Living in Cottbus as an International Student

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I am thinking of moving to Cottbus in September (possibly before) for a master's program at BTU-Cottbus. I've been accepted to a unique program that involves spending a semester or two there, and combined with limited job prospects, I think this just might be my ticket to Germany.

 

Now, normally this is not an issue I am worried about, but a few people (all German) have mentioned to me that I might have a difficult time with racism there. I'm fine with not having anyone look like me around (Asian), but if violence or open hostility are what's in store, I would certainly like to know before making my final decision.

 

I am also wondering about what it is like to live there, especially as an international student. Do most students that go to BTU live in Cottbus? Are a lot of them from around the area? Are there stores and/or restaurants for international food in and around town? Is it more of a university town, or will I be able to meet some non-students?

 

Any comments and advice on Cottbus, the school, etc., is appreciated.

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Interesting, when I was choosing which school to go to, it was between TU Cottbus or TU Ilmenau. Small world, I guess. I could see why your German friends would caution you about Brandenburg. If I'm not mistaken, the NPD has had better success there in elections in former East German states compared to the Western states. Although I'm curious, do you know if they're Wessis? Heheh...

 

While I don't know the exact specifics of how things are in Cottbus, I can tell you my experiences so far as an Asian living in Ilmenau, Thüringen (a village compared to Cottbus' 101k population, but both former glorious DDR) and maybe you can draw parallels from them, or not, your choice.

 

I've had schoolkids give me a peace sign while they drive by in their cars, and I've had schoolkids bark like dogs as we pass each other in the street (still don't quite understand that). I've had people stare at me as I enter pubs, and I've had a young German guy (teenager or older) call me Jackie Chan as I walked past him in the street. Most Germans see me and think that I'm Chinese, and apparently even the Chinese people. I've had a few instances where a Chinese student would come up to me and ask me something in Chinese, only to be appalled by the fact that I don't understand them.

 

All in all, in the one and a half year I've been here, I've yet to experience actual violence or unveiled hostility directed towards me, and personally I've never felt like my personal safe-being is threatened (*knock on wood*). Yes, there have been some instances where I hear a comment from my German friends that would immediately raise a red flag back home, but I normally just shrug it off and talk with them afterwards about it in private.

 

Just be open and friendly towards people, ignore the idiots and keep the friendly ones. You may or may not have to grow a thicker skin than you would usually. It helps if you don't force to speak English to everyone you come across, as you'd be surprised how much more open someone can be when they know they don't have to speak to you in a foreign tongue. My German is still crap, but I get by enough to survive in small conversations. My experience with meeting non-students is basically to join the local Sportverein. In fact, I have to admit I don't know any other non-Uni related Germans in Ilmenau outside of the sports club that I'm in. Sure, my barber knows me by now but I wouldn't necessarily invite him over for a beer or two (although maybe I should, to get a free haircut or two).

 

Also, don't bother with "international" restaurants in Germany. Most of the food they'll serve is quite sweet and bland, nothing compared to what we get back home, so get your fixings as much as you can before you leave and do learn how to cook them! Buying the ingredients and making the dishes yourself would not only taste 100 times better, but it would also help you make more friends when you invite people over for food.

 

You've mentioned that you've been with a German guy and have visited Germany before, so I don't think the culture shock would that much stronger from what you experienced. Maybe he can help you with the transition better than anybody can, after all he also had to make similar adjustments when he's in our playground, no?

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noumed-

 

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with me. While it seems like the degree of annoyance might be higher in Cottbus than other places I've lived in, I think you are right about being friendly to people and keeping an open mind. Berlin is the closest I've gotten to the former DDR, and I'm actually excited about getting to experience it first-hand. I also think living somewhere without too many English speakers can do my German some good.

