This month we speak to Ned, who hails from London with Irish and German parents.
As part of an ongoing monthly series where we do a regular expat blog interview, this month we explore some of the difficulties faced by foreigners when they come to Germany to study, as well as some of the many advantages of Germany as a destination for university education. Spoiler alert, the dreaded bureaucracy gets mentioned quite often!
Expat Blog Interview: Ned, From London To Leipzig
Ned made the move from London to Germany to go and study in Leipzig.
First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Sure, I’m twenty years old, I’m from London. I basically just finished my A levels and I thought, uni in the UK… you know…£9k a year even before all your living costs, and I knew that was ridiculously expensive. I couldn’t really fathom it. In total, I think it’s about £56,000 in total that it will put you in debt. It just felt like a tax on living, on everything I would earn in the future. This felt unfair, unjust, however you want to put it.
This lead me to other alternatives. I’m half German, half Irish, so my mom knew there were cheaper ways to study abroad. Here in Leipzig it’s…I think €216 a semester. That was the main reason for being here, but there were other reasons. I was tired of things being so expensive in London. I used to come here to Germany and I knew things were cheaper here. Which is important when you’re a student!
Yeah, that’s very important! So you mentioned the cost of uni in the UK, and having strong connections to Germany through your family. Could you already speak German when you moved out here?
I could speak German, yeah. I was fluent before I came here. Well, perhaps not fluent, but I’d spoken the language since I was young. My mom spoke it at me, and I used to speak English back, but I think it sort of saved itself subconsciously. And that wakened itself when I came here. But there was definitely a struggle in learning the language to a point where I was so fluent that people wouldn’t know I was from another country. Which it has gotten to now, luckily.
Wow, that’s good. Everyone can still tell that I’m foreign, but I get asked if I’m Dutch quite often. I guess that’s a compliment though considering how good at languages they are!
But yeah, I think one of the things that, if you read Twitter, or read the expat website forums, as far as I can see, the biggest challenge for most people is the language. All the things that spring from that: dealing with bureaucracy and how things tick in the workplace, or even more social aspects like dating. All those frustrations seem for the most part to stem from not being fluent in the language.
So, when you first got here, other than things being cheaper than in London, what was pretty much as you expected it to be, and was there anything that took you by surprise, even though you were familiar with the city through family connections?
I had a lot of things that I thought Germany was going to be. Not all of which were particularly true. I thought that the people were more open, which isn’t always the case, although I have met people who are extremely open. But generally, I think Germans are not as open (edit: as the British). And I thought oh, it will be easy registering at a university…
I didn’t really know that German bureaucracy was such a thing. To my distaste it was pretty bluntly shoved in my face. And that wasn’t very nice. I tried to get my English A-levels translated over to the German equivalent grade, and it was a nightmare. To be honest after a year and a half I still haven’t gotten through that bureaucracy. I ended up studying a physics international course, which is taught in English, Physics IPSP for anyone who’s interested. People come from all over the world to study it, but it’s extremely difficult. That’s the reason why I’m changing over to Digital Humanities, and luckily half of that’s in English.
But be warned. The bureaucracy is ridiculous. It’s almost impossible. Be prepared to have all of your documents translated to German. Even though the uni doesn’t require it in German, the German government offices will require your documents in German, and they’re the ones who authenticate the documents. You have to go through quite a long process to do that.
OK, so it’s not so much the government bureaucracy, although that definitely can be a challenge to expats. But the university bureaucracy was very rigid in what they demand from you.
So on the one hand studying is effectively free, or costs a few hundred euro a semester. But then on the other hand, the hoops you have to jump through to get to that point in terms of having your school qualifications recognised, are hurdles which are so high that for someone who doesn’t speak the language, that might be a hurdle too far?
Yeah, I’d definitely say that for the academic community. But outside of that, I found the Government tried to help as much as possible. I mean, we’ve had the refugee crisis and it seems the (bureaucratic) infrastructure here is buckling. It’s difficult for students here, because people know that Germany is cheap and it’s quite sought after.