Thoughts on College, Germany, and our Globalizing World

Joe Hlavaty majored in History and German as an undergraduate at Illinois State University and spent a semester during his studies as an exchange student at the University of Paderborn, where he learned first-hand about the differences between German and American higher education. He is now studying International Relations at the University of Siegen and joined the Eight Hours and Change team in the fall. If you have any questions about studying in Germany, feel free to send your questions to

I was born and raised in the western suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, and leaving home was not an easy decision. After much thought, however, it became clear as day that Germany, particularly Siegen, a small regional capital, was the right place for me. 

Germany, like the United States, is a country with an incredible history of both triumph and tragedy. Yet is neither the triumph nor the tragedy that establishes the nation’s character. Rather, it is the ability to embrace the traits which led to triumph while also learning from the causes which led to tragedy. The Germans have long been renowned for their academic contributions to Western Civilization, but have also been plagued with a history of xenophobia and intolerance of the “others” in society. Today, Germany has the policies in place to continue their emphasis on education, while also acting as a world leader in attracting foreign intellectuals. That is what makes this country great.  

During my undergraduate years at Illinois State University, I had the pleasure of spending a semester at the University of Paderborn. Immediately, the international influence within the culture of the university was made very apparent. While travelling throughout Germany, I learned that this phenomenon was not exclusive to Paderborn, but a nationwide occurrence.

In Siegen, there are several organizations created exclusively to incorporate international students into the day-to-day life of the university. Within my first month at Siegen, I made many friends, both German and from around the world. The university’s faculty and staff bent over backwards to help ease my transition to life within Siegen and Germany as a whole. While Germany does require an extensive amount of bureaucratic paperwork, the benefits of German society have made the work worthwhile. For example, the German healthcare system has provided me with better coverage at a much more affordable rate than I ever had in the US. The quality of groceries is also significantly better, not to mention cheaper, than at home. Germany has provided me with not only a fantastic education, but a better quality of life. 

Finally, because of the German system for immigration and work, my professional prospects for life after graduation have essentially doubled. Not only does the government allow me time after graduation to stay in the country to find a job, but because I will have a German university degree, the process of staying in Germany to work is rather simple. The German government not only wants foreign students to study here, but to work and contribute to society as well. In an ever globalized world, Germany is ahead of the game when it comes to recruiting and retaining brainpower. Thus, it is incredibly reassuring that I will have job opportunities in both the United States and Germany. 

In short, the Germans value education and professional development, and back up those values with affordable universities and an improved standard of living. Leaving home is never an easy decision, but Siegen has embraced me with open arms. I look forward to my time in Germany, however long that may be, and no matter where my career takes me, I will always appreciate the academic opportunity this country provided me.