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Monday, May 23, 2016

Studying in Germany FAQ

Last month marked this blog's 3 year anniversary. YAY! In that time, I have moved to Germany, passed the TestDaF, applied to German master's programs, enrolled in a German master's program, and am now writing my master's thesis with the plan of finishing my master's degree in September. Whew!

Over the past three years, I have also received countless comments and messages from prospective students looking to study in Germany. So, in an effort to help these curious minds, here are some of the most frequently asked questions I have received about studying in Germany.

Studying in Germany: Frequently asked questions




Student Visa/Residence Permits

I want to move to Germany, but I haven't applied/been accepted to a degree program yet. What can I do?
If you want to move to Germany BEFORE applying to degree programs, there are two options for you: the language course visa (Sprachkursvisum) and the student application visa (Studienbewerbervisum).
You can also read my post about all three types of German student visas. Just remember that my personal experiences with applying for these various visas are from a US-American perspective. There are, of course, different rules for people from different countries.

Can you convert a language course visa/student application visa to a student visa?
This a question I get a lot, although I don't really understand why. Once you enroll at a German university as a full-time student, you are eligible for a student visa. Just bring your documents to the foreigner's office, and they will invalidate your current visa (whether it be a language course visa or student application visa) and issue you a student visa.
Make sure to check out my posts about the process of getting a German student visa and renewing my German student visa.

The people at the Ausländerbehörde are mean and don't want to give me a language course visa/student application visa/student visa. What can I do?
Sometimes, the people at the foreigner's office don't even know which visa options are available. So, if you get someone that doesn't want to give you the visa you need (when I asked for a student application visa, the German man told me to leave the country), then you need to pull out the big guns: the German law. All of the student-related residence permits are explained in §16. So, print it out, highlight the article that pertains to you, and show German bureaucracy what you're made of.


Applying to German Universities

This is an area where I usually get very specific questions regarding various programs nationwide. For program-specific questions, you should obviously read over the program's website or contact someone at the university. However, many German universities do not handle applications from foreign students by themselves. Instead, they use the third-party company uni-assist. If the program you want to apply to requires you to apply through uni-assist, I am sorry in advance. However, I managed to live through the experience of applying to German master's programs, and you will too.

Do I need to send my high school diploma to uni-assist? Does it need to be certified? 
Even if you are applying for a master's program, they need your high school diploma. Personally, I just send my transcripts - they were not certified - and they were still accepted.

Why didn't I receive a confirmation from my university? Did they get my application? 
You will get a confirmation from uni-assist when they receive your application by mail. They will not, however, send you a confirmation that your application was sent to the university (assume that no news is good news). Basically, they thrive off of foreign students' constant panic and worry.

Do real human beings even work at uni-assist?
This is a mystery that nobody actually knows the answer to. All we do know is that uni-assist sometimes answers phone calls, rarely answers emails, and never actually answers any questions. I am sorry if you find yourself in a situation where you need to contact them.
On the bright side, if you need a laugh, just try googling "Probleme mit uni-assist." You will find plenty of forums of people that are just as annoyed with this bureaucratic middle-man as you.


TestDaF/DSH

Should I take the TestDaF or the DSH?
Both the TestDaF and the DSH are German proficiency tests, and both are accepted by Geramn universities. Which you should take depends on your personal circumstance. I took the TestDaF because I needed to take a language course to qualify for the language course visa, and the best course available was the TestDaF-prep course at the local VHS. If you are already enrolled at a university, then I would recommend taking the DSH, as they are created and graded by the university faculty themselves.

How can I pass the TestDaF?
It's not easy, but you can do it! I practiced by taking as many practice tests as possible, always timing myself to make sure that I would be ready on test day. I also wrote multiple blog posts with tips and tricks for each of the sections of the test here:
I am also keeping a list of free TestDaF online resources.

How can I improve my vocabulary for the TestDaF?
If you need to improve your vocabulary because you aren't understanding enough of the words on the practice tests, then you need to start immersing yourself in the German language. The best way to do this is to use German entertainment everyday: watch German TV shows, watch German YouTubers, and read German books.


Studying in Germany

How much time do you spend in classes?
In comparison to an American university curriculum, the German curriculum is much more free. This means less time in classes, but more expectations that you are reading and studying outside of class. 
For my particular program, I have to take 6 classes per semester, and each class is 2 SWS (Semesterwochenstunden = hours per week in the semester). That means I am physically in class for 12 hours per week.

