Life Abroad
10 min

How To Integrate Yourself Into a New Environment

Easing yourself into a different country is one of the key challenges you have to handle as an international student. After all, you are immersed in a whole new culture while being at the very beginning of your educational and professional path.

In 2012, I enrolled in a dual degree program at the Technical University of Wildau. I did not know anyone and had not lived abroad before moving to Germany from Kazakhstan.

Here, I’d like to share a couple of tips on how to adjust to a new environment, find a common language with other students and work colleagues.

Tips for Students

Take preparatory courses. German universities offer two preparatory weeks before you start your studies. The goal is to refresh your school knowledge. The university organizes free classes in the basic subjects related to your major. These are mainly maths, physics, computer science, economics, and German.

Although preparatory courses are not mandatory, I’d recommend you to take them. First, you might meet your future groupmates there. Besides, the courses will give you an idea of how studying in Germany works, how the classes are organized, as well as what the university and classrooms look like.

Participate in extracurricular activities. Every university offers a variety of extracurricular activities. These can be extra language classes, theme parties, volunteer activities, etc. Thanks to one of such events, I got to know students from my department and many other guys. 

When I was a master’s student at the International Institute Zittau, the university organized a photoshoot with students for the website. About 15 students participated in the shoot. Later on, people talked about it a lot. That's how I made new friends. This kind of event brings people together and helps them integrate.

Do sports and attend sporting events. Most German universities have sports clubs and hold competitions. For example, when I studied in a master's program at the university, I could take classes in acrobatics, archery, fencing, gymnastics, running, yoga, and other sports. There is usually a discount for students. 

I used to take salsa classes. Later, I performed at one of the student parties and thus made my presence known. It's another great way to make friends.

Don't hesitate to ask for help. German students are always willing to help international students. If you have questions, don't be shy to ask. 

When I was an undergraduate student, I had a course that involved group work on a project. I was in a group with four German students and asked one of them to help me with an assignment. We would meet outside of classes in the library, where he explained to me what the project was about and what objectives we were supposed to achieve. We are still friends and keep in touch.

Once, I failed at my first attempt in one of the exams. At German universities, a student always has three attempts to pass. I asked a German groupmate to help me prepare to not fail the next two attempts. As a bonus, I gained an idea of how German students prepare for exams, tackled the subject, and got to know one of the people I studied with.

Find a side job. Immersing yourself in a new environment is a great opportunity to integrate into it. When I was a student, I worked part-time as a cashier in a supermarket and as a waiter in a restaurant. This work gave me a lot of experience and understanding of how everything works in the country. 

What I also learned back then is that Germans are very failure-tolerant. Once, while scanning products at the cash register, I hit a bottle of champagne. At that very moment, I was sure that was it and I would be out of my job immediately. Surprisingly, the senior cashier asked me to calm down, open another checkout to avoid a line, and helped me clean up. This situation was a good illustration of how Germans act in stressful situations.

An international student can work up to 120 full or 240 part-time days a year. By the way, you can learn the language really fast with a part-time job, because you have to use it all the time.

Tips for Those Who Already Work

Don't be afraid to ask questions. When I first came to Contorion GmbH,  a Berlin startup, I had no idea how they worked there. One day I asked my boss to help me build formulas in Excel to automate processes. Other colleagues agreed to proofread my emails to suppliers. This way, I learned everything and communicated a lot at the same time.

Participate in onboarding and informal activities. I believe participation in corporate and adjustment events is a great way to accelerate integration. For example, my company has the so-called Buddy program, designed to help newcomers adjust to a new working environment. In this program, experienced colleagues act as guides for new employees and support them in their new positions.

I was such a guide for a new colleague. We had lunch together, I gave her a tour around the office, showed her where everyone worked, and told her about the company’s rules. 

Informal activities help people bond. In our company, we have a Feierabend Bier. After work on Friday, everyone is welcome to stay in the office to drink beer and chat. Besides, German companies allocate a budget to each department for team-building events. The last thing our department organized before the pandemic was a kayaking trip.

Use your hobbies to join the community. I love running. If you think about it, all you need for running is a path in a park. However, even such a simple hobby can become an integration tool.

In Germany, there are lots of sports clubs for running, tennis, squash, table tennis, dancing, etc. Everyone is free to join such a club. In November 2020, I joined the Berlin sports club BSC. Now I run three times a week with thirteen other people. Membership in the club costs me 22 € per month.

In the summer of 2021, we participated in a short-distance running competition and supported each other in the challenges. After the competition, one of the club members threw a small party at her home and invited the whole group. So, I think doing something you love together is a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and find like-minded people.

Ask colleagues for help. When I was moving from one apartment to another in Berlin, I asked my colleagues to go through my lease agreement and explain all the terms and conditions that were unclear to me. It was both a help and an opportunity to build more informal relations with my colleagues.

By Valentina Yakupova

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