Many young people dream of getting a university education | Photo: Picture Alliance / dpa

Many young people dream of getting a university education | Photo: Picture Alliance / dpa

What's student life like for refugees in Germany?

Aasim Saleem
By on 2019/05/03
Refugee students in German universities experience vast differences compared to their home countries. Whether it is the curriculum, campus life or financial considerations, there is a lot they have to adjust to. InfoMigrants' Aasim Saleem spoke to students from three different regions to explore what the big differences really are.
Samuel Fikreselasie – Master's student in Literature, Arts & Media at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Growing numbers of refugee students
Samuel Fikreselasie – Master's student in Literature, Arts & Media at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

The latest report of the German Rectors' Conference (HRK) says that the academic integration of refugees in Germany is progressing successfully.

A growing number of students who came to Germany as refugees in the last few years are making the transition from the orientation and preparation phases of higher education to their chosen areas of study. The number of new enrolments has spiked from 3,000 in the previous winter semester to almost 3,800 in the current winter semester. These numbers reflect Bachelor's, Master's and doctoral degree programs.

A total of 10,087 refugees have enrolled in German universities since the 2015/2016 winter semester. Most of these refugee students come from countries and regions where the academic standards, tuition fees and the student lifestyles are vastly different from Germany.

To find out more about these differences, InfoMigrants spoke to Ali Alhaj Ahmed from Syria, Sakineh Safari from Afghanistan and Samuel Fikreselasie from Ethiopia – all three of them students currently enrolled in Germany. Here are some of their thoughts:


Sakineh Safari – Master's student in Biochemistry at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany | Photo: Aasim Saleem
What are the main differences between studying in Germany and your home country?
Sakineh Safari – Master's student in Biochemistry at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany | Photo: Aasim Saleem

"I was brought up in Iran where I studied biochemistry for almost one year. Over there, students predominantly work with books and printed text material. But in Germany, there is more digitization in the classroom."
Sakineh Safari – Master's student in Biochemistry at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

"Studies in Syria are really classical. That is, the students depend a lot on text books. But here in Germany, almost all the information is available on websites. One can find and use everything quickly on the internet."
Ali Alhaj Ahmed – Law student at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

"In Ethiopia, we have very large classes in the university. So, there is no way that the teachers can use participatory methods to have class activities like presentations. On the other hand, in Germany, the class is very active. There are group discussions, presentations and different sorts of interactive activities quite often."
Samuel Fikreselasie – Master's student in Literature, Arts & Media at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany


Ali Alhaj Ahmed – Law student at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany
How is campus life in Germany different from your own country?
Ali Alhaj Ahmed – Law student at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

"The campus life in my home country is very different because we live inside the premises of the university. So there is social life there. Whereas in Germany, we are living in the city or in private apartments. If you don't live in student accommodation, there is no way you can make friends or socialize with others."

Samuel Fikreselasie – Master's student in Literature, Arts & Media at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

"Sometimes, friendship depends on how well you know the local language. I think, in terms of developing friendships, my home country is better than here."
Ali Alhaj Ahmed – Law student at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

"In Germany, everybody is busy, everybody has something or the other to do and everybody is in a hurry. They must finish their job quickly. One doesn't get to see people on the streets. On the other hand in Iran, there are lots of people on the streets. They go shopping a lot. Here, people work according to plans. They have concrete plans about what to do and when to do it. But in Iran, it's all spontaneous."
Sakineh Safari – Master's student in Biochemistry at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany


Student taking the entrance test for the medicine faculty of the Luigi Einaudi University in Turin. Credit: ANSA/ALESSANDRO DI MARCO
What about the costs of living and tuition fees in Germany?
Student taking the entrance test for the medicine faculty of the Luigi Einaudi University in Turin. Credit: ANSA/ALESSANDRO DI MARCO

"Where I grew up, my father supported me financially. He spent a considerable sum of money so that I could study. But here in Germany, I received a BAföG grant and student loan."
Sakineh Safari – Master's student in Biochemistry at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

"Living and studying in Syria is cheaper compared to Germany. For example, the rent is more expensive here. The average rent for students in Syria is between 100 and 150 euros. But here, it starts from 300 euros in student accommodation, and for private apartments, it's more than 500 euros per month."
Ali Alhaj Ahmed – Law student at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

"The good thing about the German universities is the cost of living. In Ethiopia, when we study at the university, we expect that the cost will be covered by our parents or you need to work and make that money yourself. Here, there are government subsidies. Besides, there are also a tremendous number of scholarships available."
Samuel Fikreselasie – Master's student in Literature, Arts & Media at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany


Scientists from Turkey and Germany found the OFF-University in Berlin, 2017 | Photo: DPA/Maurizio Gambarini
As a student, what strikes you as the biggest difference in Germany?
Scientists from Turkey and Germany found the OFF-University in Berlin, 2017 | Photo: DPA/Maurizio Gambarini

"It's much better here for a woman because I can do a lot here. A woman can decide for herself what she wants to study. In Germany, a woman is recognized. In Iran, a woman doesn't have any recognition as a student – or as a woman in society in general. In Iran, she is expected to have a man at her side; a father or husband. But here, you are recognized and accepted as a woman."
Sakineh Safari – Master's student in Biochemistry at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

"I finished my studies in Syria, but it wasn't recognized here in Germany. I had to start from zero [again] here."
Ali Alhaj Ahmed – Law student at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

"There is a problem with generalization. Some people come to you and they assume you are part of some homogeneous group. For example, if you are black you are from Africa. But there are black people all over the world; in Australia, in Canada and in the Caribbean. They expect you to be part of some homogeneous group and want to categorize you accordingly. For example, if you are an Arab, you must be a Muslim. But there are Muslims who are not Arab, and Arabs who are not Muslim."
Samuel Fikreselasie – Master's student in Literature, Arts & Media at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany


Students of medicine at a lecture at the university of Leipzig | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/J.Woitas
The Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main answers:
Students of medicine at a lecture at the university of Leipzig | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/J.Woitas

"As far as the educational background is concerned, like the system and the quality of education in countries of origin like Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Ethiopia and Eritrea, we realize that there are differences in their ability to study. We have come to the conclusion that students from Syria are generally academically better. They have studied successfully in the past. That means that I do not have to worry a lot about this particular group compared to students from other countries such as Afghanistan or Eritrea. In these cases, we have realized through assessment tests and later on in the classes as well that students encounter problems with the methods of studying and the way they are being taught here in Germany. So, we have come to the conclusion that we need to support such groups more."

When we talk about the social differences, I feel differences do exist between students who come from different regions, and these differences are also gender specific. I feel that Syrians – due to their educational background – are able to land on their feet with more ease. One can say that women from Iran, Afghanistan and Eritrea have a bigger problem adjusting to social norms here in Germany."
Marius Jakl - Project Coordinator at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

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