What it's like to be American in Germany

Worldify - Mary Kate - American student in Germany
Written by
Mary Kate Hogan
Published on
December 7, 2023

Living abroad isn’t always easy—especially in a historically homogenous country like Germany. But it can be hard to find some real talk amongst all the dreamy imagery. Introducing What It’s Like, a new content series. Diverse perspectives sharing candid conversations about what it’s like to be ________ in Germany. 

What it’s like to be an American student in Germany

Meet MK, originally from Massachusetts, USA. 🇺🇸 Currently living in Berlin.

Tell us a bit about you.

Hi, my name is Mary Kate, and I am an American student studying in Berlin for my Fall semester of college in 2023. Even before I got to college, I knew that I was going to study abroad at some point because both my older sisters did and had amazing experiences, traveling and learning so much about the world and themselves. 

When it came time to start planning my own study abroad journey, I decided to move to Berlin for 4 months with two of my friends from my school, Gettysburg College. Of all the options that I had, I ultimately chose to come to Berlin because I wanted to experience living in a fun, diverse city and because of the many internship opportunities available due to Berlin’s startup culture. While in Berlin, I have had the pleasure to study at the CIEE Global Institute and become an intern with Worldify!

Why Germany?

To be honest, before studying abroad, I had never traveled outside the United States besides going to Amsterdam once in middle school. Therefore, I had an open mind when deciding where to go. Through my college, I had a lot of options as to where I could study, but I ultimately chose Germany because of its central location in Europe, which would make it easier to travel and because I had heard amazing things about Berlin from students who had previously studied abroad there. 

Throughout these last few months in Germany, I’ve lived in Berlin, taking time to travel and visit other German cities like Munich, Dresden and Potsdam. Something interesting about studying abroad in Germany is that, because we’re American, I and everyone else in my program were able to travel here without a student visa and complete the paperwork during our program’s orientation. While this initially seemed like an advantage compared to my friends studying abroad in other countries, who were running around doing paperwork all summer for their visa, it ended up being somewhat stressful. It was stressful because the Immigration Office this year was very overrun, causing a delay in when we were supposed to get our visas. The delay caused a lot of us to be in the Schengen zone for over 90 days. While we had a legal right to stay in Germany, it still interrupted travel plans for weeks for those students planning to travel outside the country. 

Tell us about life in Germany.

I have been living in Germany for 3 months and 10 days, with about 20 days left before I go home (not that I am counting). Honestly, settling into life here was a lot easier than I expected. Granted, I had the luxury of going to an American school here, which set me up with plenty of other Americans my age to make friends with and adjust to this experience with. I found it really fun to make new friends with people from all different parts of the United States while also experiencing Berlin together. 

Unfortunately, my lack of German language has made socializing with locals harder, but I have had the opportunity to have a lot of cool conversations with some Germans who know English. Living in Berlin really has been an amazing and eye-opening experience for me, however, to be honest, not being home for Thanksgiving did cause a little bit of homesickness.

What has been hard for you, living in Germany?

Honestly, the hardest part about living in Germany for me was not knowing the language. When I got here, I took a German class to learn a little bit of the language, but it turned out that German was a very hard language for me personally to learn. If I could go back in time, I would have spent more time prior to coming here to learn more of the language. Thankfully, in my experience, a lot of people in Berlin speak some English, but I always feel guilty asking people to do so for me because I feel that since I live here, I should have been better about preparing myself.

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What do you love about Germany—what makes you stay?

I really have loved my time in Berlin! I think that there is a very artistic and accepting culture here that you can notice while walking around, at bars and clubs, in museums and honestly throughout the city. I find that while you will get stared at in Berlin, you will not be judged, which is a nice feeling. Another thing I love about the city is how big and interesting it is. I swear that every week I found a new, cool area to explore. I am over 3 months into living here and still feel like I have barely scratched the surface of what Berlin has to offer.

How has it been, being so far away from home?

While being here, I have missed my friends and family a lot. I keep in touch with them almost every day, but I definitely miss being able to see them whenever I want. Also, while being here, I just miss home in general. 

As great as Berlin is, sometimes there is nothing better than a drive around your hometown or your Mom’s homemade food. Little things like that can’t be replicated, but Berlin definitely offers some places that remind me of home. For example, I love to go to Que Pasa with my friends here because it reminds me of restaurants back in the US. Although, I try really hard not to compare the US and Germany—instead, I enjoy Berlin for the amazing city it is.

What's a piece of advice you'd give to other Americans thinking of moving here?

I am not technically an expat, so I don’t know if I can share a lot of helpful insight. But as far as advice for moving to another country, I think it's really important to be patient with yourself. It won’t always be easy, and sometimes you really feel homesick or lonely. My advice is to remember what made you want to travel or move, and how cool it is that you were brave enough to move away from what you were used to. Don’t take it for granted!

Read more of the series here. 🌎 If you’d like to contribute your story and experiences in Germany, we’d love to feature you! Write to us at hello@getworldify.com.

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