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English uni would attract best brains to Berlin

The Local · 28 Jan 2013, 11:54

Published: 28 Jan 2013 11:54 GMT+01:00

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Studying in Britain – for Shanti Behari Seth it would have been an obvious choice, as for many young, educated Indians. He was connected to the country through a cultural network based on family ties. And because of its colonial ties to India, he would have had an easy time with the language.

Seth's family were not poor, but they were not rich enough to fund his preferred choice of studying in England. The young man opted instead for Berlin, although he could not speak a word of German and had been told the Germans were a harsh and not altogether welcoming people.

On his first night in the German capital he got hopelessly lost, mixing up Charlottenburg and Friedrichstraße train stations. But a passerby helped the confused young man and explained to him “in perfect English” where he needed to go. A good start in the strange city.

The story played out in 1931 and is taken from Vikram Seth's epic double biography “Two Lives,” about his Indian great-uncle and his German-Jewish wife.

What offers itself as a model of great literature, because dramatic historical and personal developments are told through these two characters, could – and should – finally become an everyday occurrence in Berlin: Immigration from parts of the world traditionally connected with 20th century European colonial powers, whose people still prefer to move to big cities in their own countries.

And despite complaints over rising rents and gentrification, life in Berlin today is still much cheaper than in London. That could be one argument for families from those countries' growing middle classes to send their children over here to study rather than to the UK.

Berlin's hype alone is not enough

Germany needs more immigration, more people to work as skilled employees in companies, more people who start their own businesses, more people to pay into the country's pension fund.

With its global attractiveness and high living standards, Berlin above everywhere else in Germany is best placed in the fight for the world's brightest brains. It is not enough for Berlin to attract artists and creatives. The city needs technicians and business types if it is going to progress economically.

The main obstacle is probably the language. German is not a world language and never will be. The incentive worldwide to learn German is quite small. If we accept this as a fact without any cultural arrogance, it would be a smart next step for Berlin to switch over one of its three large universities strictly to English, the lingua franca of our time. Not even Chinese or Spanish is unlikely to unseat English any time soon.

All lectures and seminars could be offered in English. If this language barrier were removed, not only more students, but also more foreign researchers and lecturers would choose to come to Berlin.

Despite the global hype surrounding the city, the German capital is still not the international metropolis it could be two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“The city is full of students,” wrote American Clayton McCleskey in the tagesspiegel.de/berlin/hauptstadtkampagne-be-berlin-nur-ein-slogan-oder-doch-mehr/1658922.html" target="_blank">Taggesspiegel when he was living in Berlin on a Fullbright Journalism scholarship. “But have you ever looked into the university canteen in the FU [Free University]? The students are practically all white. It can't go on like this.”

Story continues below…

Just how widespread this provincial attitudes towards outsiders in our supposedly hip 21st-century Berlin was described by the journalist Hani Yousuf in her blog under the headline: “Why I left Berlin for Karachi.”

As an educated and professional Pakistani woman, Yousuf said she had been mostly treated as an exotic foreigner and had cut a strange figure in “arty-bourgeois Berlin” in the almost exclusively white areas of the city in which she lived.

“Sometimes, I want to cover myself with a burqa,” she wrote, referring to how people would turn around to look at her.

An English university would be a first step toward making others like her a bit less exotic in Berlin.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

12:41 January 28, 2013 by LecteurX
I expect a very "lively" debate to be generated by this article... But I for one disagree with this. Of course it would make life easier for many to be able to hop from one country to the next without having to put up with the mild inconvenience of learning another language. Even I personally suffered from this because I wasn't able to study what I wanted here in Berlin because my German still isn't good enough. Never mind, hopefully in one year my chances are better.

I think it's unfair to dismiss as "arrogance" the understandable desire of the nationals of any country to be educated and do business in their own language within their own country. What's wrong with that? Why automatically give an unearned advantage to native English speakers everywhere in the world, really? There's already a lot of business or academic research you can do in Berlin (or Paris, or Amsterdam, or Stockholm) in English and with just a smattering of German or of the local language of said cities. This trend is probably going to increase, and I'm fine with that. I like the English language and the more it is used for business, the more opportunities for me too.