How does the grading system in Germany work?
This is also an important question for those applying to German programs, because Americans will need to convert their GPA to determine if they are eligible for German programs. To do this, check out my American to German grade conversion post.
Here is my quick explanation of the German grading system: a 1.0 is the best grade in Germany, a 5.0 is a failing grade, and a 4.0 is the lowest passing grade.

I hope prospective students will find this helpful! Let me know if you have any more questions in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Friday, May 13, 2016

How Moving to Germany Affected My Carbon Footprint

It is a fact that Germany releases much less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per capita than the United States. This is due to a mixture of factors that include large investments in renewable energy and an overall environmental consciousness among German citizens.

This got me thinking: Has moving to Germany helped my carbon footprint to shrink?

Carbon footprint in Germany vs. USA

First, let's look at some numbers:
Tons of CO₂ Produced Per Capita in 1990
USA: 19
Germany: 15.2

Tons of CO₂ Produced Per Capita in 2010
USA: 19
Germany: 12.3
Information received from Carbon Footprint of Nations.

This means Germany has actually improved its carbon emissions by nearly 3 tons since 1990. The United States' carbon footprint per capita actually spiked to 21 tons in 2000, which they did recover from. When you look at the big picture, however, it is basically like they have never made any progress at all.

USA
So, I was curious to see how my carbon footprint improved since I moved to Germany. Using several carbon footprint calculators in order to get the most accurate result possible, I first calculated my carbon footprint for the last six months while I was living and working in Illinois from January 2013 to July 2013:

Ecological Footprint: 20.5 tons of CO₂ eq/year
Global Footprint Network: 25.3 tons of CO₂ eq/year
Stanford: 17.2

Average = 21.0 metric tons of COe


Major contributing factors:
  • During this time, I was driving 60 miles round trip each day for work = 3,900 miles over six months
  • I lived in a 3-bedroom house
  • Only about 11% of the energy produced in the U.S. comes from renewable sources

Germany
Next, I calculated my carbon footprint for my last six months in Germany, which would be from November 2015 to May 2016.

Ecological Footprint: 13.7 tons of CO₂ eq/year
Global Footprint Network: 9 tons of CO₂ eq/year
Stanford: 6.6 tons of CO2 eq/year

Total: 9.8 metric tons of COe


Major contributing factors:
  • I live in a 1 bedroom apartment
  • Marco and I are very conscious about electricity use and only use about 25 kWh per week
  • I travel most often by foot, otherwise by city bus (we only drive our car max. 1x/week)
  • Approximately 40% of our electricity comes from renewable sources (and that is the cheapest, basic electricity plan available)
There are many factors that I could not take into account, which is why my carbon footprint is so much lower than the average. However, we can still assume that the difference between these two numbers is fairly accurate.

I am now producing 11.2 fewer tons of CO₂/yr than I was 3 years ago.

As a side note, I do realize that because I make a transatlantic flight approximately once per year, my carbon footprint is actually much higher than each of these numbers indicate. Since I just wanted to focus on the impact of my day-to-day life in each of these countries, I did not take my yearly flights into account.

For those that have moved to another country: how do you think your carbon footprint has changed?

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Voting from Abroad: My Voting History

I have a confession to make. A confession that I am not proud about. A confession that many people may criticize me for. However, I am making this confession to you now because it is something that I am finally going to do something about.

I have never voted. But this will change in 2016.

voting from abroad


I turned 18 in 2008, the year that Obama was first running for presidential office. It was also the year I started college.

During those first couple months on campus, it was impossible to go anywhere without seeing a table or booth encouraging students to register to vote. So, like a good college student, I registered.

As the election neared, however, I never got any confirmation of my registration. And when I checked my mailbox just a few days before the election, I found out why.

I had received a letter that said there was something wrong with my registration, and I was, therefore, not registered to. Since I had received the letter just days before the election, there was also no chance for me to re-register.

So, I didn't vote in 2008. I also never bothered to re-register in the following four years for no real reason other than laziness and ignorance.

Fast forward to 2012. Obama is running for reelection, and I am staying in Germany for two months from September through November. Of course I didn't think about registering before leaving. I also didn't think about registering from abroad (I suppose I didn't really know it was possible). Anyways, the election rolls around, and I remember anxiously turning on the radio in the morning to hear who had won. And in the four years following that day, I still never bothered to register.

Unfortunately, I already missed the primaries for this year. However, there is still time for me to register to vote in the presidential election. I have already started this process, and I promise to write all about my experience and how to vote/register to vote from abroad throughout the coming months.

Have you ever voted from outside of your home country?
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