In the US, the university provides students with millions of opportunities to meet and greet, to get to know each other in a nice little bubble of safety, such as orientation week. After getting here to Germany, I quickly learned you have to be a lot more proactive if you want to meet your fellow students outside of the classroom. So here’s a quick list of what to expect for anyone planning on coming to Germany for school.
First of all, find the Fachschaft. The Fachschaft literally means all the students which study a certain subject. In reality, it’s a group of students who regularly meet to plan and carry out activities and events as well as serve as an unofficial liaison between students and faculty. Some Fachschaft’s have elected leaders but anyone can join who studies the subject. You can find information about the Fachschaft on the internet, generally on the webpage of the department you will be studying in. Alternatively, you can often ask at the administration office for the department you are studying in, or give it a try at the AAA (akademisches Auslandsamt, or International student office). The Fachschaft holds regular meetings you can attend to meet other people in your area of study. Important ways you can get involved are helping to organize parties or informational materials for other students. Lots of Fachschafts also hold their own orientations for new students in the first week of classes, so you want to contact them as soon as possible.
Which leads to the next stop, the AAA itself. The international student office will often organize activities, especially at the start of the semester, for international students and those wishing to meet some. If you walk into the office, you will probably see several posters advertising activities, but if in doubt be sure to ask around.
Unfortunately, there generally isn’t the bounty of clubs (Vereine) offered at American universities, but there are a few options to meet other people with similar interests. Just walking around the university, you will see several pinboards with papers advertising all sorts of things. These pinboards are incredibly useful, you can find them by asking where the schwarzes Brett is. Along with apartments, jobs, things for sale and wanted, you can often find ads from clubs in and around the university. Another alternative is to search out the religious clubs you can find at the university — most commonly these are either the Evangelische or the Katholische Studentengemeinde (for evangelical or catholic student organisation). These two branches often have offices near the university and hold regular meetings and get-togethers.
Another area to check out is sports. Universities have Hochschulsport, which is open to all university students and offers a huge selection of things to try out. You can generally find the link to Hochschulsport (also called Unisport or Campussport) on the university’s webpage. Sometimes you can even sign up to use the university fitness center, though this isn’t as built up as in the US. Also, you generally aren’t going to find games between universities except in special circumstances.
With all that said, huge differences in the German student social scene are created by the fact that alcohol is legal from a far younger age in Germany. This means that going to clubs and bars is completely normal and hanging out with friends are going to include alcohol in some form or another. Even the school cafeteria offers beer to go with your lunch! This means German students have a lot more freedom when it comes to meeting up and going out than American students. This is reflected in pub-crawls, student parties, and general tolerance towards beer or wine anywhere on the university campus.