But sometimes, just speaking proper English is not nearly enough. I often see job offers in Berlin that are restricted to "English native speakers only", and I feel cheated by this. When is this going to stop?

Anyway, I'm sure the so coveted "best brains" are bright enough to reach an acceptable a European language like German, which sure is hard to learn, but being related to English, it's still a reasonable challenge.
13:09 January 28, 2013 by smart2012
I want to explain what "skilled workers" are in Germany. They are people working on the shop floors of manufacturing companies (i.e. operators) doing very hard jobs for 8-10 hours, with regular night shifts sometimes over weekends), with a very low income (1200-1500 Euros - for 12 months. No termination of contract payment - a rent in Germany for a 2 rooms flat is 1000 Euros). People do not come cause this is not enabling a good living my friends, nothing to do with languages.
13:14 January 28, 2013 by Katinkaxx
According to the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Berlin universities currently offer 86 (!) degree programmes taught in English.


Most of these programmes are virtually free of charge for both German and foreign students as they are paid for by German taxpayers. In addition, there is at least one private American college in Berlin.

To be honest, I don't see the point of your article.
13:38 January 28, 2013 by ChrisRea
@ Katinkaxx

I fully agree. It seems that the author ignores the fact that only 20% of the foreign students in Germany remain in the country after graduating and that probably the most significant reason is their poor level of German (http://www.thelocal.de/education/20120424-42127.html#.UQZseR2P8wg). So before offering more free/cheap courses in English (1 in 10 students in Germany is already foreign), it would be probably wise to make sure foreign students learn German at a decent level (for professions that require an university diploma, I would say C1). Otherwise they will not be really valuable to the German economy.

But let's not allow facts hinder Mr. Hesselmann's last idea for an article on a slow day.
14:02 January 28, 2013 by lwexcel
C1 seems to be a bit more than what is required. I have worked for German firms and B1 was more than enough to understand all of the conversations and obtain the necessary points.

The issue seems to be two things:

German universities, are lacking when it comes to global standings. None of the universities in Germany are ranked within the top 100 for MBA degrees of any specialty, or in the top 50 for Engineering. It seems to be more of a question of quality. I actually attended a German university (MBA program) after getting my MBA in the U.S. to make myself more marketable in this country when I moved over and it was a big waste of time. It was literally a review of subject matter that I had been introduced to during my sophomore year of undergrad.

Next, the starting pay is not very good, especially when ranked with some of the bigger management trainee programs, and analyst level positions in the U.S., China, and elsewhere. I figured that out after working up from a praktikant, to a project manager for a German firm (in Germany) and still making less than my cohorts back in the U.S. After giving it a chance I see it as everyone else does, it is much better to be educated somewhere else, and get paid to come here as an expat.
14:39 January 28, 2013 by spot78
I agree with lwexel, in many points, while a local Language helps you to be part of the society, Business done by foreigns, is done mainly outside Germany, remember that German is an "export powerhorse", or something like that!, Therefore, even if the most apasionate people argues here, Germany and German speaking countries, will not be in the next 40 years the markets to explode, and because of this, we need English as a language, if it is China or Chile, a common business language already exists, like it or not, regarding salaries, I must unfortunately agree, I have been almost 8 years in Germany, as I am under a German contract, while my salaries is not bad at all, must say that if I were German could be great, I am not, and there are two important facts about it, if I want to visit my family, then for 1 person I must pay around 1000€ when I arrive here 8 years ago, 1000€ was fine, but now we are 3 (A wife a son, well also a dog which is not free to transport), then the price increases, therefore a great German Salary is not that great for a Foreign at all, so, as lwexcel say, I come to realize that it is better to be an expat here, if not, is really hard, and also due to the "social system", as I arrive and work as a Skilled worker, then most of the social help I do not get it, meaning that I am starting to develop the German feeling, I call german feeling to the babling that germans told me when I arrived, that they finance foreigns through social helps, well I feel like that now, the main problem is that for me is a burden and for most of my mates back home, where you get what you work for, they do not have such a burden, and they seems to have more than I do
14:56 January 28, 2013 by ChrisRea
@ lwexcel

I am not sure what is your specialisation, as you refer only to passive use of language (understanding the conversation). I would tend to believe that B1 is not enough to efficiently express yourself in a business environment.

