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Dr Lilly Meme (left) and her colleagues at work / Photo: Private

“Life in Germany has instilled in me the precious virtue of punctuality,” says Lilly Meme, Medical doctor

I am a 31-year-old Kenyan. I left my home country more than twelve years ago, six months after I completed my secondary education. My initial reason for coming to Germany was my interest in the German language. Since I had already learnt it for four years in my secondary school, I wanted to further my skills before I embarked on my tertiary education. So, in 2004, I found a host family in the Black Forest and was able to learn the language in private schools as well as the cheaper ‘Volkshochschule’ [adult education centre].

Even before I came to this country I was fascinated by the efficiency and perfection of the country’s products in terms of technology, the automobile industry and science. Although I had learnt, theoretically, a few aspects of their culture in my German lessons, I didn’t really know what to expect from the Germans. If anything, I was rather afraid of confrontations with xenophobic individuals or even “Nazis”. On arrival I almost forgot all the prejudice since I noticed, even from just short encounters, how friendly people were. Sadly, it was hard to make friends with young German adults of my age. Eventually, out of loneliness, I ended up with much older friends, mainly neighbours and foreigners like me.

One aspect I could not stop marvelling at was the transport system – so fast, stress-free, punctual and reliable, unlike what I was used to. I still like it.

After about six months I realised that I was coping with everything quite well and was getting confident with the German language as well, so I decided to apply for a place in medical school since it was what I wanted to study, even back at home. I was accepted in several medical schools, so I chose to join the medical school of University of Heidelberg, from which I graduated at the end of last year. Now I am a doctor and look forward to start working in the field of surgery soon.

I see German society as one in which you can flower easily provided that you have a reliable social background in terms of family and/or friends as well as a clear idea of what you want to do. It is a society in which you have a lot of freedom in all aspects of life.

German society’s acceptance of foreigners is, in my opinion, on the verge of changing despite the turmoil that comes up now and then.. Despite all this, you can have a wonderful life and make great German friends who accept your descent, looks, culture and opinions.

Life in Germany has instilled in me the precious virtue of punctuality – not that it was absolutely absent, but I think it’s evidently something that many foreigners can learn from German society. Not forgetting the spirit of hard work, discipline as well as independence, depending solely on your capability as much as possible.

All in all, I have had challenging and beautiful moments in Germany and always love to think back, for instance, to the day I moved into the student hostel in Heidelberg and had to pay my bills myself. I also hold on to the fresh memories of my graduation day in the presence of my family. Since not all was as beautiful, I dread to remember all the unpleasant days I had to report to different foreigners’ offices for visa extensions and when the esteemed officials seemed to understand almost nothing of whatever I said.

The typical problems or rather challenges that African students encounter in Germany have to do with inability to consider themselves as capable as the rest of the students in class. It is true that, depending on how long one has learnt the language, there are always difficulties expressing oneself at the beginning of the studies but with time one catches up. This is mostly interpreted by many fellow students and lecturers as being less smart and, as they like saying, our past education in Africa is not ‘good enough’ to prepare a student for studies.

Now the problem comes in when a student assumes the role and lives it.

So for students aspiring to study in Germany, it’s advisable to learn the language while they prepare to apply for a place at the different universities. The application process is easy since for most universities nowadays all this can be done online. Being aware of the challenges that have been touched on here would help one a lot through their studies.

In my opinion, living outside the country of your birth broadens your horizon, no matter which foreign country it is. You come to learn and understand other cultures and it changes the way you view different challenges in life. Personally, I still intend to live in this country for a few more years for reasons of my career.

Dr Meme lives in Heidelberg