What do fairy tale castles, beer in large metal steins, the Black Forest, and Oktoberfest all have in common? You guessed it: Germany!
I headed to Germany when I was seventeen on a student exchange, and to be honest my German was horrible if nonexistent. I couldn’t say much more than, “Hello, my name is Mel,” “Your house looks nice,” and “I’m hungry.” Yet somehow I still managed to survive, make friends, and have one of the best times of my life. While I do encourage you to try taking some language classes, you can definitely still make friends and have an amazing time without being fluent (or even great) in German.
Germany is a friendly destination for English speakers and a stellar destination for any exchange student. Get ready to put on your lederhosen and dive into the culture in the Rhineland, Bavaria, and more. After all, what’s the “wurst” that could happen?
No German? No Problem
For English speakers who aren’t comfortable speaking German except for the occasional “pass the schnitzel” or “Nein!” it’s no problem (or “Kein Problem,” as the Germans would say) for those wanting to study here.
Not only is Germany a hugely cosmopolitan country, with many English services available in its larger cities, but a 2012 survey by the European Commission revealed that 50% of Germans feel comfortable speaking English. In my experience, that number tends to be even higher amongst German youth and students -- the exact people you’ll be interacting with the most during your time studying abroad.
For those students who aren't confident in their German language skills, there are plenty of programs taught in English all over the country. You'll just need to be a little pickier when you're selecting which program in Germany to study abroad with.
Check out the factors to consider when studying abroad in Germany without knowing a lick of German!
Studying Abroad in Germany -- in English
Let’s face it -- not everyone goes to study abroad to perfect their language skills. Going for the cultural experience and life in a new place is just as much a factor. Using a study abroad program allows you to tailor a program to fit what you want and make sure that learning in English is a priority.
Finding a program that offers the majority of its courses in English is a great first step. Check out these study abroad opportunities in Germany to find one that meets your language-learning needs. If you’re uncertain, you can ask a question right on the study abroad program page and alumni from that program will answer you.
You can also visit your school’s study abroad office to find out about partner universities in Germany. Often times, North American schools will partner with foreign institutions that specifically offer programming in their native language. It’s not a bad idea either to ask your school if they offer German language courses. Even a semester’s worth of language classes or short summer intensive will go a long way to prepare you for life in Germany. Chances are you might be able to use some of the credits to pad out your degree as well!
Furthermore, many German universities provide different options for varying levels of German-language abilities, including English instruction for absolute beginners.
You can even choose whether to take courses alongside local German students or other international students. With a little extra research, you'll be able to find the perfect program that pairs survival German classes and other subject courses taught with English instruction.
Remember that there is no best option when it comes to choosing a study abroad experience; just choose the best one for you.
English Housing Resources in Germany
The majority of the time that you spend abroad will actually be outside of the classroom instead of in it. Choosing a comfortable living space that’s near your school or in the district you want can make or break your experience studying in Germany.
If you aren't hoping to gain long term German language skills when abroad, it is probably in your best interest to skip a homestay.
Homestays are for students who want an immersive language-learning experience. And while you may miss out a whole slew of other benefits (including making longstand relationships with locals and deepening your understanding of German culture), you can cultivate similar friendships with your university peers or other German friends you'll pick up along the way.
Luckily, it’s easy to find housing options in English for students moving to the city. If you’re hoping to live your day-to-day in English, then choosing a dormitory, apartment, or house with other English speakers will make a good fit for you.
Many German universities have an English-language housing page specifically for international students. Here’s one from the University of Potsdam, in Berlin. Some study abroad programs will opt to let you choose between living with other American students or international students (where your common language will be English).
Living in a German dorm on campus is also an excellent way to meet locals your own age and have the international college experience. University life will be at your fingertips, and it will be easier to get involved in student life and clubs. The type of dorm will depend on the school, and it’s important to check whether you will be placed with only international students or mixed in with German natives.
If you're wanting a more culturally diverse experience, an international living arrangement is ideal. For those who are a little nervous about making friends or are hesitant to step too far out of their comfort zone, you’ll always be able to fall back on your exchange student friends.
If you have to find an apartment on your own, a great option is a private shared flat (called Wohngemeinschaften in German, or just WG). Common in university towns, WGs have several students sharing a flat, including kitchen and bathroom, although each student has their own room.
Find An Apartment in English in Germany
Here are some great English-language resources for finding an apartment in some of the major study abroad centers in Germany:
- Book furnished apartments in Berlin.
