M.Sc. Information Systems
Even though internationals are welcomed on the program, the majority of IS Master’s students in our university are still pure Germans. That gives a great insight into who they are and what they want from this life.
My first big encounter with German students probably happened two or three weeks after the studies started. There was a suggestion from somebody to meet up after the lectures and have a couple of beers, in order to bond a little bit outside of the studies. The evening started with many people, but eventually we got divided into small groups with different conversations. Mostly it was about who we are, what we did with our lives up to this point and what we want to achieve with the help of the studies. Later I only got more examples that plenty of Germans have similar life stories and motivation. So, here it is.
Just a City Boy
When we were talking about places where others grew up and lived before, I couldn’t help but notice a peculiar thing. There is no such a big difference between Germans that grow up in really small villages and those from big cities. In Russia, plenty of young people come to Moscow or St. Petersburg from other parts of the country, because universities are more prestigious there. Differences in their behavior are really noticeable - hell, we have numerous books&movies about that stuff.
But not in Germany. Here, it’s easy to find a guy fresh from a village with less than 1,000 inhabitants who would be completely at ease from the first day in a big city. Oh, that is provided we consider Münster (>300,000 inhabitants) ‘a big city’. But then again, it is quite large in population for Germany.
It is also true that Germans move around their country a lot during their lives. It is also common for them to spend a semester abroad (almost everybody I know has already done that or is planning to at the moment). No surprise they are broad-minded and open to any kind of ideas. Though some things can still stun them, as did some other topics we discussed.
What’s the rush?
For example, I was surprised to learn the age of my fellow students (and they were surprised to learn mine, too). Mostly, students of our master’s program are more than 26 years old, 3-4 age difference between them and the exchange students. There are several reasons behind that:
1. School is 12 years instead of 11 in Russia. I guess all 12 are mandatory. After 12 years, you can either go to Fachhochschule or to a University (for a bachelors degree).
2. The pressing concern for Russian students — compulsory army service - has been put into abeyance just recently in Germany (in 2011). But while it was enforced, serving wasn’t as ill-thought of as it generally is in Russia. Several of my fellow students served in the army right after graduation, before continuing their education as bachelors. While they don’t talk about it eagerly, it doesn’t seem to be the worst period of their lives. Also, some of Germans I know used an option of non-military service for their country. They basically were volunteers in other countries for a year: one a caretaker in England, another — a school teacher assistant in Georgia. Not a bad year for them, also.
3. Germans don’t rush into building their career like Russians do. It’s common to have several years of living by themselves, exploring the world and themselves. School graduates can do some random jobs just to have enough money for living until they figure out what to do next. Or they save up some money for a soul-searching journey/travelling around the globe/volunteering/you name it.
I was given an example of truly different approach to life. When I asked, if they don’t want to be independent, to work for their own living, etc, the answer was simple. ‘What’s the rush?’ one of them told me. ‘I like my student life and I will enjoy it for now. Also, my value as a specialist only increases with every experience I have. When I come to work for a company from the University with a complete diploma, I will have not only that, but real-life experience and mature attitude. They would even prefer me to a guy who made it faster, with no army, no pauses to live differently and reflect on his choices. He will be considered less experienced than me, not the best material as a job candidate.
‘But you’ll be almost 30 when you start working!’ — ‘So what? Everybody around me will be like that, and why would that be a problem?’
I explained to him that in Russia, intelligent young people I know are usually eager to show what they can do on their own, to be independent, to move out of the student dorm or their parents’ place as soon as possible. That we have a category of potential employees called ‘graduates and young specialists’, with an accent on ‘young’. That our companies are eager to find fresh, adopting minds, not the people with already formed values and ideas.
In Russia, a graduate of 28(!) years old with zero to none working experience would be considered lazy and/or lacking ambitions. In Germany, the same graduate will receive numerous job offers even before completion of his studies, because in fact he learned a lot during these years, and yes he needs training, but not that much, and he will have a highly-paid job in a matter of months.
From career choices and work we naturally went to the topic of relationships. As usual, some revelations might be pretty unexpected.
For a german guy, it’s natural to have a girlfriend since… I don’t know, kindergarten? High school? Seriously, 7-8 years’ relationships are a norm. Also, it is a common situation that a girlfriend/boyfriend is hundreds of kilometers away in some other university. Or doing an Erasmus program for a semester or two in another country. Long-distance relationships for Germans aren’t something to be banged up about. Having a boyfriend in Russia myself, I felt like I’m whining over nothing couple of times I’ve brought it up in such a conversation
In Russia, a long-lived relationship would mean that a girl is dying for a proposal for several years already. If you date for several years a person you want to spend your life with, why wait? A girl is a girl, she wants a dress and the stamp ‘married’ in the passport. But a German girl usually doesn’t really want all of it, at least not for a long time. ‘That question’ might not pop up until both are 30+, and even though it’s mostly for future children’s sake.
If this time in Germany taught me something, it’s that cultural differences do not end on choosing between vodka and beer in a bar. Also, I can vouch that Germans are certainly much more mature about many things in life, than Russians. Can’t really say right now, if I’m ever getting used to it.
Episode2: Russians Abroad