 

I've had enough bad experiences with "international" food in Germany in the limited time I've spent there, but a friend of mine was raving about an amazing Chinese restaurant he found in Dresden by chance years ago (they even used Sichuan peppers!), so I thought maybe... I'd be happy enough to find a place with ingredients I can take home to cook myself - I assume you had luck in finding these places then? Oh, and while we are on the topic of food, what are some regional specialties of Brandenburg?

 

I'll be on my own in Cottbus (if I decide on heading there) so the boy won't be of too much help directly. Cottbus is a bit further away from where he is than I would've liked, but I want to make sure I have my own life carved out in Germany and my German is up to speed before taking the next step with him. Going from getting on the plane to see each other to getting on the train or a car is quite an upgrade, so I can't really complain :)

 

Good luck with your studies in Thüringen. Thanks again!

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Chai, I grew up in the area, have family in Cottbus and am German but honestly somebody would have to give me a serious chunk of money to move to Cottbus.

 

Not sure you speak German, if not try translate with google or so: http://www.lr-online.de/politik/Tagesthemen-Rechte-Gewalt-nimmt-in-Cottbus-zu;art1065,2899862

Things are changing maybe, only last few weeks a couple of very sucessful anti-fa demos took place in the larger East German cities but Cottbus is also known for a rather infamous hells angels gang with right tendencies plus the fact being close to the border with Poland seeing an increase in theft type crimes the situation there is still a tense one.

 

Having said that, I will ask my cousin over the weekend for some inside, she works at the canteen (mensa) of the university and is married to a serbian, will post her feedback to you next week.

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msfran,

Thank you for your insights. I'm officially scared... The article says one of the protesters was even form BTU- Cottbus?

I look forward to the insider's feedback from your cousin. Thanks!

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I also studied in Brandenburg, but in Frankfurt (Oder) and did not have any problems and think that it is a great place to study. On the other hand, I only found out after I got there that the city had a terrible (and as far as I am concerned unjustified) reputation.

 

Last year, I participated in a seminar about migration in Cottbus and met many African students studying there. I was very surprised when one girl from Cameroon said that she was not really accepted by her (German) classmates and that they for example never wanted to be in her group. I spoke with her later about her experiences and she pointed out that she was doing a bachelors degree and many of her classmates were around 20 and have probably never left the country. She was much more understanding than I would have been in her shoes and felt it wasn’t malicious, but rather a consequence of their youth and ignorance.

 

A few of the students also commented that there was/is a professor there who made some rather disparaging remarks about foreign students during a lecture. I can’t remember what was allegedly said, but I remember being surprised that there were no consequences for him. The students did not seem to be a bunch of whiners and I am personally inclined to believe them, however, I wasn’t there and have no personal experience to offer.

 

What are you planning on studying in Cottbus?

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Thank you, engelchen!

A seminar about migration - at least they seem to recognize the problem and are working on it?

Quite shocking about the professor not getting into trouble for such behavior.

I just sent you a PM.

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Hi Chai,

 

Just spoke with my cousin, as said she works at the uni's Mensa and she said (as much as a German person can judge it) that she sees the foreign students there being quiet happy. She said there are people there from all over the world and "colour" and they all seem to enjoy there time there.

 

The "wohnheim" (student accom.) is just opposite to the uni so no big adventures with busses or trams required, the students not from Germany usually build groups, have pot-luck (cooking for each other) evenings together, have social type clubs or organise other events together.

 

It does sound a bit like what engelchen said that you will likely see a bit of German vs. Non-German type cliques but I guess thats the same everywhere in the world.

 

My cousin would also consider a foreigner as being safe from attacks, sure there are exceptions but again, nothing specific to Cottbus. The city is doing a lot to promote the university to grow, since the wall fell in 89 the city lost more than 21.000 residents and had dropped below the 100.000 mark. Thanks to the students it went over this mark again and to keep this up is running programs to attract more students because every “resident” means government money to the city/region plus it also generates more employment opportunities.

 

Bottom line input from my cousin: Go for it!

But again, that’s from a “white” German lady who works there rather than studies….

