As a major consequence of globalization and mobility, the share of international students in German universities and institutions of higher education is increasing continuously. Since 1970, their number has increased ninefold (Isserstedt/Schnitzler 2005). More and more students from abroad are now studying to achieve BA, MA and doctorate degrees at Freie Universität Berlin – not least due to the future-oriented concept of the International Network University.
One typical feature of international students is a subjectively perceived tension between high ambitions and the feeling of insecurity. On the one hand, they often see themselves as a minority, because – irrespective of their actual skills – they are often not convinced of their German language skills, and because there are just a few of them in most classes. They are also often insecure whether they attend the right class or meet the requirements of the curriculum. On the other hand, international students are often very ambitious; they have to achieve excellent grades and degrees to justify grants by (national) sponsors, meet the expectations of their family where they are regarded as an example or have the function of a future breadwinner and assert themselves on the global job market.
International students are faced with a broad range of adaptation efforts. They have to become familiar with a new society, learn a new language, find their way through a different university system, establish a social network, etc. The biggest challenges are funding the studies and getting in touch with German fellow students (Isserstedt/Schnitzer 2005). The German university tradition including critical discussion of texts and materials, oral presentations, working on one’s own in small groups, individual organization of studies, etc. is particularly challenging for international students who are acquainted with a completely different style of learning. Misunderstandings are quite frequent. However, international students (with the exception of students from the US) often hesitate to contact lecturers – not least due to a different educational background. As a consequence, they are shy, participate only rarely in discussions or avoid asking questions.
We would like to thank Dr. Frank Stucke, Institute of German and Dutch Literatures and Languages at Freie Universität Berlin as well as Elke Löschhorn, Acting Dean International Affairs, International Office of Freie Universität Berlin for advice and information provided during the preparation of these recommendations.