Although Germany is not the most touristy destination in Europe, it receives over 32 thousand Erasmus+ students every year – being the 2nd most popular country in the program, surpassed only by Spain. If you are right now in the place where I was last January, pondering on whether you should pick Germany as your first option over other countries, allow me to share my reasons (and possibly those of other 32 thousand young Europeans) for choosing my destination with you.
I would be lying if I said I knew just how diverse Germany is before living here for a while. Germany as a whole was already fascinating to me only by itself. However, having the opportunity of exploring the rich treasure that is regional culture is what makes this country so special. No State – in some cases, even no city – is alike the other.
From Schleswig-Holstein in the North to the southernmost point of Bayern, you will find a colourful panoply of accents, traditional sweets, monuments, stories, and natural landscapes. As much as it sounds like a publicity campaign, this is my love letter to Germany – you will be shocked at how much there is to enjoy within these borders!
2. Connections and Transportation
Imagine living in the heart of Europe! As someone who grew up bordering only one country, it is exciting to suddenly be surrounded by nine: Denmark, Poland, Czechia, Switzerland, Austria, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. I am a person who loves traveling – and, moreover, a student of International Relations. That being said, being in the vicinity of so many countries is an attractive premise to me.
Besides, Germany has great connections. Not only within the country, but also to the rest of Europe. The Deutsche Bahn might be famous for its delays – but its perks are frequently forgotten. I shall never forget the nights I spent on my beloved InterCity Express (ICE)! Something I will definitely miss once I am back home will be the ability to hop on a train and get anywhere in the country without the need of private transportation. It is also worth noting that, unlike my home country, cities are bike-friendly here! Even though I had never done it before, I felt comfortable riding a bike pretty much everywhere, from Heidelberg to the centre of Berlin.
Many people are not fans of Germany’s cuisine but hear me out. Not everyone loves the traditional currywurst or käsespätzle – but, as someone with a sweet tooth, I found the sweets truly irresistible. Make sure to keep an eye out for the creamy, tall cakes, the chocolates, the marzipan, and a wide variety of gummy bears you often can’t find anywhere else. I have loved tasting traditional cakes* during my travels, from the black and white Hohenzollern-Torte to the strawberry-filled Berliner.
*Tip: My absolute favourite was the Lübecker Marzipan Nusstorte!
If you are also a bread-lover, then you will be happy to know Germany is the leading country in that as well – there are more than 3 thousand different types of bread here, and surely one of them will conquer your stomach… and heart!
4. Cost of Living
Coming from Portugal, I had expected the difference in the cost of living to be much greater than what I was actually faced with. Although dining out is significantly more expensive, a trip to the supermarket costs essentially the same, varying in specific products like meat, fish, and olive oil.
Just like other countries in Europe, Germany is facing a housing crisis. You can feel it especially in small university towns like Heidelberg or Tübingen, in which the small, picturesque historical-centre houses cannot cope with the amount of demand. Finding accommodation was one of my biggest concerns when moving. I have to admit I had a lot of luck when looking for a place to stay. Being willing to stay in one of the neighbouring villages increased my chances of finding affordable housing.
5. University and teaching method
From the first moment, Heidelberg was my first choice, since studying in a good, renowned university was a priority for me. Even though that is not that valuable for Germans, I wanted the experience of studying in one of the best universities in the world.
Furthermore, the teaching method is very different from the one applied back in Porto. Evaluation is not so focused on memorisation, but on the development of papers, presentations, and in-class debate of readings. There is a bunch of space to develop critical thinking and express opinions. In order to accommodate at-home work – namely a great number of readings, at least in my field of studies – the schedules are also reduced compared to my home university. Having so much reading to process in so little time was exhausting at first. Yet, it made me a more active reader and helped me find more interest for academic research.
6. The Language
This might be because I am a language nerd, but, coming from a romance language, I had always wanted to learn German. My hometown lacked opportunities, but moving to Porto for university gave me the opportunity of picking it up as a hobby. Nothing contributes to learning a language like being immersed in it and its culture while accompanied by classes taught by native teachers. All of this has helped me improve the correction of my grammar, extend my vocabulary, and enhance my confidence when communicating in this fascinating language.
7. The people and the community life
Germans are a cute and interesting people, but they might be hard to make friends with – at least, at first. Make sure to sign up for the activities that interest you the most! Germans are very fond of clubs (Vereins), and it will help you make friends with similar interests in your local community. You’ll find that there are always concerts and other sort of cultural meetings taking place.
Even if you don’t become besties with the locals, you will find a big community of international students, including people in the same situation as you. ESN in Heidelberg was very active and promoted dynamic events and activities.