 

If its for one or two semesters I would give it a go at least, good luck and best wishes!!!

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Hi msfran,

 

Thank you for the update! You are so kind to reach out to your cousin to help out a stranger.

I think I will give it a go :)

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I'm a white American living in Cottbus since Oct 2010 (so 6 months). I'm here for my Masters so I'll be here another 3 semesters. I live in a apartment with a German and two Iranians. I'd say half my friends are German and the others from all over the place. We all really like it here. None of my non-white friends have ever complained about racism, and I don't recall seeing any of that personally either. I find the people here really nice and I have no problem with the city itself. It's admitedly not known for being a beautiful city among Germans, but like my friends and I say (Germans and non-Germans!), "Cottbus is surprisingly pretty!"

 

All in all, I think any city is a toss-up. You experience anywhere is going to be determined by the people you meet and the friendships you develop. There's no reason why you couldn't make yourself at home in Cottbus for a while. I don't one minute regret my decision to come here! If you're curious what the city looks like, I've done some vlogging since I've been here. Some of these videos are downright embarassing for me, but if it helps you, then it was worth sharing it: http://www.youtube.com/user/ComeClarity999

 

Peace

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Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and the videos with me. I don't think I'll get a chance to visit before moving there, so it was nice to get a feeling for what the city looks like.

 

 

All in all, I think any city is a toss-up. You experience anywhere is going to be determined by the people you meet and the friendships you develop.

I totally agree with you. I just wanted to make sure random acts of violence of hostility because of the way I look were not something I had to worry about, as there's not much I can do about that. It seems like that's not the case.

 

Cheers!

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Hey,

 

I applied to Cottbus too though I did have concerns about racism. All my German friends told me not to go there! Then I found some blog that was going on and on about racism which made me slightly paranoid. I'm glad I found this topic and got a much more balanced view.

 

I watched a few of the videos and got a feel of how Cottbus is like as well. Thanks for sharing!

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@ comeclarity, I was thinking about this for a bit but having just been visiting my cousin in Cottbus last Sunday this post here came back to my mind and especially your input. Now me being a "white German" having lived in Ireland for a couple of years and worked on and off in the US too I would not consider myself that well travelled but I think I do understand that in most of our western societies racism is primarily aired towards people who tend to first of all look different than the rest of us, ie. being a white American in Cottbus or a white German in Ireland does not really give a healthy perspective of what life is at a place for somebody with - for example Asian background?

 

Secondly I did look at your videos, not all I admit and again they may not necessary represent your entire social experience in Cottbus but I did not see a lot of rainbow coloured people in your clips?

 

In every society there are different degrees of racism and far worse, the person who is the "target" of it often even ends up rating it milder than the observer even. I for example felt more pain in the racism towards my hubby in Ireland though nobody ever made a direct racist comment towards him directly then he would ever acknowledge. If a taxi driver stops talking to the girl coming from the great Germany when after asking the obligatory (short version):

- so where are you from?

- Germany!

- you live here long?

- xx years!

- so you met a nice Irish man then?

- No!

- So a German fellow?

- No, my OH is from Algeria!

- Nigeria?

- No - ALGERIA!

- Oh, I know this guy from Nigeria...

 

Or if she is forced to keep her maiden name at work since working with a team from Israel (even been told that by same colleagues to work under her family name would be career suicide) or, in my home village in Brandenburg being told "what, you could not find a German husband?" then - even my OH did not get stabbed with a knife - is that not still racism?

 

Now to chai and sylai, the "good news" is that East Germany has a long build history with people of Asian background from the old GDR days (work/ student exchange programs), today there are many many people still living in East Germany, most I think working in service type jobs or owning their own shops or market stalls or restaurants. I know this may sound very bad and by all means this is an observation and not my personal view or attitude but I think Germans as most European seem to acknowledge Asian people the easiest. God I hope I dont end up being nailed to the cross here, again - this is an observation, not my personal view and may be wrong but I have seen this in Ireland too, I think Europeans see Asians as quiet, hard working, low crime associated and least threatening and therefore the easiest to be simply ignored????

