When I was 19, I was about to start my sophomore year at Florida State University when I got an acceptance letter from Universität Leipzig. A few weeks later I was living in Leipzig, Germany.
Moving to Germany was somewhat disorienting, not only because of the suddenness with which I moved, but because all aspects of life became new and different. Collegiate life in America had tended to my comfortable, while circumstances in Germany seemed to be actively working to make things difficult for me. Not only did I have to learn a new language and way of life, but also how to function in an entirely new educational system with unfamiliar types of people.
Perhaps the most salient difference was that my circle of friends and acquaintances switched from an entirely American one to one made up of people from all over the world. I spent my classes and free time with Germans, Thais, Bulgarians, Russians, Mexicans, Nepalis, Algerians. Really, too many nationalities to list. This experience was the exact opposite of what I had in the US. There, I was surrounded only by other Americans, mostly other Floridians. But here my friends come from every continent. My American college experience was a continuation of a way of life that was normal to me, but in Germany I had to change the way I acted and thought to accommodate different perspectives and values.
I'm enrolled in a program for international students, so not everyone who studies in Germany will get this much diversity, but this high density of foreigners is characteristic of German universities and cities across the country. Germany's high standard of living and education attracts people from every corner of the world (the tuition-free higher education helps too) and because of this, German universities know how to accommodate international students. During my first days in Leipzig, my university hosted a welcome week for all the new international students, in which they gave us an overview of everything we needed to adjust to life in Germany and introduced us to all the campus groups that organize events and parties for foreigners. Leipzig is a place where, for the most part, foreigners are welcome, allowing unique and interesting communities to form. And more so than anywhere else I've been, the universities here are prepared to accommodate that diversity and help us foreigners feel like we belong.
But studying in Germany as an American is not universally good. But the aspects of life here that are frustrating and uncomfortable are also those that prepare you best to interact with the wider world. And those were things that I didn't get in the US. The effortlessness of college in America was exchanged for the then-unfamiliar systems in Germany. But this challenge has also given me valuable skills that I know will help me throughout my life. I'm not only getting an education here, but also learning how to think of the world more accurately and interact with it better.
Maxwell Dykes is a native Floridian and studies Physics at the University of Leipzig. If you have any questions or are interested in finding out more about STEM majors and the University of Leipzig, please leave them in the comments.