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Survival Tips for Students Studying Abroad in Germany

December 10, 2017
by CEA CAPA Content Creator

While studying abroad in Berlin, you will be confronted with both the efficiencies and quirks of a new society and culture. No matter how much you read and prepare before you leave, there will always be a learning curve when adjusting to life in another country, but hopefully the following tips will help you to avoid some uncomfortable situations when going about your everyday life in Germany.


Don’t rely on speaking English. You may just be a beginner, but using whatever German language skills you have will get you far. The people you interact with will appreciate it, and you will be treated differently than you would if you were speaking English, even if you make mistakes.

Germans will correct your German. Don’t be embarrassed, this is just the way it is. German is a very precise language, which leaves a non-native speaker wide open to error. My German has been corrected many times by people I didn’t know, and it’s important not to allow embarrassment get in the way of learning. With some experimentation and effort, you will soon start to feel comfortable with the language.

 Photo by Håkon Sataøen: Brandenburg Gate


Be on time. Germans are big sticklers for Ordnung, or order, and one of the many ways that this is enforced is through punctuality. You should arrive at least 5 minutes early to all classes, meetings, etc.

 Photo by Soroush Karimi: Even the metro is timely

Environmental Consciousness

Separate ALL trash. Environmental consciousness is a German cultural value. You will find that in your housing, your school, and on the streets, trash can be separated into four different containers:

Black container = Domestic waste - non-recyclable waste such as leftover food, dirt, cigarette butts, light bulbs, etc.

Brown container = biological waste – fruit and vegetable peels, eggshells, leaves, etc.

Blue or Green container =  Paper

Yellow container = Lightweight packaging – plastic material, aluminum, etc.

You get money for recycling your plastic and glass bottles. At some grocery stores and malls, you will find a machine that takes your empty bottles and then dispenses cash in return. Let’s face it: on a student budget, every little bit helps.

 Photo by Flo Karr: Streets of Berlin


You will have to rent a shopping cart at the grocery store. Shopping carts are often chained together, and can only be released by inserting a coin into the shopping cart itself. When you are finished shopping and return the cart to its place, your coin will pop out when the chain is reinserted.

Plastic shopping bags are not free. This is becoming more common in some states now, but I unwittingly almost committed theft my first time in a German grocery store (to which the cashier expressed a high level of animosity that I couldn’t understand). Make sure to have the cashier ring up your plastic bags or reusable cloth bags with your groceries.

Store hours: You will find that German stores close much earlier than those in the U.S., and almost everything will be closed on Sundays. Also, everything (I mean everything) will be closed on major holidays.  So be prepared!

 Photo by Artem Sapegin: Fernehturm

Studying abroad will push you to adapt to new ways of doing things, so remember to stay open, flexible, and adaptable, and you will learn so much more than you expect!

Kristyn O. is CEA's Student Services Coordinator. She studied abroad in Stuttgart, Germany majoring in German and International Studies.

Read more about our CEA CAPA Content Creators.
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