 

So what am I trying to say here? If you look different, talk different, hell dress different as the rest of the people around you - you will end up being dealt with different. A Punk in Munich or a Nazi in Neukoeln, a white person in Africa or a black person in the east German pampa, you ought to expect to be standing out, a little or a lot. If there are two, ten or a hundred of "you" then things become easier but you may end up becoming a fraction of that what can be grouped into a definable part of society rather than an individual being. That makes it safe to be but does it make happy?

As said, I was just back there on Sunday, its home to my cousin and her family, her OH being Serbian and feeling happily at home there - they reassured it is safe to life there, I guess it is but I just dont know if its THE place for multi culti just yet?!

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Hi Franram,

 

I get what you're trying to say. I studied in England for 6 months and I have encountered some instances of racism there, people not wanting to work with me in school or people driving by and shouting really awful things. Racism is alive everywhere and I will have to deal with it. The fear I had was that it would be of a more violent nature in Cottbus. I did consider picking other universities that are much more attractive in terms of reputation and the surroundings but Cottbus has the most ideal program for me. I did speak to a few European friends who told me that Asians are generally just ignored. Talked to my German language teacher about this and she said the same thing. I think the bit you said about Asians being seen as more low key and hardworking does have something to do with it since they're not viewed as a threat. I guess that is another form of racism but as long as it's not violent, I'm quite happy haha. It will definitely be an experience if I get into Cottbus and actually move there for a while. Thanks a lot for your input!

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I'm an International student in BTU-Cottbus since last September , and I'm really enjoying my life here. I can say that is a student-town here , everywhere you go in the City you can meet your friends , the local are friendly , medical service also great.

 

So far i don't see any racist problem in here, is peaceful compare with Berlin. Student apartment is just across the street and Mensa , means by 2 minutes walking you can reach the uni-area. It's really convenient here, but you have to apply the student dorm real early , in case you don't get a place here if you apply too late. The German student sis willing to be your friends and they are very helpful if you need any helps .

 

I'm taking INternational program so all my colleagues are from different countries and we can be good friends and hang out well! The student life is amazing here , almost once in a week they will be some party going on in the uni. The Mensa (canteen) also selling the food with reasonable price , 1.5 euro - 3 euro per meal for different varieties. But if you prefer to cook then you can just go to the nearby groceries shop (REWE,Edeka) to get it. Within 15 minutes walk you can reach the groceries shop here, is very convenient .

 

Hopefully can solve some of your doubts ;)

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I had kind of forgotten about this thread and it was a pleasant surprise to see a lot of encouraging comments. I have been in Cottbus for a few days now. Perhaps it is too early to tell, but so far it seems like a nice little town with friendly locals. I think it will be okay :)

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Hi to all, thinking of moving to cottbus with my cousin this winter semester fot BTU. But the great deal is that we are still without accommodation. WE appleid for studentenwerk frankfurt but no offers yet.

any details on how we could cope after arriving.

any infos would be welcomed.

best regards

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The university has published a leaflet (PDF) with some suggestions for alternative accommodation. Maybe have a look at them, at least as a temporary solution.

 

https://www.google.de/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=5&cad=rja&ved=0CD0QFjAE&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww-docs.tu-cottbus.de%2Fintoff%2Fpublic%2FIII%2F1%2FWohnen_Cottbus.pdf&ei=rJxbUMbiC4eg4gSzzoGIAQ&usg=AFQjCNGi2YC7iUqSpgsNGBsNffHKdtJFbQ&sig2=OLYzDYtBQwHvMe-tIgsEfg

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hi there guys i m new to this site but i ll be moving to cottbus this weekend to start my masters programme and so far i havent been able to find a place to live, any suggestions? or anyone looking for a house mate? . I m from cameroon and i ve lived abroad for the last 8 years .thanks

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