Francisco, doctoral candidate (Mexico)

"Germans attach great importance to friendships."

Your great-grandfather emigrated from Germany to Mexico. So for you, coming to Germany meant retracing your roots. Do you find Germans to be what you expected?

Friends in Mexico always said that Germans were like a bar of Ritter Sport chocolate: “square, practical, good” – in other words, very sensible, disciplined and goal-oriented. Since I’ve been in Germany, I’ve discovered that there’s much more to them than that. It’s true, for example, that there are a lot of rules in Germany, but I’ve been surprised to discover that they’re not always taken so seriously. Shortly after I arrived here, I had a minor collision with another car. I expected the other driver to call the police. Instead, he invited me for a cup of coffee and suggested that in the future, I should be more careful when making a turn. He wasn’t particularly concerned about the scratches on his vehicle.

And what has been your impression of people otherwise?

At first I had to take the initiative if I wanted to meet people. But I’ve been able to develop some close friendships – and friendships are very important to Germans, too. I can really count on the friends I’ve made here. One of them helped me a lot when I was moving, for example. He knew that I didn’t have a driver’s license, so he drove the van. He also helped me carry things. And it’s not just my closest friends who have gone out of their way to help me. One time I was sick and asked a colleague to let my boss know that I couldn’t come to work. He offered to drive me to the doctor’s office, and later on he continued to check on me, making sure that I was okay.

Although you have German ancestors, you were born and raised in Mexico. What traditions and strengths have you brought with you?

(He laughs.) Actually, I’ve done a pretty good job of adapting to my new environment. I’ve even come to like dark bread, which wasn’t true at all when I was a child. Seriously, though – many people associate Mexico with partying, the desert and siestas. I’ve been able to show my friends another side of Mexico, which Germans find surprising: We have a different way of approaching a challenge. We’ll rarely say, “No, I can’t do that, I don’t know how.” Our first response is “Yes, of course, I’ll do it.” And then we try to find a way to solve the problem. I’ve often found this approach to be helpful in my doctoral studies. In my research group, for example, a piece of equipment will sometimes break. Being able to improvise allows me to respond quickly so that the experiment can continue.

How do Mexicans view Germany as a place for scientific exploration and research?

Mexicans have always regarded German standards as a sign of quality, and of course we have great respect for German science as well. I’ve discovered that Germans conduct research just as they approach other areas of their lives: They don’t make up their minds until they have gathered all of the necessary information. In research, this means that they wait to publish the results of a research project until they have conducted a series of experiments and thoroughly reviewed their findings. All of this makes Germany a very attractive place to study.

Do many people in Mexico share your views about Germany?

Many people today are more interested in studying in Germany than in the United States, despite the proximity of the U.S. and the issue of language. The 2006 World Cup had a lot to do with this change. A large number of Mexicans were in Germany for the World Cup and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They found people to be incredibly nice, relaxed and friendly. Almost 20 years after its reunification, it was the second time Germany presented itself to the world in such a positive way. This has led many young Mexicans to decide to go to Germany.

You mentioned that Germany offers a favorable cost-benefit ratio. What do you mean by that?

Studying in Germany has a lot of benefits, such as certain kinds of security and freedom. Social insurance is affordable for students, and it includes comprehensive medical coverage. In addition, students have quite a bit of free time during semester breaks. That gives them a chance to pursue their interests in greater depth or take on an intriguing internship. And there’s a huge range of available courses. In Berlin, I have the option of taking science courses at three different universities. All of these benefits are available at relatively low cost; tuition, for example, is relatively inexpensive. In Germany, I pay no more for fees and living expenses than I would in Mexico just for the tuition at a private university.

What has the experience of making your way in a new country meant for you as a person?

Coming to Germany has given me a chance to try something new. In Mexico, I would have been living with my parents during my studies, since it would have been too expensive to rent my own apartment. Living independently, far from home, has taught me to take responsibility for myself. As my brother always says, “At home, the toilet paper roll never runs out.” That’s not true when you have your own apartment, and here my refrigerator stays empty unless I do the shopping. These are the little things that I’ve learned to appreciate. It’s part of German culture for young people to be independent. They leave home as soon as possible. Living along was a good experience for me. But now my girlfriend and I have moved in together.

Do the two of you plan to stay in Germany?

We don’t know yet. Our families have been supportive of our decision to spend time abroad, but we miss them, of course. On the other hand, our job prospects here are really good. I’m very likely to find employment. My girlfriend is enjoying her job as a graphic designer, and people appreciate her work. We’ll see what opportunities arise and then we’ll decide.

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