Germany, a fairytale land of enchanting villages, gorgeous scenery, and traditional festivals, is the perfect site for a gap year. While maintaining the charming old-fashioned feel, Germany has grown into a modern setting by being a front-runner in the fields of renewable energies and recycling, automation, and international commerce. As one of the tourist capitals of the world, Germany houses many of the Europe’s treasures. From Oktoberfest to skiing the Alps, Germany offers something for everyone.
Many gap year programs are intensive German language programs. The majority use the idea of complete immersion, and students are placed in host families and attend German schools full-time. A popular example of this type of program is the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange. Language study programs can be found in almost every city in Germany, and often in smaller towns. However, the most popular places to study are Berlin and Munich.
While most people don’t think of Germany as a country that needs volunteers, there are actually a myriad of volunteer programs in Germany. Some programs run for as short as a few weeks, while several run for an entire year. Volunteering is an amazing and different way to learn about the German culture, as you work directly with Germans instead of learning about them in a classroom. There are volunteer programs all over Germany, with several being in larger cities such as Berlin.
Interning and Studying
Many programs offer a combination of studying and interning in German cities. These are often for students who want to pursue business, but they are usually not limited to this. Many programs offer internships with German car companies, such as Volkswagen or Mercedes, and students can study at a German school for a semester before interning at a German company for the next semester.
Cost of Living in Germany
Compared to other European countries, Germany is not overly expensive. However, prices differ from city to city. While Munich and Hamburg are some of the more expensive cities in Germany, smaller cities such as Leipzig are much cheaper. In general, a student can expect to spend between 200-300 Euros per month on food, board, and daily living. However, this can range depending on what each gap year program includes. To save money, avoid tourist traps for your everyday needs, such as overly priced restaurants, grocery stores, and means of transportation.
Culture and Etiquette in Germany
Life in Germany is not difficult to adjust to, but there are several customs that may seem strange at first. For example, most Germans kiss on the cheek when greeting someone they know, but shake hands with someone they don’t know. Punctuality is highly valued, and even public transportation is rarely late. While being “fashionably late” is acceptable in many cultures, it is rude in Germany. Things that are often free in other countries, such as using a public restroom or ordering water in a restaurant, can cost up to 2 Euros.
Germans do not wear shorts or sandals after September begins, no matter how warm it is outside. If you want to look like a native, buy a light jacket and a pair of jeans from H&M (the favorite store of Germans), and wear them even in the 70 degree weather. Teachers expect students to be self-sufficient, and procrastination is usually not an option. Despite the stereotypical tense attitude of Germans, most Germans are very welcoming and warm-hearted.
Health and Safety in Germany
Germans take health and safety very seriously. Healthcare in Germany is one of the best in Europe, with hundreds of major medical centers throughout the country. 9 out of 10 doctors speak fluent English and most pharmacies have someone available who speaks English. Most Germans are members of a local gym or club and have fitness as a part of their daily schedule. However, in Germany, exercise is something that is typically done indoors, so going for a run outside is not advised unless you want to be stared at. Germany is not a country of wide-spread disease and the water is safe to drink, but be careful of “strange” types of meat, as they can sometimes lead to food poisoning.
Violent crime is something that is rare in Germany; however, non-violent robberies occur frequently. Most incidents related to street crime involve pick-pocketing. Be careful with your belongings and do not put yourself in a situation that could be risky. Pick-pocketers in Germany often use someone to distract a tourist/foreigner, so it is easy to rob him/her while not paying attention.
Foreigners are not advised to wear flashy clothes or accessories, such as expensive jewelry, as it makes them easy targets. However, police forces are strong, making Germany cities very safe.