Sometimes, when planning a study abroad trip, or even entertaining the possibility of one, you find yourself wanting to hear a fellow student’s opinion. You find yourself curious about their journey and how they navigated life in a foreign country alone. I’m here to walk you through that and tell you all about my still ongoing study abroad experience!
Hi, I’m Habiba Hassan, I’m a 21-year-old Egyptian studying in Germany. I set off to university three years ago and landed at The Technical University of Darmstadt where I have been studying Mechatronics. My experience so far has been an interesting one, filled with challenges, new beginnings, and plenty of educational moments.
Throughout this blog, I’ll be giving you what I believe is everything I’ve reaped from this journey thus far, in hopes that it may help, or even inspire you.
Before setting off to Germany, I did thorough research on the country, the city I was set to live in, as well as the university at which I would study and the country’s overall education system. The German education system has proven beneficial from the start; education is not really expensive there, you pay an average of 200 - 400 Euros per semester for your student ticket. What’s a student ticket you ask? It basically covers your tuition, your transportation in and out of the city you’re staying in, and it gives you access to affordable on-campus cafes and restaurants as well.
Universities in Germany usually have flexible attendance, as well as an online database of recorded course materials that has been in place even before the pandemic when it was deemed necessary. Taking courses from majors different from your own is a requirement at German universities, and students are allowed to attend or audit classes from different departments.This helps in sampling the available courses before committing to one to fulfil your requirements. This perk has given me the chance to attend and later enrol in a couple of Psychology courses, which is a field I’m invested in as much as my own field.
German universities also give students the chance to have busy on-campus social lives. You get the opportunity to join different student societies and expand your interests and views. They also have a number of on-campus sports that we can participate in. One thing I found interesting is the fact that not a small number of universities there have Quidditch, which as a Harry Potter fan myself, was very intriguing to me.
The process of getting my documents in order, applying for a visa, and preparing for my journey was a bit of a hassle for me. However, with the right guidance, you can do it with ease. The visa process varies from one person to another, depending on where you’re from, your education level, and your language proficiency. I’ll walk you through my own experience, but I generally found this article helpful, in case your case differs from mine.
To get a visa to study in Germany, I first had to apply for a temporary student visa in my home country, followed by a resident’s permit in Germany. The visa requirements may also vary, but what I mainly needed was proof of funding and proof of enrollment. I didn't need any proof of language proficiency, since my high school graduation certificate was a German one from a German school. You also have to be insured in order to get your visa, you can either apply for private or state insurance. I personally prefer state insurance, which albeit expensive, is definitely worth it. Your insurance is important when it comes to university enrollment as well, you have to be insured to be enrolled.
Moving to a whole new country entirely is quite achallenging experience, but you tend to adjust to your surroundings as time goes by. Since my university is in Darmstadt, I am currently staying in a private let there. Your student accommodation must be close to your university. The Technical University of Darmstadt is a mere 10-minute walk from my current residence. As I settled in, I surveyed the area for the nearby cafes, restaurants, and grocery stores. There’s a grocery store also a 10-minute walk from my residence, where I go on weekly grocery runs. I spend around 200 Euros on groceries a month, this may vary depending on your needs and how much time you spend at home. A perk of living in Germany is the abundance of transport links. Getting from one city in Germany to another is both easy and relatively cheap, which makes planning weekend trips a lot easier and more affordable.
Another good thing about living in Germany is how easily students can get a job there. You can apply for an on-campus or off-campus job.. Working at any of the university’s affiliated facilities: library, cafe, or simply working as a receptionist, an administrative assistant, or a research assistant among others, both pay well and adds experience to your CV. I am on an international student scholarship that covers my living expenses, so I invest my time doing internships instead. This scholarship, besides funding, also gives me access to various seminars and lectures where I get to meet really interesting like-minded people from diverse backgrounds, some of which are international students like myself, while others are local German students.
Being an international student in a foreign country is always an exhilarating experience. You get put in various situations, encounter different people, and learn a lot of lessons in the process. I’ve learned a lot during my three years in Germany and I'm learning more and more every day, whether it’s about myself, the place I live in, or about life in general, every piece of knowledge that I gain here is a memorable and beneficial one.
Since Darmstadt is home to a lot of international students, you get to encounter multiple people from diverse countries, cultures, and backgrounds. This gives you the chance to widen your horizons, get to know different cultures a bit better and expand your social circle. I got to connect with a lot of people from a variety of backgrounds, most of whom I would even call friends. You learn a lot about openness and acceptance as a member of a diverse community, it’s an eye-opening experience that I am glad to still be a part of.
When you set off to a new country by yourself, leaving behind your old life along with your family and friends, you tend to feel a bit lost at first. It was quite hard for me to be on my own in the beginning, but as time went on, I became more and more comfortable in my own skin. I started to look at the situation as an opportunity to rediscover myself from a different perspective, and in a whole new setting, one that I was not really used to. As much as this helped me solidify my identity and sense of self, it also gave me a sense of appreciation towards my family and friends back home; the things that my mother would adapt at our house that I would usually frown upon, are now a staple in my own home. In a sense, I am my own self, but I also carry pockets of my people back home with me.
Navigating life alone as an international student puts you in what I like to call “Adult Mode”. This means you basically need to learn loads of skills in a pretty short time. Fortunately, this is way easier than it sounds. You pick up different skills as you go anyway, you just need to learn how to adapt and stick to them. The main skills I’d say I’ve gained during my time here are time management, discipline, and an appreciation for the importance of money and living on a budget. Attending lectures as well as frequenting a couple of internships have definitely helped nurture my time management and discipline skills, while being responsible for a home, with monthly needs, bills, and supplies has solidified my appreciation for money and aided me in setting solid budgets, which I try my best to stay within.
Every study abroad experience is different, you get to shape your own life and make it in the image you want. My journey as an international student in Germany is still an ongoing one, and a new lesson is learned every single day. I still hope, though, that this helps you forge your own path and set off on your own unique journey.