What Natives Can Learn From Exchange Students

Today is the day before one of our exams. As usual, even at university age, many students start losing their minds, ask last minute questions and decide to do all night shifts, surviving on Red Bull, coffee and whatever else they can think of.

Given the fact that my German has become pretty good after 13 years of being in Germany, the one or the other international student might think that I am at an advantage compared to everyone else because while the only thing I struggle with during the literature exam is what exact information to put on the sheet, many other students, additionally, are trying to figure out the meanings of some of the words in the text.

Academically speaking, yes, I might have a certain advantage as a native speaker. I have the time to sit down the night before the exam and write this post after all because I really can’t see this play we were doing anymore.

But there is a thing about exchange students that many local students don’t notice at all. There are really quite some things that I admire regarding my fellow students from all over the world and so I thought I share my thoughts with those of you who stumble upon this blog. Maybe some of you are international students to be, who knows?

Something that fascinates me the most is the courage and the discipline that many of my fellow students have. So many of them come from countries that are so far away, they go home only during the summer because the flights take more than one day sometimes.

First of all, these people decide to learn a whole new language and I am not speaking about learning a language just for fun, but trying to learn a language on academic level. I even know people who only had a couple of months to do so. Now they are here, in Berlin, coming to class every day and struggling with good old Goethe, Dürrenmatt & co. Something that seems so easy to the average German student but is such a hurdle for those who are entirely new to the system and yet most of them keep going.

With that comes my admiration for their bravery. I think one has to be a brave person in order to leave home behind and come to a new country with a new language and a new system of do’s and don’ts, especially in connection with German as a foreign language.

These people go to class every day, some of them with dictionaries nearby, just as I used to do when I first started at an American school abroad. Later on they go to work because the German government is not too excited to give out scholarships to anyone, they finish at nine or ten at night and then go home to do their homework. At least some of them do. That is, if you ask me, quite an achievement, especially for those who have never lived alone before. Even though such conditions are quite exhausting and may be quite depressing I can only be surprised about my classmates’ sense of optimism.

And then there is one major advantage that international students have towards native speakers. They know the grammar much better than we do. That is quite a great thing actually. I may know how to structure a fancy sentence and when to capitalize certain words, but as soon as my German professor throws the “Plusquamperfekt” (past perfect) at me, I am totally lost and feel like I am back in third grade while the rest of the people around me end up tutoring ME on German grammar. As my English professor said recently: If you want to confuse a German, just say Plusquamperfekt.

So, if you are about to become an international student in Germany and you feel down because of all the new things that are awaiting you, I hope that after reading this, you will realize that you are pretty brave and awesome just the way you are. Regardless of whether you can spell Schifffahrt (shipping) correctly or not.

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