The German university: A lesson in poor expository style

Here in Germany, or at least here in Potsdam, university works rather differently than it does anywhere I've heard of in the states.

The difference that really makes a difference is that most classes meet only once a week for two hours, which sounds pretty great until you find out that you are required to have 20 hours of class time per week.  I, for instance, will be taking 9 classes, as my Russian class meets twice a week.

As a consequence of so many classes being required, one is forced to take a larger proportion of the available classes.  To facilitate choosing, classes are labelled with semestres, so a 1st-semestre student will end up taking a lot of classes with the other 1st-semestre students in his subject, and this continues all along the way.  Germans also get their liberal arts education out of the way in Gymnasium (high school), so they don't take electives outside their subject.

Students therefore have what amounts to a cohort.  I was last night at a party in a tiny apartment in Berlin, held by a dude called Philipp, who is a Tandem-Partner (meaning he tries to help us foreigners navigate The German Bureaucracy and lead full and meaningful lives).  Philipp tends to dress all in black, and has even been known to paint his nails black, which would in America tend to put him into a certain distrusted and disliked social minority, despite the fact that he otherwise does not act any differently from anyone else (except for being quite a bit nicer, and asking more questions about drug policy in America (?)).  I had sort of expected the other guests at the party to look similar to Philipp, but I was completely wrong.  The other guests at the party were his peers in the second semestre of political science and government, and were as diverse a group as you can find.  Also they were pretty great, as far as I could tell.  Everyone seemed to be friends, and people drifted from one conversation to another pretty impressively.  The party had the best mingling of any party I have ever been at, I think.

I am sort of of two minds about the merits of this system.  It automatically gives people a place to fit in, but would make it really hard to switch majors, I feel, and might in general just make it difficult to meet people outside of your major.  I personally am glad that I have my current friends rather than linguistics concentrators (not that linguistics concentrators are not interesting, just that my actual friends are pretty awesome).  

What this system means to me is that I will want to try to take at least several classes classified under one semestre, so that I can possibly attempt to integrate myself into one of these cohorts.  We'll see how that goes.

1 comment:

  1. I am apparently a member of said distrusted and disliked social minority.