Berlin German College Life Germany

An Open Letter to Next Year’s College (Prep) Students

Dear successor student(s),

Congratulations! I assume that if you are reading this, chances are that you made it past the entrance exam and passed the fill in the gap, the reading and the listening comprehension with great mastery and are about to start your journey towards a german diploma that will allow you to study in german university. Maybe you are also just a curious reader who stumbled upon this blog by coincidence, in any case, I am happy you have the time to read this letter.

You have now started a unique journey of discovery, dear students. New experiences, new friendships for life and many amazing people and inspiring professors are awaiting you. Maybe some of you, with the passing of the entrance exams, will finally be living a dream you have had for a long time.

However, with this new life come challenges that some of you may not be familiar with just yet. I can guess that by the time some of you start classes, you may realize that the German you learned back home or maybe already studied in university, is not exactly the type of German you will need for your studies. Some of you may think that since it is just a prep year before the real thing, things will be going easy. But you should know that most likely easy is the last word to describe the situation.

It does not matter what you want to study. Be it History of Art, Law, English, Political Science, Medicine or Philosophy. In any instance you will need German more than you think. Courses will start lightly, with short readings, professors that speak loud and clearly and assignments that won’t necessarily make you choose between studying and having a social life.

However, you should always keep in mind that this is only the beginning and that once you make it into the first semester next year, no one will be as considerate as before and the readings you will have to do will surely be beyond 400 words (something like 40-50 pages till the next seminar to be exact if not more), written in a German that goes way beyond simple newspaper articles in the sense of (academic) vocabulary and sentence structure. In fact, I am now sitting over Theodor Adorno’s ‘The Authoritarian Personality’ for my sociology class, and as a native speaker of German, I have still no clue of half of what I am looking at. So don’t complain to the professors if all of a sudden your reading assignments go from 300 to 500 words. Believe me, there is worse to expect.

I have seen many students lose hope even though at the very beginning they thought it would go as smoothly as it did in university back home. I have also seen students start at the very bottom and succeed tremendously. Therefore, before you make this journey away from family and friends into the unknown, you should think about whether you are sure you can master the task of studying in a language you may have learned for only a year or so (some of my fellow students only had 4 months to do so). Pick up a German classic. Something like Thomas Mann, Stefan Zweig, Günther Grass or Nietzsche if you are into philosophy, and read them. Read them from beginning to the end, watch some German movies or news screenings. If you can manage with not too much trouble, you can tell that studying in university in German should be alright with you.

It is wrong to think that your German, if you are a beginner and not necessarily a gifted polyglot, will go from the very basics to university comprehension level within a year, as some of my classmates think it will go for them. Chances are it is not going to happen so fast and maybe you should consider doing some intensive language classes before you torture yourself with types of democratic theories and the definition of a representative government in German. But in the end, it is all up to your ability to assess your language skills.

Lastly, keep in mind that staying in Germany for the rest of your life is not as easy as you think it is. I had the impression that many young students mistake Germany for the United States, where after a little of study and work they will get a Green Card and live there happily ever after. As much as I wish to tell you that this is true, I have to say that it is not. You are allowed to stay for as long as you study. If you are lucky and ambitious enough you may get a job which will allow you to stay longer. However, once your contract runs out and you can’t get a new one (because getting an indefinite contract with an employer is already hard enough for Germans themselves), you will be asked to leave. In that aspect it will not matter for how long you have already been in a country. I have known people who have been asked to leave Germany after 10-20 years of living there. I doubt it will be any different for you, unless you are a very gifted doctor or engineer or have a german partner.

So these are the most important things you should know.  I hope that these lines have not discouraged you, but have given you an idea what to expect, so that you can make a better decision on what to do with your life.

I wish you great success, many new friends, fantastic experiences and of course, lots of fascinating knowledge to gain in your field of study!


your predecessor

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    December 27, 2014 at 1:55 am

    I like this post because it undercover the truth to be far from home and face all this obstacles, and after that when you graduate, maybe you will be asked to leave Germany.
    I’m Moroccan, 25 years old. In Morocco there is a trend, a lot of students want to move to Germany to continue studies, but what I notice is; many of them think that Germany is just Nature and Tourist, like DW shows in Euromaxx program :).
    Myself, I’m thinking before to sleep, how to manage all the stress, cultural differences and Language. BUT I am convinced that this journey will be as rewarded as hard.
    Many thanks for your Posts. Keep up the good work 😉
    (Sorry for my bad English)
    شكرا جزيلا

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