Does this sound familiar?
The following statements stem from international students with diverse cultural backgrounds.
"I am very surprised at how impolite and direct the Germans are. In South Korea, we often have to talk around an issue and be very careful when communicating in order not to appear impolite." (South Korea)
"I gave a presentation in class and my professor only commented on my nonverbal communication, like how I played with my necklace or hair. I think it should be about the content of my presentation rather than about such minor details. I’m disappointed." (Uzbekistan).
"In South Korea, it’s normal to dress up and put on make-up for presentations at the university. Is it the same in Germany?"
"Germany is too serious and rigid. I want more freedom and creativity in my studies (I’m pursuing a degree in psychology.). When they weren’t given any specific instructions, the students’ presentations were a lot more creative. Usually, though, we’re given exact guidelines that everyone follows out of fear of getting a bad grade; studying at the Master’s level is difficult. In addition, it’s more interesting to listen to a professor who conveys the material in an easy-going, approachable way rather than giving a dry speech." (Uzbekistan)
"In my country, group work is very important because it reveals a lot about how you work with other people. Teachers place great importance on how a person behaves in a group setting. Everyone in the group gets the same grade, which is why we have to work together." (South Korea)
"It’s so hard making German friends in Germany. I’ve been here for four years already and still only have Russian and Uzbekistani friends. I have good conversations with people at parties but then afterwards you don’t hear back from them. Why is that?" (Uzbekistan)
"My professors think that all students are native speakers. I take notes and then at home, I look up all the words I don't know in the dictionary. That's extra work!"
"I have difficulty with academic writing. I have to have my papers corrected. My work takes twice as long as it would for German students. Because of the language barrier, I struggle to describe things properly and I can’t express my thoughts exactly."
"I have difficulties with scientific language and with the way my classmates speak colloquially. In the beginning, I also had problems orienteering myself academically. What do we learn in our major field of study? I was afraid to speak up in the seminars. And to give a presentation – that was awful!"
"The educational system here is different. At my university back home, we had to participate in class all the time. Here, throughout the whole seminar, you just sit silently in the corner. And when people hear that I'm studying DAF (Deutsch als Fremdsprache/German as a Foreign Language) and speak with an accent, they laugh. I feel like I'm nothing."
"We have to read and discuss often in the seminars, and I am not used to that. I don't get any support."
"The relationships between the students are cold. I feel so anonymous at the university. You don't get to know anyone in the seminars. I only have a few friends here, at home I have a lot."
"At my university back home, we were interested in the foreign students and volunteered to help them and went to the cafeteria with them. In Germany, people are only interested in the Americans! I don't have any real friends in Germany. They are just people I know."
"In Germany, people are only for themselves. You are on your own at the university. Where I come from, even if a person is introverted, he or she is always surrounded by people. And they care about how you’re doing. In Germany, everyone leads their own lives; you are really alone here. I never feel like I belong."
"I do have contact with Germans, although hardly ever with people from outside the university. I don't think we can't find a common language. We talk about the weather, about the university, about projects. I can only talk freely with my friends from home. They are also the only ones to whom I can turn."
"Of course there was a problem. When I first arrived, everyone looked at me skeptically. Where are you from? We were like outsiders. No one wanted to have anything to do with us. Or at least that's how I thought then. Even today, I only have a few German friends."
"In a seminar there was a professor who addressed us with the familiar 'du' form. This really shook me up."
"I was so happy about my first invitation to a birthday party. During my vacation at home, I bought a nice blanket as a present. As I entered the party, I wanted to immediately leave – everybody was standing with their own beer, there was nothing to eat and I felt so conspicuous with my big parcel."
"There are no small groups for us to get to know each other. The university does little for the foreign students. I am not active in class, because I'm not motivated. I got better grades at home. In my classes, international students are, on average, more likely to fail although most of them study a lot. I actually came here with a very positive attitude towards the Germans, and yet I hardly have personal contact with them."
"In the seminars, we only focus on one topic and the rest is neglected. The university system is too relaxed and doesn't motivate students. I also have difficulties with doing the homework because it has to correspond too precisely to the instructions on the work sheet."