You might have heard of the stereotype that Germans are cold and unwelcoming. I’ve experienced the supposed Nordic coldness for a year, and I too wondered if it was possible to make German friends at university.
I needed not to fear. The image in my head unsmiling, cold people that took forever to get to known has only held partly up.
I’m not going to lie – people in the Northern part of Europe do take a while get a while to know. They will not smile at strangers on the street. Many can’t speak English to the point that they will not be confident enough do befriend you unless you speak German. My experience in Denmark had taught me that befriending people in this part of the world required an extraordinary amount of charm and stubbornness.
However, I have found that Germans are quite kind, and maybe even easier to befriend than Danes. There are a significant number open to having foreign friends that don’t speak German and can be happy to practice their English. I’ve met Germans here who are truly some of the most welcoming people and are great friends.
I have found that with most Germans, though, you still need to be outgoing. I have a tendency to smile a lot, and though that outs me as a foreigner, it works for appearing friendly. Then it’s necessary to actually be friendly, start talking, and offering to do something. Most Germans, when offered to do something, will actually be down for that unless they have something else going on. They most likely will not be the ones to initiate the conversation, and you may have to do more work at first, but after the initial getting to know each other period, they will not leave you.
As far as the language goes, it depends on which sort of program you are in. My program is completely in English and there are a decent number of Germans who are not afraid of speaking English. However, for those who are in German programs, it might be a good idea to try speaking German. In general, it is a good idea to be able to at least say small things in German and show a conscious effort to learn the language. Germans really love to speak German, so unless you have German friends who will always speak English all the time for you, get used to the fact that they will speak German around you sometimes.
If you are in a largely international course, there are other ways to meet Germans. Get involved with different activities, go to bars and talk to people, and get their contacts. If you put in the effort to find German friends, and are friendly and outgoing, it most likely will pay off.
I have been lucky, and there are lots of Germans who are willing to befriend foreigners who don’t speak German. I’ve met some wonderful people and have a healthy of mix of German and international friends. It took maybe did take some stubbornness and initiating things, but I’m happy to say that though they may appear it, Germans are far from cold on the inside.