Upon my arrival in Canada, it didn’t take me too long to realize that many things here were different than they were at home. Canadians were polite. No, not just polite, they were friendly (absolute shocker when arriving from Berlin, Germany, possibly one of the most cold-hearted cities in an overall cold-hearted country). Then, there were differences like driving laws (What’s with the turning on red, Canada? Dangerous!) or the strength of the coffee (if I can see through it, it can’t be coffee). Yes, life is very different here than it is in Germany. However, no difference is as striking as the difference between Germany’s and Canada’s post-secondary education systems.
One of the main differences between Canadian and German university will be brought to your attention by the university’s administration long before the semester starts: tuition (sorry guys, I understand that’s a dreaded topic by many students over here). In Germany, my tuition fees for the past semester mounted up to €311,59, that is, about 470 Canadian dollars. This included the Berlin equivalent of the U-Pass, valid in all of Berlin and surrounding areas, 24/7 (public transportation actually runs 24/7 in Berlin) for about €200, a €50 enrollment fee, and a €60 social security contribution. And that’s it. End of story. In three years of university, the only textbook I have ever bought was a €20-book called “Statistics for Dummies”, and I hope the title conveys my despair towards the course (in other words, I did not have to buy this book – I was desperate).
Obviously, I don’t know enough about Canadian politics or about how education works here, but from a French-German (and probably way too condescending) point of view, I find it unbelievable that people have to pay for university education. And then what’s the deal with textbooks? Is it considered normal to pay over 100$ for a book? Where are the public riots at the time of tuition payment deadlines? First big difference – Germany 1: Canada 0.
Once the semester starts in Germany, you notice the second big difference: it’s October. For reasons unknown to (and highly questioned by) me, our Fall semester starts in mid-October. It runs until mid-February, with a few days off for Christmas and New Year’s, and then, out of nowhere, a giant break pops up: we are off school from mid-February until mid-April. The Summer semester starts around mid-April and runs until the last week of July. Do I love writing exams in a 30°C lecture hall? No. Did I ask for a break in March, when I am stuck in Berlin’s disgusting end-of-winter-weather anyways, because of all the papers I have to write? No. Do I think it was necessary to design the German academic calendar differently from all of Europe’s academic calendars (which are much more similar to the Canadian one), preventing me from going on vacations with my non-German friends? Take a wild guess – No. I have yet to find the efficiency that Germany is so well known for in their way of designing the academic year. No reading weeks and four months of university without any kind of break twice a year – but hey, you’ve got a two-month break coming up out of nowhere to kick you out of your routine and enjoy the rainy, cold months of March and September without having to go to school! Fabulous. Germany 0: Canada 1.
Finally, another big difference that I mentioned previously is also reflected in Canada’s university system: friendliness. Professors are friendly. Professors care about you. Professors are available. I will never forget my History prof’s words at the beginning of every lecture at U of A: “and if you have any questions, by all means, come and see me during office hours, or we can schedule an appointment! Send me an e-mail!” A few weeks ago, an e-mail from my Creative Writing class professor informed us that his cell phone was going to be out of order for the week and that therefore, we couldn’t text him if we had any questions or concerns. Now, as opposed to that, here’s how the average German professor will react when you tell them you want to speak to them in private: “Oh yes, of course you do. Everybody does. Because I am great. However, that’s going to be impossible. I mean, I have office hours, once a week, for two hours. Feel free to send my secretary an e-mail if you want to book an appointment with me during those. It may or may not take place within the next six months. Sounds good? No? Well, guess who doesn’t care.” If you are lucky enough to make it to a professor’s office hours, you better be ready – they will give you about 30 seconds of their precious time and most likely stone you for any question they consider irrelevant or unnecessary.
Besides that, if you are tough enough to have made it to university, that must mean you’re a grown-up. And grown-ups don’t need support from Student’s Success Centres, a Centre for Writers or Peer Support groups (according to Germany). You’re on your own. I was genuinely shocked about the amount of resources offered to their students by the University of Alberta. It’s almost like people actually care if you succeed! I didn’t know that was possible. Germany 0: Canada 100.
I could keep this list going for much longer, but that might result in me seriously questioning if I completed my undergrad in the wrong country. I still believe that paying tuition for university should not be a thing – but when I think about the amount of things that students at U of A get in return concerning resources and the quality of their education, I do wonder about the things that Germany might be able to learn from you.