All That Glitters is not Gold: On Being a College Student in Berlin

After I spent the entire summer worrying about the completeness of my application documents and about whether or not my already quite high GPA would be high enough to get me into Political Science, I now have about a month of classes behind me.

It might still be a bit early to talk about any conclusions at this point but if there is one thing I learned so far, then it’s that many of my initial ideas about college life and the goals I set up for myself turned out to be rather difficult to realize. And because I know that Germany is very popular with international students, I decided to tell you guys about my experiences with the reality of studying in Berlin. This is a sort of “What society told me college would be like vs. What’s it really like” post.

I will enjoy my semester break to the fullest

There is no such thing as a semester beak, at least not at my faculty. Semester break just means that there will be no lectures or seminars, but during that time I am supposed to take all my exams, write my papers and do my internships. The only official break we have is Christmas, New Year’s and Easter plus a few single days here and there, like German Unity Day. If you are looking for a place where you can have lots of days off, the best place to go is Bavaria with 12 official holidays a year.

I will eat healthy

After moving into my own apartment and being my own master from then on, I was excited about the new life I would lead. I planned to eat home cooked meals only and make them as healthy as possible. While this plan worked out quite well during the summer, the whole idea crashed once classes started. My daily routines now focus on practicality, which means that all I want when I get home at around 10 p.m. is to just eat something quickly and get back to work instead of spending at least 45 minutes in the kitchen.

Furthermore, I noticed that I am barely ever at home. Even when I take the weekend to make something more sophisticated, I am not at home often enough to finish eating it all (apparently cooking for one person only is an art of its own) and in the end, at least a little something goes into the bio recycle bin in the yard. So even though I have a kitchen that other housewives would probably kill for, I only get to use it for the most basic things, which is definitely not what I hoped for when I first moved in.

Fruits, vegetables and nuts are relatively expensive here, so even a fruity snack from the Turkish store in-between makes my wallet feel lighter. The university cafeteria or Mensa ends up being the cheapest alternative to the own kitchen or the right place to go when you no longer can look at falafel, kebab and Burger King. Cooking a meal of your own for € 3 is pretty much impossible, so students go to the cafeteria to save money.

At least I can say that I have been eating vegetarian food for the past month, except for Sundays when I am invited for lunch at someone’s place.

I will be the master of my own class schedule

My first association with college used to be the idea that I would be making my own schedule and if I chose to come to class only three times a week, then so it would be.

That ended up not being exactly true. While I was indeed free to choose the modules I wanted to take this semester, I also had to adapt to the times during which the courses take place and hope that I would get into all the seminars I need, which is not always the case thanks to the enormous student body at my university.

Even though lectures are not mandatory to attend, seminars are, and if I have a seminar at 8 a.m. on a Friday, I have no other choice than to attend even if I originally planned to have Friday off. Otherwise I won’t get the credit.

There is of course the possibility of taking fewer modules than recommended. However, fewer modules mean fewer credits and the German government pays students for only six semesters which are expected to be enough to get a degree. If someone depends on the scholarship in order to survive, he or she will have to make the schedule as full as possible. Therefore “individual schedule planning” is rather a relative term and applies only to those with lots of time and money.

I will come up with a working plan for home and will stick strictly to it

Living alone and taking care of various things on one’s own is more time consuming than I thought. It seems nearly impossible to plan out all the things that need to be done because something always gets in-between, especially bureaucracy. Every time I plan to sit down and study for the whole day, I have to tend to some appointment that came out of nowhere. So I guess that resolution in particular needs a while until it can come true.

I will finally have time to do the things I always wanted to do

Other people always told me that students have lots of free time. Where did they get that from?? I had lots of ideas about what I could do once my schedule was put together nicely and evenly, which it obviously wasn’t. I wanted to finish writing my book, do short trips over the weekend, take dance classes and go back to studying Arabic. Yet here I am, reading a bunch of texts if I choose not to go to a lecture, preparing for my next classes, clarifying what I don’t understand and tending to my household, aside from possibly working 10h a week, and before I know it, the day is over without me having done anything I longed to do.  I really admire all those people I know who manage to study, work (full time!), tend to their hobbies and take care of their children at the same time.

I will make a bunch of new friends

That is indeed true. It is possible to make the dearest friends during your time in college, especially since you have the chance to meet people who are older than you. While I still believe that college might be a great place to make friends, I also have to face the fact that in a lecture with more than 300 people, it is very unlikely (and it has been a rare experience so far) that I will meet the same person twice. So to anyone who is new in Berlin and wants to make friends in college, I can advise to go on any party and group trip there is, join clubs and not be afraid of group projects in seminars.

These are just some things to keep in mind while you set up your life in Berlin and make plans for your further actions. I will make sure to write about the advantages of studying in Germany sometime soon, so that people don’t think this place is hell for new students. 🙂

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