Working Environment

Training the willpower

It so happened that my whole life is closely connected with Germany and the German language. Having graduated from the Maurice Thorez Linguistic University, I won a one-year scholarship at the Free University of Berlin and moved to the capital of Germany. Finally, instead of one year, I studied for four years, and I consider this decision to be one of the wisest acts of my life.

Complete freedom and eternal lack of time

The German academic system differs from the Russian one first of all by its humane approach and, to a certain degree, by freedom. In Germany, students are given much more freedom than, for example, in Russia: the students make their own timetable, choose the number of exams to take at the end of the semester and even take decisions to extend their tuition. This is because teachers treat the students as self-sustained adult people. Of course, this is mostly due to the fact that in Germany people usually go to a university to study for a bachelor’s degree at such an age at which Russian students normally receive their master’s.

One of the main tasks of higher education in Germany is not to squeeze in as much information as possible into the students’ brains but to teach them to think critically over what is happening, to express their own opinions and to provide proper arguments.

Oral tests are rare for German universities (I have had none), and mostly the German students pass written tests about 15 pages in size on the subjects they choose. At first, this seems to be easy but this is not so. We had three or four classes each day in Russia. In Germany, we had six classes per week, and we were always short of time. Preparation for a seminar in Germany consists not only in reading a scientific paper (more often in English), which is 20-30 pages, but also in sending its summary to the lecturer (in German) about a page and a half in size, and ideally in studying supplementary literature. I must admit that in Russia I could just look through a book on the way to the university to get the best mark.

At any German university, a seminar is usually organized in the following way: two or three students make a PowerPoint presentation on the paper proposed by the lecturer, after which all the students discuss it. I must say that at first I was somewhat irritated that my classmates occupied the teacher’s lectern, while the lecturer himself was sitting silently with a significant air in the corner. Later, I started to like exactly the same thing most of all: classes in Germany are not the lecturer’s recital but a discussion club in which all the participants respect your opinion.

Iron discipline is a key to success

Self-discipline is one of the key skills developed by the system of higher education in Germany. The absence of a firm framework strengthens the willpower, teaches time management and forges a firm character. I learnt a clever German expression from my classmates “den inneren Schweinehund überwinden“ (“to win over your weak ego, your base instincts”). In this regard, the Russian system of education with its strict regulations is maybe even more humane, as human beings are often weak-willed and just lazy, while the strict conduct code suppresses doing nothing and raises a student’s chances to reach the finish line. In Germany, there is a popular term “eternal student” describing those extending their studies to 15 and even 20 semesters, continuing to enjoy all the privileges of the student status. I personally know several Germans who graduated from their universities when they were well over 30.

On the other hand, a diploma of a German university testifies to the high degree of self organization pertaining to its owner, which is a very useful skill, highly valued by employers.
© Irina Mikhailina

Irina Mikhailina

I was born in Moscow. I graduated from the Maurice Thorez Linguistic University and received my master’s degree from Berlin Humboldt University. I am a linguist specializing in Germanic languages. I live in Berlin.

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