpants, flipflops, hats, and spirit wear. If you want your fellow classmates to play “spot the American,” feel free to go on this way, but many Germans look down on the “frumpy chic” look.
Fair warning: you will need a PhD to operate the washing machines in Germany. In the US, settings vary from cold to hot with maybe a color selection thrown in, but in Germany there is a dazzling control pannel to maximize the cleanliness of even the most lowly sock. Your clothes will be cleaner than ever, and you will come out feeling like you have learned a new language. Beware, though, if you decide to use the dryer, you may garner some odd looks from the environmentally concious Germans, who prefer line drying, regardless of the weather.
There are always five different trash varieties in Germany, in some cases even six. After the all-in-one trash cans in the US, the sheer variety can be, at first, dizzying. Fear not! If you fail to sort your trash properly, you can be sure that someone will let you know. Protecting the environment is a real issue for the average German. Saving energy, recycling, and carbon footprints may regularly come up in conversation with your German friends.
German “Pünktlichkeit,” or the art of being ON TIME, is something you need to get used to as well. If you are meant to be somewhere at 7:00AM, you show up at 7:00AM. Remember, being early is just as rude as being late. Also, check your schedule to see if your class starts ST vs CT. CT classes actually start 15 minutes later than the posted time, for reasons no one in the universe can possibly fathom.
8. The Language
If you speak any German, you will have a leg up on many of your fellow travelers. There are quite a few universities in Germany that offer courses taught in English, especially for one-semester exchange students. However, the German language is uniquely wonderful, and we definitely recommend learning it. For university life, it can be especially useful, since long and complicated words like “Vorlesungsverzeichnis” are used regularly. It’s also a great way to shock Germans who have never met an American who can speak the language!
Prepare to see this look a lot if you need to buy, say, a lightbulb, some bread, and shoelaces all in one place. Germany is well known for tiny mom and pop stores, and megastores are virtually nonexistent, especially if you are at a smaller university. You will get to know your butcher, baker, and candlestick maker, unlike in the US. However, it may take a bit longer for a shopping trip. Also, don’t be shocked if the workers seem less friendly than in the US - Germans prefer to be left alone during their shopping trips.
10. Cultural differences
Yes, Germany is a Western country, so it’s not like you will have as many differences as if you went to Djibouti or Kuala Lampur, but you will find some quirks unique to Germany, and quite a few regional quirks as well. A good motto for any exchange student is that nothing is good or bad, just different. That being said, one good tip if you are planning on blending in: leave your smile at home. Americans tend to smile at everyone they see, which can be disconcerting and somewhat confusing for us Germans.
Yes, football. Not soccer. Germans are friendly soccer fans, but you should definitely pick your team early and stick with it. If you are lucky, you will be there for a European Cup or World Cup year, in which case we bet you will find yourself inexplicably rooting for the black, red and gold!
On Sundays, German campuses are basically ghost towns. The stores are closed, no one is in the streets, and good luck trying to find someone to hang out with. At the university, students go back to their families for coffee and cake, leaving the foreign nationals to fend for themselves. Stock up on food and books on Saturday, and enjoy the solitude! You will miss it when you are back in the US. Our tip? Find a good group of friends and make a weekly breakfast date, like many Germans. Or, go for a hike in one of Germany’s beautiful parks!
Written By Lauren Rogers