"None of the universities in Germany are ranked within the top 100 for MBA degrees of any specialty" - The Economist tends to disagree. They listed Mannheim Business School at no. 36 in their worldwide ranking. Bloomberg Businessweek and Financial Times held the mentioned university quite high as well.

As for Engineering, the same Financial Times thinks ESMT - European School of Management and Technology is quite good (http://rankings.ft.com/businessschoolrankings/european-school-of-management-and-technology). Which one did you attend?

We should not forget that the Bologna Process meant that the German educational system had to reorganise itself and re-apply to the international accreditation bodies. Both the preparation for accreditation and the accreditation itself take each couple of years. So it might be a question of time more than a question of quality.
15:14 January 28, 2013 by puisoh
@smart -- 1000euros for 2 room apt, I assume you always have either mountain view, lake view of port view. Get real, c'mon!

@ ChrisR & Iwexcel -- it is self understood that an expat package is always more attractive than a local contract, but one has to qualify or earn it so to speak. Who in his right mind will choose a local package vs an expat's??

On this article, if an English Uni will so -called help to retain talents to work in Germany, does it mean business operations who wish to employ 'foreign-talent' will have to switch its operation language to English??

It is totally unrealistic ..
16:40 January 28, 2013 by lovemymac&cheez
Herr Hesselmann, completely agreed. " it would be a smart next step for Berlin to switch over one of its three large universities strictly to English, the lingua franca of our time. Not even Chinese or Spanish is unlikely to unseat English any time soon." Very impressive Herr Hesselmann, wunderbar. Na ja, we need more like you.

At ChrisRea... Christine Reachler, or whatever the name is... disagree with you on this- B2-C1 is more than sufficient to express yourself in a polite way. Again, it depends on the company, there are very old style conservative environments that will expect the same level of German as English, as if this were important for global business. I am sure mutterprachler Swahili is also mandatory someplace but would you really make everyone learn it?

wexcel - completely agree with you. Waste of time to invest going through the motions of tradition just to get half the pay.
17:40 January 28, 2013 by ChrisRea
@ lovemymac&cheez

"B2-C1 is more than sufficient to express yourself in a polite way. " - Of course, no doubt about it, they are enough for a polite conversation. But we are talking about doing business here and that means clearness, precision and speed. It is not the end of the world if you pick the wrong article or use the wrong Past Perfect tense. But if it takes an hour to write a readable e-mail, you are not very effective. Again, we are talking about professions that require an university degree. If you sell shoes (a very respectable job, please do not misunderstand me), B1 can get you through.
17:50 January 28, 2013 by wood artist
While the idea behind the story sounds interesting, from the comments it appears it may not be the problem some believe. That said, I found the picture more interesting.

Two things are apparent. First, no two people in the picture are on the same page in the book, which likely means very little. More interesting is that not a single student has a computer on their desk, which must mean the picture is OLD. In any US lecture hall, nearly every desk would have one.

17:59 January 28, 2013 by Bigfoot76
"The main obstacle is probably the language". Spoken with absolute certainty.

Maybe the main obstacle is the fact that it is Berlin. As noted in a previous story right here on our very own thelocal.de, maintaining your own cultural identity in Berlin is very frowned upon. They do not even like Germans from other parts of the country celebrating or taking part in events specific to their region in Berlin.

Either be a melting pot or do not be a melting pot. But do not criticize the foreigners you say you want to bring in when they maintain some of their heritage. Yes if you live in a country you should adapt to its culture but that does not mean completely giving up your own.
18:04 January 28, 2013 by smart2012
1000 euro warm for a 70 smq is in a shity place in a shity building. Mountain view in an altebau? Then prepare 2000 every month for rent
18:14 January 28, 2013 by drdoom
After certain age, it is difficult to learn new language and it is fact. And being English and German is from same root, it has blessing - easy to learn the basic level. The curse is it is too difficult to master both. I am from India and tried my best to learn German thrice. After the basic level, it became impossible to progress. I have to say ¦quot;enough¦quot;. For information I am not manual labor, I have Ph.d in chemistry.

