A Desi In Deutschland: All You Need To Know About Studying In Germany

Editor's note:This post is a part of #GetEUReady, a campaign by the International Labour Organisation and Youth Ki Awaaz to help students aspiring to study in the EU prepare for their higher education. If you're planning to apply or have applied to a university in the EU, share your story here!

It was the last year of college. Everybody was busy applying to universities abroad. I would have loved to join the bandwagon, but the complicated application process followed by the hunting for sponsorships deterred me. “No worries!”  I assured myself. I just needed more perspective, and my two-year Master’s course would do that for me. Before long I would be with all my friends.

Turns out it took more than that, but once I finally fought my fears and took the leap of faith, I realised that I needn’t have procrastinated. Applying abroad can be a cakewalk (with a little bit of discipline, but don’t we need that for anything worthwhile!), especially when it comes to Europe.

Getting There

Under the MoU/Agreements of Cooperation signed by my university (Jawaharlal Nehru University) with the University of Würzburg, Germany, a number of Exchange Programmes aimed at various academic levels had opened up between the institutes.

I was fortunate enough to avail of the two-month-long DAAD Fellowship reserved for confirmed PhD students in the last stage of their research. The process was fairly straightforward, as such exchange programmes make the application requirements extremely streamlined.

Moreover, much-required guidance from the trinity: the mightily approachable head of English Department from the host university, the university coordinator who supervised the entire process, and the university-assigned student mentor, made everything so much easier. I had little to worry about under their mentorship, and have taken away so much from my association with each of them!

The head of the English Department helped me in the initial stages of the application and continued to support me until the last day of my thesis submission. I learned much about the wonderful University of Würzburg, and German culture in general, from my student mentor. She was a sturdy and dependable peer guide to me in an alien city and was someone I became very comfortable with. Needless to say, she became a close friend and later, when she came over to India, I was able to return some of her kindness, albeit marginally.

A Desi In Deutschland

I found that once you have the necessary documents from your host institution, the Visa application process goes like clockwork. The form took a bit of time to fill, but the rest was simple.

I didn’t worry much about money, because I was supposed to get the entire Fellowship amount in cash once I landed in Germany. But, I did some digging around the Thomas Cook travel card, and similar EU cards are available with the State Bank of India as well. I learned that these prove very helpful for international students until a more permanent solution can be procured.

In front of the library.

Language, I found, is an important factor for those going to Europe. My Fellowship didn’t require me to know German, but others do. I would say picking up a course in the local language is an added bonus either way, as it can make it easier to get by in places where people don’t speak English. Plus, everything from street signage to labels in shops is mostly in the local language.

In my case, various pre-loaded language apps helped a lot. There’s one where I just had to hover my camera over the German tag and the translated word would flash on my screen. The best part was that even though people could not understand my language, I found them to be patient enough to read my queries from my gestures and give me a solution, no matter where I was travelling.

Marienberg Fortress

These basic factors aside, life in Europe becomes very smooth. Most places have free commute options for students. So, once the student has a valid ID, life is the easiest (one also gets discounts on museum tickets, and more on a student ID, so guard that fiercely!).

House rents usually decrease the farther you stay from the university. The commute might be longer, but very comfortable. I found that Facebook pages were hugely helpful while looking for accommodation from India, (I used “Indians in Würzburg” for help).

I felt it was best to cook my own food, rather than eating outside. It was definitely more affordable and healthier in the long term. Vegetables came cheap, and meat, even cheaper. For the ‘ghar ke masale’ (spices from home), you can always carry them from home; but there were many Asian stores all over that stock up on Asian spices. I got my mobile connection from a Asian store, where I was met with that pleasant sensation of being back home.

Inside the Library!

I also found that academic exposure in Germany was huge! The libraries were well stocked, and even when, by slim chance, a book wasn’t available, the institution came through with a very efficient inter-university loan system! I spent most of my time at the University of Würzburg in the library, where I was able to make full use of its resources – be it reading, scanning or issuing books from other libraries!

Beyond The Day To Day

Exchange programmes are not just about accomplishing academic pursuits but also about realising that travelling is the best way of learning. I was lucky that I found amazing guidance under the university coordinator and the head of the English Department, both of whom encouraged me to realise this fact and make full use of the exchange programme. Along with balancing my academic work, I tried to explore the new culture as much as possible.

Being in Europe helped as it is a traveller’s paradise. Since all the places are so easily accessible, we would travel every weekend. In Southern Germany, there are these regional day train tickets for Bavaria where you could take an unlimited number of trips within Bavaria in a day- nothing can get better. The only rule is: never, never, never should one travel without tickets (if you get caught without one, you pay a hefty fine).

When I first applied for my Fellowship, all I could think of was the expanse of academic resources that was waiting for me. Little did I know that Würzburg would turn out to be so much more than that. My very first interaction with the entire Department of English at the University of Würzburg was at their semester-end dinner, and I sat there chatting about everything under the sun with a group I was meeting for the first time. It felt like I was at my own university. That is what the University became for me – a home away from home.

At the Residence.

It was an experience of a lifetime, not just because of the research material I gathered but also because of the people I met and befriended. With them, I shared the most fruitful academic conversations and in them, I found friends for life.

From visiting the Black Forest region in Bad Wildbad (which I had known through the Grimms Brothers’ Fairy Tales) to enjoying the variety of German cuisine that was so meticulously served at the mensa (canteen) every day, from climbing up the steep pathway to the Marienberg Fortress to walking down the vineyards, from gazing down at the city from the Käppele to sipping wine at the old bridge, from making friends on trams and buses to meeting international students at the University, the entire trip turned out to be stuff that dreams are made of. And I believe that is what studying in Europe means for me, and will always mean for me!


At the Old Bridge
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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