- Craigslist in Berlin and Munich has many flats and apartments listed in English.
- Studieren Werk Berlin, HouseTrip, and AirBnB are also often available to be leased on a monthly basis in many German cities.
- Berlin Apartments is an English-language apartment rental service; SMARTments offers full-service apartments in Hamburg, Munich, and Berlin.
- Munich Student Union has an English-language apartment finding site.
- HousingAnywhere allows exchange students to rent from locals online in English. NestPick also offers student accomodations in English.
- Erasmus Germany is a great resource for exchange students looking for roommates in Germany in English.
Chances are your university also has some experience in helping exchange students find places to live at their German university placements, so don’t hesitate to ask them what they recommend. Their advice can be invaluable!
Best Cities in Germany for Non-German Speakers
Once you’ve decided that studying abroad in Germany is your goal, the next step if to choose a city to live in.
While larger cities are more likely to have services that cater to English speakers, we encourage you to not shy away from smaller German cities like Freiburg or Marburg, vibrant university towns where you’ll find plenty of other international students who can muddle through life in German together with you.
To learn more about the cities and universities to study abroad in Germany, we recommend reading our resource on the best cities in Germany for studying abroad for a more comprehensive overview.
That being said, if you’re dead-set on choosing a larger city for its facility with English, the following cities below are all good choices.
Berlin is the perfect backdrop for any history or art student studying abroad in Germany. As one of the largest and most affordable cities in Germany, it is also a paradise for student activities. There are plenty of museums and cultural activities to keep any student busy for months. With an easily navigable public transportation system, it is easy to take in the entirety of the city during your semester abroad. Most international students in Berlin choose to focus their studies on Management, Administration, and International Business.
Frankfurt is Germany’s business and economic center. As the home of the European Central Bank, Stock Exchange, and numerous business schools, Frankfurt is very expat-friendly and locals there are used to non-German speakers living in the city. It’s also one of the most liveable metropolises in the world. For students who want to study in English, you can either take one of the many courses available in English at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, or even choose to do your entire graduate degree in English.
Munich lies in the south of Germany, near the Austrian border and at the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. Munich is also the home to Oktoberfest, and nicknamed ‘the Capital of Beer.’ As a popular study abroad destination, locals are used to students coming through the town. Traditional music and baroque architecture have their homes here. Study Media and Communication in Munich, and reduce your worries of things getting lost in translation. There are plenty of English speakers to befriend in Munich!
Hamburg is a slightly smaller city that still boasts an environment-friendly to non-German speakers. If you are a fan of the water, this city is for you. With beaches and canals to paddle down in a boat, you can’t go wrong in Hamburg. Its close proximity to Denmark and the Netherlands makes it a fantastic launching point for travel all over Europe. Hamburg is a port city and a worldwide trading center full of great shopping spots, nightlife, and plenty of cultural attractions. Go to Hamburg to study Engineering, Management, or Media and Communications. Urban planners might want to check out the new HafenCity University—founded in 2006, it offers reduced rate German language classes for international students.
Choosing Germany for Your European Study Abroad
As well as being extremely open to other cultures, liberal atmosphere, high standard of living, and ample access to English programs at universities, Germany is the perfect country to spend a summer, semester, or even a year at for English-speaking students.
Germany’s Central European location makes it perfect as a jumping-off point to visit many European cities and experience other cultures as well.
As a study abroad student, part of your experience will include meeting new people. Although it can be scary jumping headfirst into a culture where you don’t speak the language, by living side by side with other German students, or making friends amongst the other exchange students from different countries, you will gain a new outlook on life that’s worth the awkward sentences, garbled cafe requests, and other goofs that you will inevitably make while living abroad.
Just remember to keep a sense of humour, and that by deciding to study abroad you’ve already won. Just keep your head up, leave your embarrassment at customs, and don’t forget to say ‘danke schön!’ when someone holds the door for you.
Don’t play it too safe when choosing your study abroad city in Germany. Choose a city and program that pushes and challenges you in unexpected ways. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
Any program you choose will provide a wealth of cultural experiences and one of the most memorable times of your life.
Learning German While Studying Abroad
While this whole article focuses on how you can study in Germany in English, you might change your mind once you arrive and realize you do want to learn German. No biggie! If that happens, check out the Go Overseas guide to studying German abroad, and the German language schools listed there.
This article was originally published in June 2013 and updated in February 2018.