Different rules and customs – what may surprise an international in Germany? An approach to studies

Why even writing this article?

Hi there! If you’re reading our blog you probably know we do our best to provide you with tips and useful information to make your life (as an international) in Giessen/Germany a bit easier. Sometimes we also share our own experience. It will not be different this time. I want to describe here a few differences I have noticed between Polish and German students.

The truth is that I can say a lot about student life in Poland. I have studied there for five years, got to know many people from many different universities. My student experience in Germany comes down to two semesters at THM. One say it may not be enough to draw any conclusions – they may be right. That’s why I want to emphasize that this article is purely subjective and solely describes my own experience. So, are you ready to find out a bit more about differences between German and Polish students when it comes to their approach to study?

Ambition & Engagement

One of the first things I have noticed studying at THM was student’s ambition and engagement. Lecture at 8 am? 90% German students are there. Professor asking questions during classes? Many hands up. That was so different to me! Back to Poland I was told I was very ambitious student, mostly because I really tried to attend most of the lectures and usually got good grades for the exams. Well, I would like those people who called me ambitious come and meet the folks I study with right now! Honestly? In Poland maybe 25-30% students would appear on 8 am lecture. Participating in class discussion? No way! Teachers needed to come up with an incentive system to stimulate discussions.

I guess the difference lies in two things. First of all Polish students do not want to stick out. Second of all they would not be eager to speak out if they weren’t 100% sure of the correctness of their answer. Here I can see it’s different. Students like to engage in the class dialogue, often sharing their own experience, their point of view. Or simply trying to guess the answer. However I was also told it might be the case only at “Hochschule”, where the groups are smaller and atmosphere is more intimate. I’ve heard that at German universities the class discussions are not that lively.

Lecture at 8 am at Polish university. Ok, this is just a joke 🙂


Well isn’t this my very favorite thing about German students? The ones who know me better here know it definitely is :D!. This trait among students here is much more visible than among my Polish colleagues. Don’t get me wrong – they are still many chilled people here at THM! But they are many truly competitive ones! I found out about this during my first or second group project. I can understand that grades are very important for German students. When they apply for their jobs they apply with their GPA. Even more, if they do not show a good GPA, they are very likely not to be even considered in the recruitment process.

In Poland that was different. Recruiters would not ask you to present your grades during application process (I know what I am talking about – I have worked in HR department of an international company in Cracow). The philisophy in Poland is different – they want to find out if you are a suitable match for their company during assessment centers and in-depth interviews. Grades are not considered as a good predictor of your future performance. But what I experienced here in Germany is not only striving for really good grades. It is striving for being the best! Some people truly want their presentation to be much better than other’s work. Even if other’s people work is very good. Lots of tension is to be found in those groups. Sometimes I was thinking “guys, is it really worth it?”.

During my studies in Poland I have not experienced anything like that. Even if many groups had the same topic, people from different teams would still support each other, exchanging knowledge, books, sharing insights, materials they used etc. And I would not hear any other students criticizing other’s people presentation. Here I’ve heard it way many times. Also the group work itself looked different. Very often our team meetings back in Poland took place at bars or in someone’s flat, where we would share a few beers. The atmosphere during these meetings was usually much more relaxed. And still – we were able to provide a really good project at the end. The key was the fact that we were completing each other when it comes to our skills and, or rather first and foremost, harmony withing the group.

I guess this must be a cultural difference. In Poland relationships between people are more important than the task itself. Here I have the feeling German people are focused much more on the job itself, often neglecting the need of harmony within the team. But like I said – this is true only for SOME students. They are many very helpful German folks studying with me right now.  And I really adore those people! But still- the difference is more than noticeable.

Honesty & Fairness

This is the point I really like about German students. Nobody cheats on exams here! And again this is much different from what I experienced as a Polish student. At my old university I was often very frustrated about the fact that some people were simply cheating on exams. I have always done my lesson, studied for every final, attended the classes. That’s why I never cheated. But then I saw some students writing down info from their smart phones. Or even from the book, having it opened in their backpacks. Again – not many people did it. But more than enough to notice. Not often, but it happened that students who simply cheated on exams were given the same grades as the ones who actually knew something about the material. So for this point thumbs up for German students!

Student life

Well this is a point for a series of articles. So I will just focus on a one matter here. If there’s another thing I truly admire here is German students’ ability to have fun and working hard! For many it is possible to go out clubbing till 3 am and then showing up for a whole day classes starting at 9 am. That is incredible! But maybe this is a German thing? My boyfriend can go back from a pub at 2 am and then get up at 6 am and get ready to work. And actually work till 6 pm. I only go out in the evenings when I know on the next day I can sleep long. Cause somehow I can’t imagine me focusing on the lectures when I slept only 3-4 hours. But German students do it! Alex – tell me how? 😀

Well I guess students from different countries may have noticed other differences. Obviously we always compare the image we have to the one we used to have. But even so, let’s not forget we are the guests in this country. So we should try to adapt. Or if adapting is too difficult, just try to accept the differences. It’ll get easier with time 🙂


2 thoughts on “Different rules and customs – what may surprise an international in Germany? An approach to studies

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