More broadly entire Europe has to make a decision about second language. They can¦#39;t keep printing 20+ different languages for all member states in the EU meetings. For outsiders, English will be the preferable choice, but I guess Germans and French will be up in arms.
19:40 January 28, 2013 by Bigfoot76
Drdoom, I think either English or German would be the best choices for that universal EU language. German or languages that are very similar to German are already the official language of many countries in and out of the EU.

I say we should be a bit colorful and go with Bayrisch for the universal language or better yet Samoan. It is not a crazy idea, it is what a former boss of mine called "Edgy". lol
19:45 January 28, 2013 by Beachrider
Foreign language university formats abound in Europe. There are several in London and Paris. Extensive Spanish language and French language formats (not just the language itself) is at dozens of USA universities. McGill is a famous English-language university in Montreal. It really doesn't have to be no-German-whatsoever, though.

If the people of Germany are not receptive to foreign language format, then those opportunities will continue to steer to Paris, Amsterdam and London
20:01 January 28, 2013 by McM
No brainier, provincialism costs, domestic habits hamper progressive education.

If Germany was not so insecure it would have established such alternative business language institutes in major cities like Berlin long ago. There is room and scope for all. English language tools are essential international attributes in business and commerce. German preoccupation with and social intergration in this century is very quaint but certainly not too the only model for life on this planet.
01:57 January 29, 2013 by gorongoza
@ McM.

Say it as it is McM. Short and to the point ! No need for long comments with little weight.

Call a spade a spade. Excellent analysis.
02:57 January 29, 2013 by lenny van
This could be one of the most beneficial turning points in human history. If enough native English speakers immigrate to Germany to servive the English educational system, perhaps the German values will fade away and Englsh values will replace them. I wouldn't exactly call this genocide, but the world would be a much better place without Germans in it - more humane, compassionate, tolerant, caring, honest, honorable, humble, kind, forbearing, fun,relaxed, etc. etc.

Also, it would make it worth remaining a member of the European Union and the native English speakers in the world wouldn't have to be prepared to stop the Germans from trying to control the world a third time .

It's a long shot, but we for the sake of our children, we should support this idea.
03:08 January 29, 2013 by lovemymac&cheez
Bigfoot agreed, maintaining heritage is very important, regardless of how receptive the new culture is.

B2-C1 Christian Reatlinger: the whole debate was around brains coming to Germany, and assuming also qualified workforce:

Build exportable expert> 18-22 years of education+

lingua franca English> 3-5 years to master business level very optimistic+

official language German> 3-5 yrs to master basics- business level?

dialects spoken in street and office> unknown- even possible?

In the spirit of common understanding, how about the natives begin to speak the official language (B2 will suffice) and the foreigners can try to meet them halfway?
04:18 January 29, 2013 by berfel
German incomes are "depressed". For entrants at the bottom of the "middle" income scale, there take-home pay, after all the mandated deductions, is far from inviting. A scant 2400€ is left from 4000€ per month. Half of what is "taken home" goes in heating, electricity and rent. Commuting to and from work could cost around 300€/month; depending on tradeoffs between affordable rent, neighbourhoods and where one works.

A supply of sharp pencils could cost 5€ a month; essential for trying to budget in the face of surprises in the form of "arbitrary" local charges, etc. the extent of "mad money" could be 100€ or less per week. Which doesn't provide a lot of latitude for discretionary expenditure for personal enjoyment; while stimulating the economy.

Although Germany offers more than financial incentives; taking a "pay cut" compared to what other countires may be offering is a disincentive.

And while English is the lingua franca for dealings with international (and Bavarian :-) ) business partners; the language of the country is German. The German as uttered by bureaucrats is especially impenetrable for those with non-native language skills. Heck; I've helped "natives" understand the instructions on ticket machines; instructions seemingly written by people who must be paid by the syllable. The solution to that problem isn't to publish translations of all the rules, regulations and laws into 67 different languages. The nuances don't translate easily; if at all. Not even into English.
10:28 January 29, 2013 by mobaisch
its not language, its the skilled workers not being able to have a house, car, and enjoy a little bit of life.. skilled workers are not like germans, they want also to live while they are young, not waste their 30 years of youth on work and enjoy life after they are 60 years old.!!!!!

at least thats why i am leaving after finishing my PhD.
17:46 January 29, 2013 by lenny van
Correcting a typo. I meant "to service" the English educational system, not "survive" it. It would be correct to write "to survive the German educational system" though. What a stress-filled, no fun, nightmare that was for my children. They got their Abiturs, but at a great cost.
21:04 January 29, 2013 by ChrisRea
@ lovemymac&cheez #20

I understand your frustration caused by not mastering the language of the country. Especially if you come from a country that does not promote learning foreign languages. However, you cannot reasonably expect 80+ Mio. people to change their language only to suit what, maximum 100.000 potential immigrants?

