‘There are still cultural differences between Dutch and Germans’

| Michaela Nesvarova

The University of Twente is actively working on its international profile - by setting up collaborations all over the world, with a special attention on so called ‘focus countries’. In this series we explore what it takes to convince students and researchers from all corners of the planet that the UT is ‘the place to be’. In this episode we pay attention to our closest neighbor: Germany.

Germany: facts & figures

Structured interest of the UT since:  2016

Main focus: strategic collaboration, student recruitment, research and educational collaboration

Other activities: alumni involvement, student and staff exchange, regional collaboration  

Examples of partner institutions: Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Hamburg University of Technology, Technische Universität Berlin, Technische Universität Dortmund, Universität Paderborn

Development over the years:

Germany (number of students per year)

2015/16

2016/17

2017/18

2018/19

Enrolled (Master and Bachelor) students

1181

1240

1216

1341

Influx of Bachelor students

217

462

358

390

Influx of Master students

113

164

137

97

People in charge: Marijke Stehouwer (country coordinator), Hanna Dinkelbach (Marketer), Solange Panayotopoulos (alumni community manager) 

It’s only a few kilometres away, and so it’s no surprise that Germany has long been a country of interest for the University of Twente. From research collaborations to double degrees and student recruitment – the UT has had ties with its European neighbour for decades. Yet, it received the label of a focus country only about two years ago - when the focus countries strategy was first introduced.

Why was the ‘label’ even necessary? ‘It’s a super interesting country for the UT and there is so much going on in terms of cooperation,’ says Marijke Stehouwer, who became the country coordinator for Germany in the summer. ‘In fact, there is so much going on that our main priority now is to get an overview of what is happening and of opportunities that we might be missing out on.’ 

Study abroad, but go home for weekends

There might still be a few ‘hidden gems’ in Germany but the UT certainly isn’t hidden from Germans. Large numbers of German students continually choose the university as their alma mater. What attracts them here? ‘One reason is of course the distance,’ answers Hanna Dinkelbach from the Marketing & Communication department who is a German UT graduate herself. ‘Many German students want to study in English and in an international environment. They can do that here and still go home for weekends.’

'Our approach is slightly different from recruitment of other international students'

Are any extensive recruitment activities even needed? ‘The UT is relatively well-known among German students,’ says Dinkelbach who is in charge of recruitment strategy for the country. ‘Although there is a steady influx, there is a room to grow in our Master programs and we still work on creating awareness. Our approach is slightly different from recruitment of other international students. If it comes to German students, we highlight that they can experience the campus, that they can become a UT student for a day. Once again, this is possible thanks to the distance.’ Successful strategy, at least judging by the high numbers of German students here in Twente.

‘There are still cultural differences’

‘I find it interesting that there are so many German students here but that we have no German association, even though there are many other international student associations,’ adds Stehouwer. ‘Because the cultures are so close it’s very easy for the German students to integrate. In terms of language and customs it’s very easy to find your way here. You don’t feel “too abroad”.’

Although the cultures are rather similar and compatible, they are not the same, points out the country coordinator. ‘There are still interesting cultural differences that you need to take into account especially when establishing business relationships. This is not the universal truth of course, but Dutch are more focused on building relationships first. We begin in an informal setting, having coffee, brainstorming. And then we come up with an official plan. In Germany it’s the other way around. You first need to present your official ideas and then you can start building a relationship. I’m actually thinking of organizing a workshop on the topic.’

Regional collaboration

As mentioned, what sets Germany apart from other focus countries is its proximity to Twente. The geographical vicinity opens up doors to more than only research and educational collaboration, it allows for regional collaboration. Something that is in the hands of Solange Panayotopoulos from the UT’s alumni office. ‘I aim to involve stakeholders in the region and connect them with our alumni in Germany,’ she says.

'We want to make our graduates aware of all the opportunities in Twente, but also of the challenges the region faces'

To reach out to the nearly 2000 UT alumni in Germany, Panayotopoulos is currently organizing the first ever alumni tour across the country. ‘We want to make our graduates aware of all the opportunities in Twente, but also of the challenges the region faces and how they could be involved. The ultimate goal is to have an active alumni community in Germany.’  

Such a community would expand the already vast scope of collaborations between the UT and German institutes and companies. These currently include Max Planck Gesellschaft and Fraunhofer Institut – which are both also located on the UT campus-, Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, Technical University München, Airbus Group and Porsche AG.

Student’s voice: ‘I perceived the Netherlands as more liberal than Germany’

Lasse Wichman (Bachelor student Chemical Science & Engineering)

What made you decide to come study at the UT?

‘I studied at a university in Germany for a while, but decided to switch. I chose to study in the Netherlands because here the university education is based on quartiles, not semesters. That means you get more tests but they cover less material. Moreover, I perceived the Netherlands as more liberal than Germany. I picked the UT specifically more or less by coincidence. I did an internship here and found out that the study was going to be in English.’

Is the UT what you expected it to be?

‘Yes, pretty much. I like the location. The campus is nice and green, you are not just surrounded by concrete, but it’s still easy to reach the city centre from here. I like the relationship between teachers and students we have here. It’s more informal than in Germany. You can just call your teachers by their first name and ask them as many questions as you like. Because of the educational model we always get assignments, which forces you to stay on track. In Germany you only get one big test at the end, here you need to remain active. I think that’s good especially for younger students. It makes the transition from high school easier, because you don’t need to be fully independent. However, studying here is a little bit more stressful than I thought. It surprised me that if you fail one single thing during your module, you need to redo the entire module all over again. But nothing is perfect.’