High School Study Abroad in Germany

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Formal education shapes and guides instinctive knowledge, which drives our lives. From high school onwards, learning becomes serious, laying the foundation of our future and the blueprint of our destiny.

Germany is very much in the news, guiding the way for Europe to emerge out of its financial crises and it is definitely a leader on the continent again. The USA shares history, roots and ties with the country, making Germany it a natural choice for study abroad.

In addition, German is the first language of the European Union. Even outside the country, it is most widely spoken on the continent. Acquiring skills and proficiency in this language opens up many avenues for further studies, careers and of course travel through the continent and further afield. Germany, as the 4th largest economy is an acknowledged global, economic and business leader. Therefor, German is a prime language for business today. Furthermore, some of the world's greatest scientists, writers, philosophers, psychologists and artists were German and have left behind a rich cultural legacy.

An advanced school system and excellent facilities as well as a beautiful landscape and dynamic culture await you in Germany.

High schoolers can look forward to challenging classes at a gymnasium (public high school) with their German peers. Classes are generally taught in German. Study courses include German, Mathematics, Natural and Social Sciences, History, Arts, and Athletics. German language classes are available at beginner or intermediate levels. Students with some German language skills generally become proficient with 20 to 24 hours of instruction.

  • Live & Learn Programs: Students live and study in the home of their personal German instructor. Accommodation and meals are provided. Programs are designed for high school students of all ages and levels of skills.
  • Summer Camp Programs: These short summer-time programs combine German language courses with sports and cultural activities.
  • Language Immersion Courses: These programs teach both oral and comprehension skills. Students are allowed to speak only German for all their needs: academic, personal, social, or recreational. A language immersion program surrounds you with German, resulting in a high level of proficiency. The duration for such courses can stretch from a few months to several semesters or years.
  • Exchange Student Programs: Several organizations operate programs of mutual exchange between American and German High School students.
  • Subject-focused Programs: Students can focus on history, art, etc. Opportunities for STEM studies – Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics are also available.
  • Study + Volunteer Programs: Students have the chance to volunteer within their local community as a compliment to their studies. Giving back to your host community can increase your investment and sense of belonging in the community as well as provide a more rewarding study abroad experience.

Preparing to study abroad at the high school level, whether for a semester or a year can be a complex process, which requires determination and attention to detail. Consulting with your guidance counselor, you might find that your school has a program already in place with high schools in Germany and all arrangements can be made on site.

If not, the next step is to conduct independent research and decide on an organization that focuses on sending students aboard. Full details on how and what to do to get ready for this exciting adventure will be provided by these authorities, and will usually need to be initiated 6 to 12 months before the intended departure in the following order:

Up to 1 year before:
  • Consult with your guidance counselor
  • Discuss your study abroad goals and your school's policies
  • Clarify graduation requirements
  • Research appropriate study abroad programs/organizations
  • Complete documentation and application process
3 to 6 months prior:
  • Receive acceptances and decide on school/program
  • Study and fulfill all requirements of the German school (GPA/language etc.)
  • Apply for long stay/student visas (usually required for stays longer than 90 days)
  • Look up and fulfill any health requirements
  • Learn about the country, the region you are going to be in
  • Confirm credits acquired through the program with your counselor
1-month prior:
  • Attend pre-departure orientations arranged by the organization
  • Check full information on all aspects
  • Shop and pack for your trip, keeping seasons in mind
  • Tie up all loose ends at home and at school
Requirements:
  • Age range between 15 - 18 years.
  • Currently a high school student with a minimum GPA of 2.5 (varies according to school)
  • Some German language proficiency (preferably 2 years)
  • Demonstrated maturity, adaptability, and readiness to live in a new culture
Housing/Accommodations

You should start looking into accommodation as soon as you know for sure where you'll be studying since the process of finding a place to live can be a time-consuming challenge. While some programs will find housing for their students, some do not. For those searching for their own accommodations, the local school, the organization you are traveling with, your circle of family and friends, and local resources such as rentals and notice boards can all help. Employing the services of a local realtor can cost between 2 to 4 months of rental as their service fee. School housing costs between 200 and 400 Euros, a room in an apartment-sharing community between 300 and 500 Euros. A single apartment can cost from 400 Euros upwards per month.

  • Residential Accommodation at School: Applying early for a place at the school improves your chances, as these comparatively cheap options are in high demand.
  • Shared Apartment Accommodations: A cheaper option than renting an apartment on your own. Again prices vary from small to large towns. Usually a shared kitchen and living quarters with single rooms for individuals.
  • Host families: Living with a local family is for many the perfect way to experience German life. Along with daily meals and room, you will get to know the local customs and familiarize yourself with the culture and environment. The family can offer support and guidance – a home away from home. These relationships can endure for a lifetime.
Preparation

Obtain the following documents prior to departure:

  • Passport with validity of at least 6 months after scheduled return to USA. U.S. State Department website.
  • Student Visa permitting stays beyond 90 days. Necessary support documents such as proof of acceptance from German High School, proof of international health/accident insurance, and proof of financial means.
  • Proof of adequate financing for all expenses through the intended period of stay.
  • Health Insurance, (medical & dental) covering all routine, and emergency health situations for length of stay.
  • Travel Insurance for the duration, including trips within Europe.
Financial Costs

Make sure that your budget includes the following expenses: Tuition fees, Books and supplies, Supplemental fees for use of facilities in school, Accommodation & Utilities, Food and Necessities, Transportation, Personal and miscellaneous requirements

Average Total (estimates only): $ 9500 for 1 semester (August to January or January to July), $ 13,000 for full Academic year (August to July), and an additional 200 – 500 euros per semester should be budgeted as a buffer.

