Everything from culture shock and to helpful Germans

The new semester has begun, and for many of the international students enrolled in postgraduate courses, this marks the beginning of a new life in Germany. First impressions, strange experiences, problems and homesickness – four graduate students from Pakistan, El Salvador, Madagascar and Indonesia talk about their first few weeks in Germany.

Hailing from Latin America, economist Diana Herrera Leon (26) plans to earn her Master’s degree in Development Management at the Ruhr Universität Bochum (RUB).

Edral Pratam (32) from Indonesia has just started his Master’s in Tropical Hydrogeology and Environmental Engineering (TropHEE) in Darmstadt.

Nisa Shalizad Butt is from Pakistan. The 25-year-old, who works for Pakistan’s Ministry of Environment, plans to get her Master’s in Environmental Government (MEG) at the University of Freiburg.

Ando Razafindrazaka (27) from Madagascar has started his Master’s programme in Agricultural Science and resource Management in the Tropics and Subtropics (ARTS) at the University of Bonn.

What was your very first impression of Germany?

“It’s cold here!” (Edral)

“I had heard that Germans do not speak English. So I was pretty surprised to find everyone speaking English, starting at the airport!” (Nisa)

“The public transportation system is so well organised! You name it – busses, trams and the undergrounds – they all come on time. They’re comfortable and they’re inviting. Getting around in Germany is fun.” (Edral)

“From day one, everyone at the University of Bochum has been really helpful – with registration, opening a bank account and helping me find my way around campus.” (Diana)

Did you experience culture shock?

“Yes. I am from an Islamic country and this means that people are not as open with one another. The openness in Germany has a nice feel to it – you are still made to feel welcome even if you do not know anyone. It makes things easier.” (Nisa)

“Plenty of Europeans visit Madagascar – the cultures are not so different.” (Ando)

“Yes. I had a really hard time with the language in the first month. People wanted to get to know me and spoke to me in German. But I wasn’t able to reply – this was hard because I really enjoy talking and getting to know new people.” (Edral)

“It hasn’t been a cultural shock with Germany per se, but with my class. We are 26 students, coming from more than 20 countries, so the experience with new cultures, customes, languages, backgrounds, religions, etc., has been extraordinary, but trying to adapt to new ways of working in groups with people that are not from your same country, has also been challenging.” (Diana)

What did you enjoy most during those first days in Germany?

“Discovering the city of Freiburg. My nice instructors. The countryside. Nature.” (Nisa)

“How well everything was organised!” (Ando)

“Darmstadt’s social life. I really enjoyed taking in all the new things.” (Edral)

“The German food and the beautiful fall weather!” (Diana)

Did you have any problems when you first arrived?

“My mobile phone was stolen in Freiburg. Then my wallet was stolen. I also had a hard time finding a place to live. And I had to wait a while for the scholarship money to come in. It wasn’t a particularly easy start.” (Nisa)

“I didn’t have any problems.” (Ando)

“My problems at the start had to do with my inability to speak German. It’s really hard to get around in restaurants, stores and the ‘Authority for Foreigners’ if you do not speak the language.” (Edral)

“Accomodation can be tricky, I got a room that was not the one promised and since I’ll be moving around in the next year and a half, it makes it more difficult to look for a new place.” (Diana)

In Part II Diana, Edral, Ando and Nisa talk about what surprised them most about Germany. They also share some pointers for future scholarship holders.