Oktoberfest – The German Perspective

Author: Insa Kohler, visiting student from Bremen, Germany

I have been living in the world of “how are you”s and “see ya!”s for a month now, and I am sick. It is nothing serious. It is not the swine flu. It is not even a regular flu. I simply have a cold. However, every time somebody asks me about how I’m doing these days, I want to say: “Bad. I have a blocked nose, did not sleep all night because I could not breathe and I basically feel like something chewed me up and spit me out.” Then I remember that you don’t do that in America. Nobody wants a detailed answer to “how are you?”; it is just another way to say “hi!”.  In addition to that, I am afraid of being diagnosed with swine flu and put under quarantine. Paranoia is probably more contagious than H1N1 because I have already started to hide myself before I cough or sneeze. It is risky. I don’t want to be sent home. Not yet, anyway. Home, for me, is way too far away.

However, if I were at home in Bremen right now, I would probably not go to class.

Studying in Germany takes a lot of self-dicipline. Being in classes with 60 or sometimes up to 700 other students makes hiding very easy. You would not want to know and memorize that many names and faces, and the professors who teach us don’t either – and so they don’t bother doing so. That’s the price you pay when you go to university in Germany. That and additionally € 500 per semester (depending on the federal state, called “Bundesland”).

Namelessness in big classrooms certainly has one big advantage: if you are somebody who stands out negatively from time to time, for example by coming in too late, leaving too early, not being prepared, or not coming in at all, it is okay – nobody is going to notice. You might be getting in trouble when your name is missing on the list of attendance more than two times during a semester. But even that does not necessarily mean you have to be in class. You just need friends who know how to write your name…

Studying at Dickinson makes me feel like I’m back at school, which is good. It seems I need to be controlled by quizes, rules, and writing assignment to seriously study and do all the things I am supposed to do. Unfortunately, my self-discipline likes to party. It usually takes only one phone call for me to say “No I can’t come. I’ve to study… – Alright, what time do you want me to be there?” I have to confess that still happens, but not as regularly as it did before. In Bremen I could always count on not being the only one who did not read the text; here I am afraid the Red Devil is going to kick my ass if I am unprepared.

Moreover, it is hard to find an excuse for being late when it only takes two to five minutes to walk from your bed to your seat in the classroom. The big advantage here is that I could sleep until 10 minutes before class and go there in my pyjamas. I swear, I met Tweety and Spongebob in the HUB the other day. It was exciting and confusing at the same time. If you walked around campus in your PJs in Germany, it would be because you lost a bet or are disorientated for whatever reason. So, I personally prefer wearing my new grey sweat pants, the ones with the vertical DICKINSON lettering. These ubiquitous items are also something German students would never wear. It is not because there aren’t any clothes with the school logo on them. There are t-shirts placed off to the side on a very small table near the entrance to the caf of the University of Bremen and usually one student at a time sits there, desperately trying to sell them. Nobody ever buys those. Nobody, except for  the exchange students from Brazil. They might feel sorry for the poor salesperson or really want to show school pride, but I personally think the main reason is that the shirts tend to be yellow and green like the Brazilian flag.

To me it seems like Americans like to show the world which group they belong to. You don’t even have to talk to people to know to which fraternity or sorority they are in, or what their hobbies and who their friends are. It’s all written on their shirts. But that helps in the world of smalltalk. However, I feel like my H&M clothes don’t do a good job in representing my personality (no offence, Hennes & Mauritz! I love you!) and telling people who I am, so can I have a “square” sweatshirt, please?

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