Bicultural Urbanite Luke Degrees for Free!

Freie Universität Berlin
Freie Universität Berlin | © Luke Troynar

Since my living in Berlin was entirely unplanned, there were a great many things about German life I had no clue about until I found myself unwittingly putting down roots here. Coming from a subtropical island at the foot of the earth, I honestly gave little thought to Germany while growing up. Save for a disinterested teenager’s patchy retainment of the usual tenets of high school history, my knowledge of 'Deutschland' consisted of a hazy mirage of universal clichés and very few facts.

One German reality I was thrilled to learn all about was the beauty of the German university system. As it turned out, not only was I eligible to undertake a range of master’s degrees in Berlin taught entirely in English, apparently I could do so entirely for free. This was frugal music to my destitute ears. With late capitalism’s monetisation of education wreaking havoc on tertiary learning costs around most of the world—the going rate down under for donning the masterly cap and gown is currently around 20,000 to 37,000 Australian dollars—the chance to obtain a master’s degree and accumulate zero student debt while doing so was mind-boggling.

The grounds around Freie Universität Berlin. © Luke Troynar A degree for free?! Yes please. I probably would have considered enrolling to become a Master of Currywurst, had that been the only thing on offer. Thankfully, Freie Universität Berlin had some non-sausage-related programmes going, and accepted me as a budding Master of English Literature, Language, and Culture. I would say “and the rest is history”—and as of a few weeks ago that is finally true—but in truth, the chronicles of my Berlin scholarship have unravelled at a rather leisurely pace.

Taking ones time

Which brings me to another reality of Berlin life: Germans are more than happy to take their time with studying. And this meandering approach is infectious. Who can blame them, really, with such a scheme in place? When I say free tertiary education, I mean F-R-E-E. Public universities here don’t charge tuition fees and require just a few hundred euros per semester to cover administration costs (which includes heavily subsidised public transport and makes the whole deal even sweeter). What’s more, the quality of instruction here is typically very high and well regarded internationally.
Throw in cheap health insurance, a bunch of other life admin bonuses, and the fact that programmes like mine tend to be rather lax with due dates, and you end up with a whole lot of languorous grazing over Deutschland’s breezy pedagogic pastures. It’s also worth noting the German welfare system is a particularly nurturing one when it comes to all those knowledgeable grazers who have trouble finding the perfect job in which to implement all their newfound knowledge. This potentially provides another buffer between student life and the workforce proper, and consequently more time to consider further education, some new artistic venture, or some impromptu travel.

The Master-thesis has been submitted. The Master-thesis has been submitted. | © Luke Troynar Having lived only in Berlin and nowhere else in Germany, I took it upon myself to check with an old Melbourne friend who’s been living in Leipzig if this is truly a German phenomenon and not Berlin-specific. Since her response was both vehement and encapsulating, I feel inclined to quote her verbatim: “In the whole seven to eight years that I've been here, my German friends were always studying…” We had a little cyber chuckle about this over Facebook before she went on to expound: “I think people study, don't find the perfect job, go back and study again, get the dole, study again and so on.”
This certainly sounded familiar to me, which prompted me to stop laughing and start considering which point of this cycle I’m currently at myself—how I can get out if it, and if I even really want to. All the devoted full-timers out there with their cushy corporate salaries and their upward mobility may well scoff at the hokey image of the ‘Eternal Student of Life’; but in reality there’s actually something to be said for a system that affords such genuine consideration of how one really wants to spend one’s finite time on this earth. It’s not to be taken for granted.