“Different countries, different habits“ is a saying that we have in Germany. But I found that you have similar sayings in English as well. This might already indicate that there are of course also many similarities between German and American social life.
Obviously the life of a student does differ a lot from the life of somebody who is working. Sleeping in, partying three times a week and the reputation of not actually having a daily routine are cliches German students are often confronted with. That of course is not true for everybody! Students usually have around 18 to 25 hours of classes a week plus additional studying by themselves. One seminar or lecture is 90 minutes long. At German universities people speak about the “academical quarter“ that you have between lectures which always start a quarter past and end a quarter to, so students and lecturers have enough time in between to get from one place to another. We do have a couple of campus universities in Germany, but in traditional student cities (like Münster, the city where I come from) the different departments are not grouped together but distributed over the whole city.
For students it is common to meet with friends for lunch at the “Mensa“, that is the place where students can get substantial and cheap meals that help to keep their brains working. In Germany most people eat only one warm dish a day usually around lunch time between twelve and two o’clock. In families with school children (school ends around 1pm) the family meets at home and sits around the table to eat together (provided that the parents, or at least one of them is at home). For breakfast and dinner, bread and German rolls (we have around 700 different kinds of bread and lots of bakeries in every city where you can buy fresh bread) are an essential element of the meal. The German word for dinner “Abendbrot” literally translated meaning “evening bread” even includes the word “bread”. For a proper “Abendbrot” you can put butter, sausage, cheese and other kinds of toppings on the bread. I think that those times when the family gets together and eats are very valuable, and are often the only times during the day when the whole family is together because during the day every family member has his/her duties and occupations. Working in a full-time job means at least 8 hours of work a day. Depending on the job it is sometimes more. That is why the little time a family shares together becomes so valuable.
After this little explanation about eating habits, back to the student’s life. Besides meeting friends at the “Mensa“ it is also very common to meet friends for coffee in a cozy student cafe between the lectures or seminars. Usually students do not have to hand in homework for their classes, but towards the end of the semester they have to hand in papers and write their exams. Thus the beginning of the semester is often much more relaxed than the end of the semester. Young people use their time to socialize with friends and do sports or other activities. Also, many students work besides studying to be able to pay for their daily life expenses. At the end of the semester everybody is stressed out and that is why you can find many end-of-the-semester-parties when the exams are over. Since you are allowed to go to bars and clubs at the age of 16 or 18 in Germany that is of course something many students like to do. Germany has a so called “Kneipenkultur” (bar culture) meaning that in most cities you can find a lot of bars. Many of them offer a special flair and atmosphere. In Münster’s old city for example there are several streets that have one bar next to another. In Münster, Wednesday is known as the student’s partying day and all bars and clubs are opened that day and offer entertaining events.
When comparing Willamette to my home university I would say that studying at Willamette feels much more as being part of a community than studying back home. Especially at big universities, one might sometimes feel anonymous. We do not have student clubs and also sports play a less important role. In Germany young people organize their free-time apart from university life. University is only connected with studying and going to classes. Hobbies and free-time activities students plan for themselves and are separate from university life. It is different from here, but it works out well too!