by Chelsea Workman
“So, why Deggendorf??”
This is a question I get asked nearly every time I meet a new person, even though I’ve lived in this little ‘dorf’ (or village in German) for over three years now. As an American studying abroad, most of the non-Americans I meet are shocked to learn that I prefer living in Europe to living in my home country, which has been called, “the greatest country in the world”. It is evident everywhere from university classes to the local shopping mall, filled with trendy clothing plastered with the American flag; a majority of the world idolizes America and many people aspire to visit or live there one day. So why would I ever choose to leave?
Flashback to 2011. I am 21, studying philosophy at Ohio State University, in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Although I had chosen an ‘affordable’ public school, the tuition, at over $10,000 per year, put financial stress on my father and meant I needed to work in addition to studying. Even so, I began racking up debt. At the same time, I began to identify with the Occupy Wall St. movement and started to see my school as more of a corporation than a university. There were days I had to choose between eating lunch and paying to park on campus. Staff on the famous university football team (the ‘Buckeyes’) made millions; why did I have to go into debt just to get an education?
Eventually, I dropped out, believing it futile to pay well over $40,000 for a bachelor’s degree in a subject I could easily learn for free, say by reading in a local coffee shop. I decided instead to work full-time to save up some money.
My sister had moved to Deggendorf several years earlier after visiting a few college friends in Bavaria and falling in love with the culture of the South-Eastern German state. She convinced me to visit her, which gave me the opportunity to check out her workplace, the Deggendorf Institute of Technology. Later she would tell me about the International Management BA program there, taught entirely in English, with tuition fees of less than 200€ per semester (now only 52€).
When I went to OSU, I dreamed about studying abroad in Spain for one semester. Friends of mine from more well-to-do families were doing it and seemed to be having the time of their lives. I went to speak with a college advisor, who told me that one semester of studying abroad in Europe would cost about $15,000. Coming from a family of three children with only one parent healthy enough to work, this was not an option for me. Later, my sister offered me the possibility to live and study for three and half years in Germany, in total for less than the money I would spend in one year at my hometown college (in my own backyard).
The decision, for me, was a no-brainer. I sold and packed my things, spent my savings on the plane ticket, and moved to Deggendorf in September 2012.
At first, I lived with my sister, but after one semester it was no trouble to find safe, affordable housing in the town of 35,000 people. Nicknamed the ‘gateway to the Bavarian forest’, is a small town very dissimilar to your average American small town. It is safe, well-kept, with modern facilities, impeccable infrastructure and access to the most advanced technology. In the American Midwest, most of the small towns I’d known were run-down and deteriorating, with weak educational systems. In Germany, I was immediately impressed by the high level of education, the modernity of society in general, the beautiful, mostly untainted nature in the surrounding areas and the advanced state of the economy. All in all, the standard of living in Germany is simply higher than that of America, despite what you may have been told growing up in the US. For less than 300€ per month, you can live in a shared apartment (‘WG’) or dormitory, built with high German standards and craftsmanship. Every day, I appreciate the quality of the place in which I am living- it is not falling apart like most student housing options or dorm rooms in the US! As a rule, the places are kept clean and in almost perfect condition (this is not the case in say, the Netherlands or Italy, however). I was lucky to have my sister help me navigate these waters, however, the university has an International Office available to help with all the needs of incoming foreign students.
Now, my average day is busy with classes, studying, and working as an English teacher and tutor. Plus there is always something fun going on for students- for example, an English movie night at the local theater, or a trip to visit the famous Christmas market in Nürnberg, open to all students who wish to participate. There are job fairs, school parties, sports classes and numerous university clubs. There is a very large international student community in Deggendorf, so finding someone to speak English with is never a challenge. In fact, if you want to practice Portuguese, Spanish, French, Korean, Arabic, or any other language, you can find a person on campus who would probably love to speak with you! Through the tandem program, students are able to meet up with other students and learn each other’s native language. Did I mention all German students speak English and are happy to practice it with you?
All in all, life in Germany has been amazingly positive for me. Of course, there have been a few challenges; but overcoming them has only helped to make the experience here more rewarding and satisfying. One of the main differences between my old university and the new one is the time I must devote to studying. Studying here is considered a full-time commitment and most students don’t work in addition to their studies. Classes will take up most of your week (especially in the first few semesters) and group work takes up another large chunk of time. When exam season approaches, most of my German friends retreat into their rooms like hibernating bears, not to be seen again until a few weeks later on exam day. It is not uncommon here to spend upwards of 10 hours a day studying near the end of the semester. But Germans love to party and socialize as well- there will be no shortage of that!
However, if you are considering doing a German bachelor’s or master’s degree, be prepared for the amount of time and effort it will require. To find success in Germany, one simply needs to have a good work ethic, friendly and polite disposition, and an open-mind. Of course working on your German skills will also be advantageous for you! While most Germans speak English, they are extremely impressed if you can speak German, and that will, of course, be beneficial for you on your professional path. Another thing- since all Germans learn English at school, the job market is quite competitive. Fluency in English and German are the minimum requirements for many jobs of an international scope in Germany.
Now, over three years later, I am in the final semester of my International Management bachelor’s program. As required by the program, I’ve spent a semester studying abroad in the Netherlands, and one semester gaining practical experience through an internship. I am working as a professional English teacher at my university in addition to my studies. I have learned a new language and can communicate in German. I’ve met brilliant people and started a student organization on campus. I have made friends from all over the world and enjoyed a meaningful cross-cultural relationship. I’ve gained practical business skills, intercultural experiences, and an international perspective. More than anything, I have grown into a better version of myself that I am extremely proud of, and I would never have accomplished so much in so little time had I stayed in America. I can say with confidence that the decision to move to Germany was the best decision I have ever made.
Best of luck to you on your journey!