Palo Alto/CA: German Students at Stanford University | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 26.12.2001
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Palo Alto/CA: German Students at Stanford University

Anna Sayn-Wittgenstein

Anna Sayn-Wittgenstein, Stanford student says there's more flexibility than in German universities

23-year-old Anna Sayn-Wittgenstein disagrees. She is also from Germany and studies History and Political Science. She says that in her course of study, she can be more flexible at Stanford than in Germany in deciding what classes to take.

But Anna thinks that the pressure on students to do well is extremely high at Stanford: "It's very competitive. Everyone is fighting on his own. It even goes so far that students will tell the professor if they've caught someone cheating on a test. In Germany, students would never do that. They would think of it as absolutely absurd."

Gerald Engel came to Stanford to write his doctoral thesis in mechanical engineering. He knew that Stanford would be a good starting point to establish contacts to the big-name computer and internet firms in Silicon Valley.

American companies often recruit their top personnel at elite schools like Stanford. "The irony is that it's not only the companies from Silicon Valley knocking on my door here," says Gerald Engel. "As a Stanford student, I'm also interesting for German companies. They know of the school's excellent reputation and they're interested in recruiting Stanford students.

"All sorts of German business consultants come here and invite us out to fancy dinners. Something like this never happened to me when I was still studying in Germany at the University of Stuttgart. It looks like you've got to take the detour of studying abroad for these German companies to begin noticing you."

Gerald thinks that Stanford owes much of its success to its excellent reputation. It's difficult for prospective students to get accepted there. And once you're in, you have to find ways to pay your tuition and room and board, which can amount to US $ 40 000 a year. You've either got to get a scholarship, take out a student loan, get a student job -- or you've got to have very rich parents.

Many German students at Stanford hope they'll be able to exploit the contacts they make here after they graduate. Some, like Markus Gärtner, hope they can get started in the internet business -- even though that sector of the economy has recently entered rough waters.

"Many students still dream of striking it rich," he explains. "You constantly bump into people here who tell you that they have just sold their company for something like 50 million dollars."

Such "rags-to-riches" cases may be spectacular, but they're rare. 29-year old Jochen Kleinknecht is a German post-doc business student. He knows from first-hand experience how hard it is these days to make your first million: "I've tried my luck with a number of start-ups, but I wasn't too successful. I'm still a student and I'm still not rich."

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