If you are serious about learning German, 1,5 years are enough to reach C1 level (from A1) and still have time for a part-time job and family (I am talking about a real case that is not particularly gifted in regard to languages). So students spending at least 3 years in Germany have plenty of time to learn the language. Still, only 20% of them do this. So I would say that investing in more courses in English is a pretty inefficient way to attract skilled workers, contrary to the "romantic" view of the present article.
23:23 January 29, 2013 by yllusion
Not wanting to prolong the debate and repeat what was already said, I subscribe to what LecteurX said in the first comment. Foreigners like many of us don't have the right to demand conditions from any country that isn't our native country. If we don't like the rules, the doors are open, we don't have to stay. It is part of the challenges of life to adapt. A bit of work makes us give value to what we have achieved.

And I must say although I'm in the middle of an A2 german level only, this wasn't a barrier for my PhD in Bavaria. I came knowing 0 german. Everybody in my department talks in english with me without any problems. I'm the only foreigner in the group and because of me the meetings are held in english. And I even had to give lectures for a class of international masters students, from everywhere in the world, of course in english, as so do my other native colleagues. So there isn't such big language barrier, at least where I am, and there is a lot of exchange going on in the university.
02:49 January 30, 2013 by chicagolive
Its not a English University that is needed it is just that Germany does not fit the needs of what is out their. People are used as cheap labor, when you compare a salary of a person with a MBA in Germany with one in other Western Countries the differences are horrid. Why would a person stay here working at a bank making €3000 before taxes. Knowing that in other countries a person with a BA or worse, a high school diploma is taking home the exact same amount of money as you. They will not, I was thinking a few times to switch over to be under the German side to lower my wifes tax burden but I would lose half my pay while only gaining back 20% of hers. You don't attract talent like this, you can't get people to show up when Harvard has a larger endowment for research than the top 10 schools in Germany combined maybe even more. You want good talent you have to offer good wages. To the comment about apartment prices, I live in a okay Neighborhood with a Mountain view my rent is 1400(102qm) a month plus utilities bringing it to about 1600. I want to move to the other side of the street which is even nicer, but then rent jumps up by €500 for only moving 500 meters for the same size place.
19:03 January 30, 2013 by Beachrider
The presence of these schools should NOT be an adverse impact to German culture, but enable other cultures to freely send their youth to Germany for study.

Ultimately, these people tend to 'go home', but understand Germany better.

That is a good thing for Germany.

We have several dozen high schools and dozens of universities in the USA that do this. It is NOT a bad thing.
00:18 January 31, 2013 by gladwellmartin
@ ChrisRea

The question is what is the motivation to learn the language? What is the motivation to learn the language when I want to study German language I pay exorbitant fees? What is the motivation to learn the language when I apply for work although I know German I am discriminated against? What is the motivation to learn the language when my professor will always give German students good grades and foreign students bad grades? What is the motivation to learn the language when I greet my fellow classmates who are Germans or even dorm mates and they simply past by? What is the motivation to learn the language when I sit by a German in a train, bus or tram he or she simply stands up and find an alternative sit? What is the motivation to learn the language when during exams although the study program is in English, Germans are given preferential treatment to write the same exam in their mother tongue? What is the motivation to write the language? Tell me why I should learn it? What are the benefits?
12:15 January 31, 2013 by Palvasha von Hassell
It might or it might not...I think unless most Germans change the incredibly provincial and indoctrinated attitudes to foreigners, and generally become more savvy, less inclined to tell foreigners that they, the Germans, know them better than they do themselves, nothing will change. It will remain a barren place, materially well off, but that by no means is the most important thing in life.
14:12 January 31, 2013 by LocalKarsten
One should not forget that German Universities are publicly funded, as such the universities should in first place provide education to the German citizens. If providing English education aims to attract the smartest people to employ them in Germany, there also has to be an open position in the labor market. These open positions are so low in number that it gives no reason to change the system. What should we do with 1000 bachelor or master students if there are only positions for a few? One can also argue that it is the responsibility of companies to attract those few employees and hire them from abroad. This article is simply to broad to address all its argument. It simply is too much of a propagandistic wish list than a thought through argument. Sorry to read that the two guys in this article did not feel welcomed in Germany. Don't take it personal, I only met one person in my entire life who was welcomed like a star although she was a complete stranger. She was the first white person that landed on a cannibal island somewhen in the 60s.
20:05 January 31, 2013 by Beachrider
@local, no need to make stuff up about ALL german universities being publicly funded. They are NOT all publicly funded.

