One in ten students at the University of Potsdam does not come originally from Germany. There are many curiosities to discover when living in a foreign culture. Three international students report on their experiences with German peculiarities. By Jessica Moews.
The first lecture in Potsdam is over. The students flock outside hurriedly. Shoqi still remains on his seat for a few moments and observes the mathematics professor, an elderly gentleman, cleaning the board. Shame comes over him. This is not right! Finally, he plucks up courage, heads to the professor, takes the sponge, and finishes cleaning the board.
Many things are different when you go to another country in order to study there, to gain experience, to live. Self-evident signs of respect are of no value anymore, though there are others still lying in the dark. Continously, you come across new and unexpected things – sometimes because they do not fit at all to the expectation made up before.
When Shoqi was on his way from his hometown Taiz in Yemen to Berlin in 2007 his head was full of expectation about Germany and its tall, blond inhabitants. Positive things – from the home of the status symbol Mercedes to the beloved national football team, called the “German machine” – were mixed with his family’s warnings to take care of himself and not to walk around in the evening so the Nazis could not catch him. Shoqi even had an imagination of Berlin since he knew some occidental TV series like “Friends” which was shot in New York. In the end, he merrily looked out of the airplane window when the upcoming landing in Berlin Schönefeld was announced. But instead of a luminous city skyline he saw nothing but open fields.
He feels as a foreigner
After being in Germany for seven years, there is little to surprise Shoqi. He adopted many German habits to adapt himself. He literally rushes to appointments to fulfil the local timeliness and he even nags in case the train is delayed by five minutes. Nevertheless, he still does not feel arrived. Since his first day in Germany, he has not felt as an international student, but as a foreigner.
Tanya knows this feeling, too. She is sitting in a bar and is talking animatedly. She is that kind of girl which is found sympatically at first glance: lively, having a quick tongue, always smiling. Her counterpart orders another beer. Germans drink beer like juice, Tanya thinks, they never get drunk. At some time the talk is about her origin. “I’m from Russia”, she says and sees how her counterpart withdraws innerly. „Ah, okay…“, is the answer that she has already heard quite often. Tanya sees the reason for this behaviour in many people lacking the knowledge about Russia. The fewest have ever been to this huge country. The heads were filled with negative information from the news or with the Russian villains in the action films.
In Potsdam she forgets real life
Despite this problem, Tanya feels very comfortable in Potsdam, the city with the clean air and many parks. While being in Potsdam, she feels like forgetting real life. Everything is so slow and gemütlich. Every now and then she goes to Berlin in order to see that the life keeps going on – and to enjoy some privacy. For Potsdam is so small, you constantly meet someone which sometimes is annoying.
In particular, Tanya admires the Germans for their discipline. According to her, the Germans would not go to sleep unless all tasks for the next day were fulfilled. They were like little ants. They worked a lot and they thought a lot to work, as well. Even when they are on holiday, they could not enjoy it completely. According to Tanya this is the secret of the German success.
In 2010, Tanya came to Potsdam for the first time for reasons of study. She was very excited about the accomodation in the hall of residence, since she knew how to live there from American movies: an endless party. The reality, though, was rather comparable with a monastery life. Surrounded only by girls she lived in Golm in an old house that does not exist anymore. There was lots of silence in this house because the girls did not talk to each other. Tanya was not deterred and did not stop to babble. As time went by, the girls unbent and became good friends. Four years later, Tanya explains that Germans mostly are rather reserved, though it is worth fighting for their trust. Then, you may win a deep friendship that endures for a long time.
After all this reticence impedes international students to gain traction and to get in contact with Germans in the unknown country. Those who do not take the first step, will rarely be noted. This is what Giorgia experienced, too.
Many sit by themselves and do not greet each other
Again Giorgia sits in the seminar room by herself. She sadly remembers that moment in Turin when she and her friends approached a German Erasmus student. If she needed some help, if she understood everything. Nobody has asked her these questions in Potsdam yet. In general, it seems strange to her when students in class sit by themselves and do not greet each other. In Italy it is considered good manners to talk, to ask questions, and to invite. The German behavior seems like a lack of interest but this mentaility of taking only care of one’s own affairs has an upside, too. What Giorgia loves about Potsdam is that people judge much fewer than in her homeland. It does neither matter what clothes you wear nor which religion you practice, as long as you do not disturb anyone, you can live the way you want.
Among others, the difficult economical situation made Giorgia come from Italy to Germany. Missing money for science and a bad future prospect motivate many, especially well-educated, young people to go to foreign countries. The facilities and the high number of doctorands have convinced Giorgia that the situation in Germany is a very different one. Her year in Potsdam also is a test run to find out if she could live abroad for a longer period of time.
While Giorgia is still thinking about her future, Tanya has already found Potsdam to be her second home. Meanwhile Shoqi considers to return to his home in a few years. Welcome to Germany? A single question suggesting diverse answers. Depending on the most different influences and therefore being given continously new by every single one being considered with it.
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