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Studying in Germany: These are the words you need to know

We break down the words you need to know when starting your studies in Germany, whether it's your first day or you're well into the semester.

Studying in Germany: These are the words you need to know
Archive photo shows students at the University of Jena. Photo: DPA

Settling into student life can often involve a lot of admin, and Germany universities’ love affair with having physical copies of every document may leave you drowning in paperwork.

Knowing the basic vocabulary you are bound to encounter on arrival – whether physically or virtually amid the pandemic – at your host university will remove some of the stress from your first few weeks.

Sich immatrikulieren 

Let’s start at the very beginning. The phrase sich immatrikulieren, close to the English matriculate, means to enrol yourself at your new university. This is something you will likely have to do before you even step foot in Germany and is definitely not a step you can skip. Remember to check how you should go about enrolling at your host institution well in advance of arrival. 

READ ALSO: Studying in Germany: Seven unusual academic traditions

Die Immatrikulationsbescheinigung 

At German universities you will find you need a Bescheinigung (certificate) for almost everything, so this is not a term you should forget. The Immatrikulierungsbescheinigung is your certificate of enrolment. It is good to keep this to hand as you may have to present it to receive funding such as an Erasmus grant. 

Sich anmelden

This phrase means to enrol yourself, or register for something and is generally used when signing up for teaching modules in Germany. Very little of the enrolment process is handled by your subject faculty and in many cases you will be solely responsible for registering for each individual class you want to take, as well as making sure they fit well into your timetable – look out for the ‘sich anmelden’ button on your university’s online learning portal.   

Das Semesterticket 

This is something you will want to make the most of during your time in Germany. The Semesterticket, often doubling as your student ID or library card, entitles you to travel for free across the region you are living in. Your university website will usually include information on the exact boundaries of the travel area, but the pass is generally valid for all regional transport links within your city and its surroundings. 

Die Vorlesungszeit

The concept of a holiday or vacation period does not really exist in the German education system and instead the calendar is split into die Vorlesungszeit (lecture period) and die vorlesungsfreie Zeit (non-lecture period). During the months where there is no teaching, you may still have coursework deadlines or online/in-person exams. There is some time for rest, but don’t get too carried away by the holiday spirit!

READ ALSO: Studying in Germany – nine very compelling reasons to do it

Die Mensa 

This is perhaps the most important piece of vocabulary you will need to get to grips with. The Mensa is your university canteen or cafeteria, and will often serve food for every meal of the day. It is worth making use of this as at most universities you can buy a whole meal for under €3.

                              University of Cologne’s Mensa. Photo: DPA

Here are some other useful terms you may come across:

die Kommilitonen – classmates/fellow students

der Dozent/die Dozentin – tutor/lecturer

das Seminar – seminar

die Vorlesung – lecture

die Bibliothek – library

die Klausur – exam

das Referat – oral presentation

der Hörsaal – lecture hall

das Hochschulbüro für Internationales – university international office

der BAföG – government loan system for German students

ECTS Kredite – international system for module accreditation. These credits can then be converted into your home country’s own credit system

die Pflichtleistung – compulsory coursework

belegen – to take (a class)

absolvieren – to pass

sich exmatrikulieren – to de-register

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7 things to know about visiting a doctor in Germany

Going to the doctor when you're living abroad is a necessary part of life, but it can feel a little daunting. Here are some cultural quirks to look out for in Germany.

7 things to know about visiting a doctor in Germany

Germany is known for having one of the best healthcare systems in the world. 

But there are some cultural differences that can take a bit of getting used to when you’re not from the country. 

Here’s a look at what you should keep in mind. 

You might have to pay at the doctor

People used to a healthcare system that’s free at the point of contact, such as the NHS in the UK, may be a little confused if they are asked to pay money at a doctor’s appointment. 

But the fact is that certain things will not be covered by your health insurance in Germany, and some optional extras could require that you have to dip into your wallet. 

For instance, many gynaecologists may offer to carry out an optional pelvic ultrasound check during a Pap smear test. If it’s not covered by your insurance, they will state in the appointment that it is an extra cost so you can decide if you want to pay for it or not. 

You should also ask if you have to pay for it upfront at the practice or if it will be sent out as a bill. 

Similarly, other specialists may also offer extra services that you could pay extra for. 

READ ALSO: ‘It works’: Your verdict on the German healthcare system

You’ll get different types of prescriptions

Another point to watch out for is that there are different kinds of prescriptions. A prescription (Rezept) given out on pink slips is usually given to people on statutory health insurance. People have to pay a reduced contribution – usually around €5-€10 – when picking up prescription medicine at the pharmacy. 

Patients with private insurance in Germany are more likely to be given a blue-coloured prescription slip. Private customers have to pay for their medicines in full before their insurance company reimburses them. You can also be given a blue slip if your public health insurance doesn’t cover the treatment.

Green slips include treatment that the doctor recommends. Meanwhile, yellow prescriptions are issued by the doctor for special controlled substances and are only valid for seven days. 

Polite waiting room etiquette

Germans may not be well known for being super friendly. But there are a few unexpected spots which are very welcoming. And one of those places is the doctor’s waiting room. 

Yes, it can be very surprising for foreigners when they are greeted with a little “Guten Morgen!” or “hallo!” in the waiting room when someone arrives. It’s customary for patients to give a polite hello and goodbye in the waiting room.

A person being vaccinated against Covid-19 in Hamburg in 2021.

A person being vaccinated against Covid-19 in Hamburg in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

… But you may face a stern receptionist or doctor

Ask a group of international residents about their experience of going to the doctor in Germany – or indeed other German-speaking countries – and you will likely hear about how the bedside manner is “different”.

This is because some doctors, and even receptionists, have a stern and direct approach when dealing with patients, which can be intimidating for newcomers to the country.

It can also be a little weird if you have to take some clothes off for an examination. You probably won’t be handed a gown, towel or even asked to undress behind a curtain. Everything is out in the open in Germany!  

Don’t worry though – none of this is personal. It’s just a different way of doing things. 

If you do come across a grumpy doctor, the best way to handle it is to either accept it or find a different doctor.

Be prepared to wait

Most Hausarzt (GP) practices in Germany operate on a drop-in basis during set times, known as Sprechstunden (consultation hours).

This means you can simply pop in during a two or three-hour window. During these times, it’s also first-come, first-served.

The advantage of this system is that it’s possible to see a doctor, for example, on a Wednesday morning without an appointment, as long as you have time to wait.

But if you are in a rush, or have a strict schedule, then the drop-in approach can be time-consuming. Depending on when you arrive, it could mean a short wait of several minutes or up to an hour.

The best advice is to arrive just as the doors open to secure a place near the top of the queue.

You can also book an appointment or Termin. But even if you book, you’ll probably still face a wait of at least 15 minutes. 

You are usually referred to a specialist

In Germany, if you are covered by public health insurance, you usually have to visit a GP to be referred to a specialist doctor.

There are exceptions in some cases, such as for gynaecologists and ophthalmologists where you can make an appointment without a referral.

If you have private insurance you can book appointments with specialists more easily.

READ ALSO: How to get a faster appointment with a specialist in Germany

Visit (or call) a GP for a sick note

If you’re sick from work then you have to get a sick note – Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung or Krankschreibung – after three days of illness to give to your employer. Some bosses may require this sick note earlier, so check your contract or ask HR. 

Generally, you have to visit your doctor to get this document. But during the pandemic, people have been able to get a sick note over the phone from their GP for mild respiratory illnesses, including Covid-19. 

READ ALSO: The 10 rules you need to know if you fall ill in Germany