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Horror story: Erasmus & co-op bureaucracy

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Reichstagsgebäude (Berlin) kurz vor herbstlichem Sonnenuntergang

 

By Naomi Deevy

 

Spending Eramsus (or co-op) abroad can be daunting – That is how a lot of the material provided about Erasmus/co-op abroad begins its spiel. Ok, so we know it can be daunting, if you’ve had it on the horizon, I think the daunting-ness has probably made itself known to you – That is nothing new.

 

The preparation sessions provided by the university are well meaning and certainly informative. However, there is too much to know! And I found out about some things that I wasn’t at all prepared for, but would have liked to have been. They range from mildly surprising to downright terrifying. Let’s talk about the terrifying, as it’s almost Halloween.

 

Forms and fines and modules – Oh, my!

 

Both my co-op and Erasmus were in Germany, Stuttgart and Berlin respectively, so these points are related to experiences in Germany.

 

First up, practical matters: registration of your address, or as they affectionately refer to it: “Anmeldung einer Wohnung”. This is super important and everyone needs to have the certification that you live at your given address. Your university or job placement may want it, and numerous other bureaucratic complexities.

 

It differs by city – in Berlin, for example, due to the large numbers, it is now almost completely done by appointment only and while you may only get an appointment for three months in the future, you are officially supposed to have this done within two weeks of moving in so hop to it (if you have an appointment that’s okay though). You will need I.D. (bring your passport, no Garda card, etc. will do) and your rental contract.

 

Now, the annoying thing about telling the state that you live at your address is that they go and tell the lovely cuddly people at the TV license authority, or rather, the broadcast authority. It’s name, ‘Rundfunk Gebuhren’, is enough to send a chill down the spines of Germans and expats alike.

 

Similar to Ireland, they don’t care if you’ve ever watched even one episode of ‘Tatort’, or even have a TV, every household must pay €17.50 per month. They send letters, which increase if left unpaid, to every name that has registered an address and it’s up to the people in that household to pay it and let them know who has paid and who, because of that, don’t need to. Some Germans may advise not to pay it but if it escalates (and it will if unpaid, i.e. collection agency and legal action) it can affect your ability to get back into the country again later.

 

Another element to this whole registration thing is un-registering your address, called ‘Abmeldung’. This is only necessary when you are leaving the country – when only moving internally, it happens automatically. If you want to work there again it can be a fine-worthy issue to be avoided. This can be done by post though, thank you for this small mercy, bureaucracy gods.

 

Torrenting and file sharing. Okay, so this is illegal in Ireland also. Now I’ll just imagine a world where it doesn’t happen. Okay, back to reality.

 

A lot of people don’t know that this is not just illegal in Germany but it is instantly detectable and heavily punished. One minute you’re downloading a film, the next thing you know an official looking letter arrives with a €2,500 fine that must be paid. It can be more or less, depending on the nature of the material and how much was down and uploaded. It seems to be the seeding of files that really irks them, not as much the downloading, as the simultaneous uploading that is automatic with forms of torrenting and file sharing that incurs this wrath.

 

Again, not paying is seen as a serious offence and will be followed up on and be reflected in your credit rating, which is important for renting a flat and a million other things if you decide to live there later. A friend from the States arrived in Germany, forgetting that his computer was still torrenting, and blammo, a letter from the ‘man’. Also, the person to whom the i.p. address is registered to will be liable, so if it’s your landlord, they will not be happy.

 

Registering your modules. So, compared to German universities, we in Ireland are spoon fed the right information, at the right time and our hands are held every step of the way. Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly but it sort of feels that way being back. The main difference is we simply receive our timetable and have already, six months previously, chosen an elective if appropriate.

 

Those magical elves that devise the timetables have worked tirelessly deep underground all summer long to make sure nothing clashes and somehow it just appears on our screens as semester begins. It does seem like magic when you’re having to do it all yourself in Germany in the midst of everything else involved in moving countries and getting settled.

 

Personally, my university in Berlin (FU) is known for being extra tricky, so it does vary from school to school, however just getting to grips with it takes a long time and a lot of lectures have limited places so it’s a race against other students in many cases. On the upside though, you get to chose what you like, and study it, within reason of course – you need to attend classes related to your home degree (your Erasmus coordinator will have advice on this), but there is loads of room for getting creative with your timetable as you decide.

 

If you only have one tutorial on a Friday, you might be able to just switch for another and have the day free. The lack of humans on campus on a Friday is testament to this system working quite well. More importantly, you can study something you are simply interested in in another department just for fun, and ECTS credits obviously (which are like rare and elusive butterflies) but even then you can negotiate with your lecturers to earn a few more by writing essays or shining their shoes – actually not the shoes thing.

 

During figuring out the intricacies of all of these official shenanigans, I discovered that Berlin offers €50 welcome money to all students when they are registering their first residence (some places only; your university will advise). It was a small but very welcome happy ending to this horror story.

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