Over 50 students from India and Germany recently gathered in Berlin to discuss practical matters related to a student exchange program between the two countries.
Berlin's Humboldt University is popular with Indian students
In 1996, 200 Germans received public grants so that they could spend some weeks at university in India. Today, this figure has tripled.
But there are many more Indians enrolled at German universities – some 4,000 in total.
And although young Indians generally favor English-speaking countries for study abroad, those in Germany say they have certain advantages.
More and more German students are opting to study at universities in India, for example in Kolkata
They say these are both cultural and academic. Rahul Sindal, who is studying management in Berlin, explains that it is all about time: "There are time slots for interviews, there are time slots for food, there are time slots for coffee breaks. There is no written code of conduct, but it's all implicit. You get to understand the culture, and it's a really good learning experience."
Moreover, the state universities do not charge high tuition fees, the academic standards are high and there are many opportunities for students to acquire practical skills during internships with German companies, Rahul and his fellow students point out.
Cultural and linguistic hurdles
Nonetheless, it is not always easy for students from the subcontinent to come to Germany as there are many administrative, cultural and linguistic hurdles involved.
"Indians coming here should try and learn the German language," Rahul suggests, adding that sometimes, at banks or in public institutions, some people only "understand a bit of English."
Some 4,000 Indian students are currently enrolled in German universities
But Satish Viswanathan, who is doing a postgraduate course while working for an international corporation in Hannover, says language is not the only barrier.
"Even people who are only slightly educated speak English. So, language is not always the thing but there are certain aspects like culture. Indians sometimes do multitasking whereas Germans are very focused on one aspect. I think these are the kind of things we need to work on."
"A New Passage to India"
Meanwhile, German students who opt for India tend to usually only go for a very short period. Opportunities often depend on existing working relationships between specific universities or individual faculty members.
Last year, the DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Service, launched the "A New Passage to India" program, whose main objective is to enable more Germans to study or do research in India.
Kathrin Specht, a graduate in landscape planning and recipient of a DAAD grant, recently spent two months at the University of Pune. Her preparatory program included Hindi lessons as well as information on Indian culture and society.
"The most important thing," she says, "is not to have any prejudices or too many ideas in one’s mind before. Because everything will be very different from anything you can picture before you go to India."
Kathrin Specht and others who returned from India said they were definitely not yet done with the South Asian country and hoped they would return.
Author: Thomas Voelkner
Editor: Anne Thomas