M.Sc. Information Systems
April is all over Münster, sun is shining, everything blooms and grows. But for students, the middle of April is a special time for an entirely other reason. More than a month of Easter holidays are over, and it means it’s time to begin studying again. Here is a little about how the studies look like in Münster’s Masters program.
During the semester, students have lectures for all of their subjects, usually twice a week. Showing up at the lecture isn’t mandatory. In fact, most lecturers post slides in advance so that students could look through them before the lecture and decide whether they want to attend it or not. Some students become so good at self-studying that they visit the first lecture, and then are never seen until the examination day.
I have also never heard of a subject where you can earn any points just by attending lectures, as we sometimes have in Russia. Although, when there is a workshop with some company representative, students are warned that not showing up in sufficient numbers will result in adding the session to the list of examination topics.
However, some courses require plenty of home preparation in a group (3 to 8 people, depends on a subject). There can be scholarly articles students are asked to read & discuss weekly, or a large case study the group has to solve. Usually the groups are formed during the first week or so of studies and remain the same till the end of semester.
International students are always strongly advised to team up with German students. The main reason is that non-Germans often completely fail to understand the goal of exercise and underestimate how much effort should be put into it. German students, on the other hand, have previous experience with similar exercises and do not need much explanation on what outcome is expected by lecturer in any particular case.
All that means, at some point you’ll eventually end up working together with German students. One might think that is a great opportunity for communication. But there are some things you would like to know about studying with Germans. For example…
Their working style
In Russia, most of my group meetings looked something like this:
- At the appointed time meet a group mates and wait for a half an hour for the rest of them.
- Discuss your news, have a snack, in short, socialize. In a new group, try to learn more about others to determine the best way to organize your work. At very least, make polite conversation for some time.
- Realize that somebody needs to leave in the next twenty minutes and start reading the exercise urgently for splitting the work among partners.
In Germany, a group meeting looks much more like this:
- Meet up. Be punctual, you are the only candidate for being late here. If delay is more than 5-10 minutes, warn others and apologize sincerely.
- Tell others your name and learn theirs, exchange contact information.
- Work until the task is done.
True, that German way is much more productive. The only problem is that you can work with the same people for months and know nothing about them. Discussing anything other that work just isn’t a thing.
How the work is done
When a group is formed for a new task, there is gonna be a suggestion from someone to meet and discuss the course of action. When you come, make sure that you at least have some ideas on how to do the task. Because all germans will come with most of the work already done. ‘Discussing the course of action’ in the German language usually means ‘which of our individual solutions should we pick and refine to the point of excellence?’.
Also, the first meeting will be way earlier than needed for meeting the deadline. It goes without saying that the sooner we start working on the task, the better. My first meeting for a 10-minute presentation on an article is a month before the presentation takes place. The date is already set… two months beforehand.
Their level of cooperation
When you receive a share of task to do, make sure you understand what is expected of you and try your best at it. After you think you’re finished, be prepared to receive some comments and suggestions on what and how to improve. Get to work. Might be repeated several times…
When somebody in a group announces that his share of work is ready, that is always critically checked by others. The entire result then can be edited and re-done numerous times, if necessary. This might be, in fact, quite tiring. But on the other hand, if you have troubles with your part of the task, your group mates are always there to help you. No one will blame you for honest mistakes and you will learn a lot in the process.
Their attitude towards cheating
Germans are just not cut out for cheating of any kind. Once on a group meeting somebody googled the answer to the task and found a complete solution on the internet. The group was then debating for some time, whether it was ethical to even look at it before having a concept of our own.
Cheating during an exam might look like an easy task. Supervisors are relaxed, they don’t look for cheat sheets or a phone between your knees, as it would be in Russia. But since everyone knows that cheating is a wrongful advantage, if another student sees your cheating he most probably will not hesitate to call the supervisor at once. Not like Russia at all…
The strangest thing about germans is that in everyday life they behave just like our compatriots… until they don’t. Even if my German colleagues complain about too difficult a task or too much work required they would never actually seek any way to back away from it or cheat to make it easier.
That is probably the reason German people will not be that eager to invite internationals in a group while being genuinely interested to hang out with them and spend time together. They already know from experience that non-Germans are never used to work that much. But they will never really refuse your request to join the group and will treat you with respect.
As a novice’s work, yours will sure receive special attention. Thus, even more satisfaction you get proving to your colleagues, that you can in fact keep up. And once you get a hang of German ways, it becomes more difficult to go back to the old ones. And why should you? Thanks to your German colleagues you’ve learned to work without interruptions, all the tasks are done effectively and swiftly way before deadlines, and even during the hardest projects everything is organized so that you have much more personal time. These are not the changes anybody would resent, really!