Wikipedia documents 83 private and 45 church-sponsored universities that are not funded by the German government. There are about 100 universities that ARE publicly funded in Germany.

This type of university is VERY likely to be private with no government funding. It would certainly have to pass German standards and MIGHT have German students in it, though.
22:36 January 31, 2013 by ChrisRea
@ gladwellmartin

First of all, I am sorry for your frustrating experiences. I guess many of us experienced such negative emotions when confronted with another country/culture.

Secondly, I thank you for vividly supporting my point with your personal case. Why should Germany spend more money on providing courses in English, when most of the students will not bother to learn enough German to be able to work in Germany, just like in your case?

My guess is that these financial resources are better used to expand the affordable German courses provided by Volkshochschule (1-1,5 Euro/hour, am I right?).
14:05 February 1, 2013 by lovemymac&cheez
@ Christine Reaperbling: Come on now, deep inside you are happy, our English language brings you one step closer to us.

@Gladwellmartin: Sadly, you are correct. Even if you do master the official language and speak fluently, if you have the slightest accent that shows you are not a "muttersprachler"/ native, you have no chance. And then you have to factor in the dialects.

Consider it years lost, or just a nice "additional language mastered" in your resume. Or, just some additional Euros in your pocket. Have fun in Germany, and don't take it too seriously.
14:59 February 1, 2013 by Karisu
The article is rediculous. Again, as I have seen so many times in this online newspaper, that the writers are not very knowledgeable about things. German is a very important language for business here in Europe, AND it is the most widely spoken language in Europe. And, what is wrong with that??? It seems some people have a problem with this?

If people want to live and study in a foreign country, they should learn the local language. I think it is rediculous that a special English-only university should be made just to make it easier for foreign students.

If I were to go and study in a foreign country I would make a big effort to learn the local language. Others should do so too. For example, if I am gong to study in France, I will learn French!! If people are to lazy to make the effor to learn a foreign language, it's their fault! And believe me there are a lot of lazy students out there who expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter. But to expect that a culture should restructure itself to meet the demands of globalization, is wrong in my opinion. If people are not willing to learn the local language, then what the h___ are they doing there? English is not the native language of Germany, of France, of Italy, of Spain, Denmark, Poland, etc--and in no way should an English-only curriculum be forced upon a university in any European country. If a university wants to offer some courses in English, that's fine, I have no problem with that.

In my opinion, this is just another example of how the globalization-machine is trying to destory local cultures and erase local languages.
21:20 February 1, 2013 by Beachrider
Well if you just don't believe that it would be privately funded, then there is NO convincing you, and I won't try...

With a privately funded school, students from other countries could attend class in their native language while off-hours time is spent in Germany. They would need to be at least conversant in German to enjoy the country. I suppose that some might just isolate themselves to the campus, though.

Students from Germany might do this as a first-step to investigating going to school in another country.

In any event, it is a culture exposure that other key European countries have been doing for many years. The Ukrainians have had one in Germany for 50 years. We are just talking about doing it in Berlin...
12:18 February 2, 2013 by ChrisRea
@ Beachrider

Freie Universität Berlin offers courses in English since the '60s.
17:34 February 6, 2013 by leuteleute
Nice Recommendations Beachrider, the problem with our students in Germany they are not enjoying what foreighn students who are coming here ( mostly free uni, tax payers funded ) . Its nice to say enjoying other countries culture while studying as long as ist is free.
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