Funding: International students have limited options to work in Germany. These need to be researched and applied for ahead of time. In addition, you will need to verify whether your student visa allows you to work, and if so, how many hours you are permitted to work. If you are able to find some part-time work, this can help to supplement your finances.

Another opportunity is to apply for scholarships. It can either be a scholarship from your home country or a scholarship from Germany. In Germany there are different foundations and organizations that help international students. DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) lists available scholarships, as well as American organizations that provide scholarships.

Some merit-based partial scholarships for high school semester/academic yearlong programs are available through the local schools, DAAD, and through some study-abroad organizations. Scholarship applications must be filed at the same time as applying for admission. The process is highly competitive and award amounts may vary.

  • Language: Standard German is spoken by over 95% of the population as their first language, with 4 other minority languages spoken by small percentages. English is generally understood and spoken in the larger cities.
  • Popular Destinations: Trip Advisor's Travelers Awards for 2013 lists the top 10 destinations in Germany as: Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Cologne, Heidelberg, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Nuremberg, and Stuttgart. Be sure to check out these must-see sights as well: Neuschwanstein Castle, Schwangau/Füssen, Bavaria' Cologne Cathedral (UNESCO World Heritage), North Rhine- Westphalia; Brandenburg Gate, and the Berlin Wall, Berlin; Heidelberg Castle, Baden-Württemberg,
  • Cost of Living: The Cost of Living in Germany is comparable to most western European countries. This includes prices for different types of boarding lodging, shopping, eating out and cultural activities. Prices differ across the country, being higher in the bigger cities. Accommodation costs between 500 to 1000 euros per month for a room in a shared apartment, and lower – about 300 to 450 euros in smaller cities and rural areas.
  • Activities: Germany offers countless options for recreation, entertainment, sports and cultural pursuits, such as:
    • Nature reserves, national parks, and walking trails
    • Cinema, theater, dance, music
    • Museums, shops, restaurants and sightseeing
    • Summer camps and language schools
    • Activity holidays and exchange programs
    • Ski trips or European culture trips.
  • Authentic Foods: Most regions proudly lay claim to their own traditional cuisine. Trying them all is a gastronomic adventure. Be sure not to miss: Schupfnudeln (Pan-Fried Potato Fritters), Spaetzle (egg noodles with Emmentaler cheese and fried onions.) and Badische Zwetschenkuchen (Plum Cake) from Baden-Wuerttemberg. The popular Weisswurst, Pretzel, Nürnberger and Eisbein (pig knuckle) originate in Bavaria. Berlin is famous for its Potato Soup, Berliner Pfannkuchen (Berlin cake) and Spritzkuchen (doughnuts).
  • Fun Facts:
    • Chancellor Angela Merkel has a Barbie doll in her image.
    • There are over 300 varieties of bread in Germany and there are even bread museums.
    • A German invented gummy bears.
    • The balcony of the hotel Michael Jackson dangled his son over is in Berlin.
    • While it is called Oktoberfest, this German festival actually starts in September.
    • From grade 4, German children enter into Hauptschule, Realschule or Gymnasium, determining their future through vocational training or higher education. Gymnasium is the equivalent of American High School.
Why study abroad in high school?

Studying abroad isn't exclusive to college students. A year or semester abroad during high school is the perfect way to acquire international experience, a balanced point of view and a global perspective. Skills acquired, a sense of self, independence, and maturity make a huge difference to one's growth. Study abroad can help you make the most out of the high school experience by taking you out of your comfort zone, stretching your mind, and engendering the empathy with diverse cultures that is so vital to personal and business lives in our global village. Spending a year in a foreign culture is a challenging and thrilling experience that will help you develop valuable, real-world skills.

A student who has been through this experience as early as high school has a head start as a global citizen with an appreciation for diversity in cultures, peoples and lifestyles and develops an adaptable, strong mindset, able to absorb and benefit from varied experiences. Such a student is a star candidate for college admissions officers, demonstrating initiative, courage and independence. Studying abroad explores aptitudes, interests and talents. These help in deciding your choice of college majors, careers and your future. Moreover, acquiring fluency in a major foreign language is a huge advantage. Studying abroad allows you to test your potential.

New achievements, and experiences, lessons learned, and academic and personal growth are at the core of the experience. The opportunity to study, work, volunteer and learn in Germany will add another dimension to your personality development. Finally, living for a period of time in the heart of Europe, in a country that is an acknowledged world leader gives you the opportunity to see the rest of the continent and even UK and Ireland at your leisure in much more detail than on a short visit from the USA.

Top Reasons to Study Abroad in Germany

Germany is very proactive in its Study Abroad initiatives, having embraced the importance of international outreach long ago. Germany actively promotes the opportunity for study abroad to international students. This commitment is reflected in the numbers of German students who themselves undertake study abroad – a staggering 33% - the highest in the world. In addition, this dynamic country is most welcoming to international students, and is the 11th most popular destination in the world for Americans to study abroad.

Study abroad in Germany is also feasible from a financial perspective. The DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst), the German Academic Exchange Service offers competitive, generous scholarships. In addition, there are options for working to help fund your trip abroad.

While in Germany, you'll find that the country's landscape is as diverse as its customs and dialects. Expand your mind and life experiences in a place where “gemütlichkeit”, or good-naturedness, is a way of life. The intricacies of learning chemistry in German, kicking a football with your peers after classes, and ending the day over goulasch, bratwurst and strudel with your host family will help you to appreciate the depth and variety of German culture. A typical exciting day of learning, recreation and warm hospitality is all yours.

Germany's urban cities, as well as its rural areas are conducive to the study abroad experience. Whichever school you choose, you'll develop language skills, cultural knowledge and personal growth. Your coursework and interaction with the locals will immerse you in the rich history and culture of one of Europe's most fascinating countries.

Contributed by Bina Joseph

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