10 Ways Grad School Abroad Isn’t Always Sunshine and Rainbows…

It’s really not always sunshine and rainbows. In fact, I haven’t seen a rainbow in quite a while. The sunshine… It’s variable. But the weather isn’t the point. The point is that graduate school here in Germany is pretty testing sometimes, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

To make my point, here are the ten ways graduate school is making me crazy. Or trying to kill me. I’m not sure which yet.

No. 1:  Writing Crazy Things Is Normal

I was reading an academic journal article yesterday. I download them in PDF formats and highlight important things as well as make in-text notes. Yesterday, I read something surprising in the results of a study, started a note, typed “For cereals?!” and went on my way. I didn’t think about how strange it was that I had typed that (or even had that reaction in general) until I was scrolling back through the article after I finished reading. And this isn’t the first time something like this has appeared in my notes. I’m losing it, guys.

No. 2: Why Am I in This Class?

Have you ever taken a class where you thought, “I’m not learning anything. This class is a complete waste of my time, not to mention boring!” Just because I’m abroad and “that life” is supposed to be fancy and wonderful doesn’t mean I escape those classes.

There are 14 weeks of classes in this semester. Say I attend this one class every week for 1.5 hours. Based on that, I’m spending 21 hours sitting (trying not to scream) through a class that I can’t stand.

No. 3: Is This Professor for Real?

Anyone who has ever attended college has had at least one of those professors who they think is straight up out of their mind. They’re everywhere. Twin and I even had one in Northern Ireland that told us Topologists make Applied Mathematicians like him look sane. (Math joke! But really, I know a Topologist and he isn’t that crazy. On the contrary, he’s pretty cool.)

But back to my grad school experience. I have multiple professors that I think might be off their rockers. Sometimes they are lecturing and all I can do is think, “For cereal?” Okay, I normally just think, “What the…” but I was trying to make a theme here!

No. 4: That Mensa Scares Me

The Mensa is the equivalent of the cafeteria or dining hall. Food! I’m usually excited for that. My main complaint? Even when the menu is in English, I have no idea what I’m eating, and it is expensive. It’s €3 for a meal. (For reference, my weekly shopping bill is about €10-€20, not including chocolate.)

I mean, I guess it’s great to try regional and international foods. Just not when it’s the sub-par version, because chances are I’ll never give it a second chance. Also, with dietary restrictions it’s hard to know if there’s milk or red meat in that weird looking thing I can’t pronounce. I just can’t handle thinking about my food safety so much when my brain is already fried…

No. 5: You Want Me to Read How Much?

Speaking of fried brains… Two-hundred pages a week for this class? Seriously? But you only discuss each article for 10-15 minutes in class, if at all. You say I still need to read it? Okay. Please excuse me while I go have a nice cry for 10-15 minutes per article. (I don’t actually read every word of every article, but I do at least try to skim most of them.)


No. 6: They’re Serious about This TAN List

A TAN List is this crazy thing that the Konstanz University requires you to use. It’s this list of numbers, and you have to use one of the numbers to register yourself for a final exam. (Side note: These crazy Germans register for exams, not classes.) I spent all break trying to understand this. Then, trying to figure out where to get these numbers. Then, trying to figure out where the place on campus is to generate them because I don’t have two numbers to generate a TAN List online. (Yes, it’s all very confusing.)  I just wanted to know how to generate a TAN List when I didn’t already have two numbers.

On the first day back after break I asked a classmate, “Where do you get a TAN List?” He replied, “You have two numbers on your enrollment confirmation that you can use to generate them online.” “Oh.” Inside I was thinking, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”

No. 7: What Grade Did I Get?

The Germans have a grading scale very different from that of the States. I’m used to getting points off, which yields a percentage, which translates to a letter grade, which becomes my GPA. Okay, saying it like this, Americans sound like the crazy ones.

Our craziness aside, Germans have a point scale ranging from 1 to 5. One is a perfect score and is nearly impossible to get. Five is a failing grade. What I want to know is, what do these numbers actually mean? How much better is a 2 than a 4? Do the professors just look and papers and exams and go, “Yep, that’s a 2!” Someone explain this to me, please.

No. 8: Is the Semester Over Yet?

Classes started in October. That’s late for what I’m used to. Then we went to Christmas break. Now we’re still in the same semester. My exams are in February. Summer semester starts in April (the month I was finishing Spring semester at Baldwin) and ends in July.

I feel tricked coming back from the holidays and still being a month away from final exams. I can only imagine how weird it will feel to take exams in July…

No. 9: I Will Not Get Out of Bed

At least this is what I say every morning. I wake up and think about all the work I have to do. All the reading, the classes, the papers, the preparation for exams… Nope. I won’t get up. Especially since I was up late trying to understand that one theory. Or maybe I wasn’t able to sleep because I was thinking about how I don’t understand those other five theories…

Physically, graduate school is testing me. I feel tired almost always. Even when I’m well-rested, it’s a challenge to stay focused on everything. I try going for walks, running errands, and switching to another task when I find myself unable to sit still and focus. I guess it’s not all bad. Without this problem, I probably would have a hard time ever posting on this blog.

No. 10: The German Education System Is INTENSE!

It’s true. My classes are hard. The one midterm exam I’ve taken was harder than any exam I’ve ever taken. They expect you to be incredibly independent here. My professors and fellow students seem to think at a level way over my head.

I often found high school so easy that it was the most boring thing ever. In undergraduate college I had to seek out the courses that I found to be interesting and challenging. Even then I maintained good grades without a ton of effort. Now, I often feel like I’m way out of my league.

Sometimes I even go as far as to question the quality of education I received. My undergrad college is an amazing place, but could they have better prepared me? I’d be lying if I said I don’t sometimes question if I even belong in graduate school.

At the end of the day, I’m here and trying to make the best of it. I haven’t given up. I’m still working towards my degree. Still, I think it’s important for everyone to know that living abroad doesn’t mean that I love every second or that graduate school is a breeze.

For any Germans reading this, I hope you found it comical. In any case, I promise to also write something positive about your higher education system in the future!



  1. The very first grade I got back in my first semester was a 2.0. I actually started crying (I was very emotional about everything in my first semester), and I was like, “I think that’s bad!” I remember asking my boss at work, and he had to sit down and explain to me that the only grades better than a 2 are a 1, 1.3, and 1.7 (I though you could get all the decimals in between). And then everyone at work attempted to console me by telling me how great a 2 is. Ahh, the joys of being the only foreign student in my Master’s program.


    1. There’s a huge group of internationals in Konstanz. No problem there for me. But honestly, I just don’t understand how a professor decides on your grade…


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