The Importance of an International Community: An international student's experience of Frankfurt

Master in Finance class of 2021 student Catalina Stratulat shares her experience as an international student in Frankfurt

Catalina Stratulat knows Germany quite well now. In 2013, she moved from her home in Moldova to Bremen to study Global Economics and Management at Jacobs University. After completing her Bachelor in 2016, she relocated to Frankfurt and has been living and working here ever since. In 2019, she began the part-time Master in Finance program at Goethe Business School, joining many other students with an international background in the GBS Community. She speaks German fluently, has many German friends and works in a department with mostly German colleagues. She is happy and thriving, and feels at home in Frankfurt.

One might say her experience in Germany, in Frankfurt, and at GBS as an international student has been ideal. But this didn’t happen on its own – Catalina worked to shape her experience living, working, and studying abroad into a positive one. She felt it was important to integrate with her local community, and when she searched, she found a rich and diverse community of internationals in the Frankfurt region willing to welcome her. Now, she is working to give back to the community which made her feel so at home in Frankfurt, to try and make sure others can have as positive an experience as she has.

We sat down with Catalina and asked her what it’s like to be an international student at GBS, building a professional career in Frankfurt as a foreigner, and why she thinks community involvement is particularly important for the international community.

 

What is it like living in Frankfurt, and in Germany, as an international person?

Between Germany and my home country, there are a lot of differences. One of the things about Germany that really is true is it being very bureaucratic. Registrations, documents you have to do, many processes in place you have to learn to follow to get anything done. Another thing you have to get used to is everything being closed on a Sunday, which for me is one day less to manage everything. So from this perspective it was a bit of a shock moving to Germany and I had to get used to it, but I feel very well here in general. But no matter how long you live in another country and even when you feel very integrated, there are still sometimes pieces where you do feel your origins. There will always be small differences and you have to get used to that. One example is food for me; back home it is a central part of social life. Here I noticed, if a German says come tomorrow for coffee and cake, they literally mean that is exactly what they will give you. At home, the same invitation would mean you will be served a full meal, everything included, all three courses! Also in tonality and communication there were differences. Most Germans always say what they mean, but we usually say one thing and mean something more. There were many lessons to learn.

I’ve always felt it was important to get integrated. For me, learning the language was essential to successful integration. I know you can get along in Frankfurt with English, but if you really want to integrate, you do need to learn German. Starting from meeting people, to working, to having a feeling of how the people here actually think or receive what you are saying, or even just understanding jokes, speaking the language made a big difference. I also noticed if you speak in German – or another language you feel less confident in - people really appreciate you making the effort despite any mistakes. That isn’t what interests them, as long as they see you are trying! My first job interview was terrifying! But that experience helped me gain more confidence.

 

What moved you to decide to study part-time alongside your career?

After moving to Frankfurt, I worked for three years, but always knew that I wanted a master’s degree. My studies felt incomplete with only a bachelor. I looked at something close to Frankfurt, because I knew I wanted to keep my job. There are many universities, but GBS reminded me of my time at Jacobs University in Bremen; it seemed very international, offered great connections, and was diverse, also for people from outside of a Finance background. And of course the campus is beautiful!

 

What is it like studying at GBS as an international student?

It has definitely met my expectations. After working three years in a German environment and having mostly German friends and colleagues, it has been really nice to have a bit of a mindset switch and more international peers. It was pleasant to get in touch with people who are like-minded but are doing very different things. It is hard after a day of work to sit down and study, but in the end, it is really rewarding. You feel so proud of yourself of what you have achieved!

One additional thing that makes GBS such a positive experience was because it’s part-time and everyone is working, the students really want to study there. You could see this difference in the classroom interactions and in the very smart questions asked by the students which enhanced the learning experience. Everyone is motivated and wants to contribute. I enjoyed this the most, apart from it being a very challenging program (in a positive way!).

 

What recommendations would you have for other internationals who are considering coming here for their careers or to study?

As I said, learning the German language is key. Try speaking it as much as possible. This will really open a lot of doors, even though you may be working in an international department. I myself work in an international department and can do my job well in English, but I believe I would not have gotten so far without speaking German. Also try to learn and follow the rules, because the Germans are very rule following, as a culture. It’s just a different mentality, but it will help you in society. Do your homework about what is and isn’t allowed.

Also, I think it is crucial to get involved in the local community. This is your new home, you do want to make it yours, and I feel like by getting involved and trying to change and improve things, it contributes to your well-being as well. Your home isn’t just your four walls, it’s the whole community. To feel welcomed, you need to do whatever you can - it doesn’t matter what -small or big. In the end, you will feel part of a whole.

 

Why do you think it’s important for non-Germans to get involved in their community, and how have you chosen to do so?

When you arrive, in Frankfurt or wherever you go, you are always looking for people from your own country. I remember well when I came here; it would have been easier to integrate if there would have been a central (web)site where you could have filtered by community, interest, etc. to find people to connect with. There is actually the Foreigner’s Advisory Council (Kommunale Ausländer- und Ausländerinnenvertretung (KAV)), which took me a long time to find. Their aim is to represent the foreign population here in Frankfurt, and they are involved in local politics, giving recommendations to parliament, for example. The way it works is that it represents many communities – Croatian, Turkish, Serbian, and many others. But there was no Romanian, Moldovan, or other representation from the Eastern Block, so I decided to get involved and try to improve the path for the next generations so they can feel more welcomed when they arrive. Some people feel they have to travel to countries far away to make an impact, but I think you can do this right at home – especially if you are part of a minority community.

So after finding out about this Council, I started going to a few meetings and found they are really close to the people they are representing. It’s difficult as a foreigner in Germany, when you may not speak the language, to understand the bureaucratic system if you can’t find the information you need in a language you understand; this is something I want to tackle. This information needs to be made more accessible in English, for example. I realize I may not make any radical changes, but if I can contribute even a tiny piece, that’s a great thing! Everyone I know had a friend, or a friend of a friend, someone was there to help them through these processes. Why not build a service to help those who are here alone?

 

How can someone interested in getting involved themselves find resources?

I think there’s a lot someone can do, also away from politics. It may be coming to GBS to advance your career and leaving with valuable new connections - this is great for personal development and improvement, and that may be what you are looking for. Even in that context, we had courses like Ethics for example, and looking at how organizations are changing. This got us thinking about society and what is around us. You don’t necessarily have to be politically involved, you can do charity work, or look into organizations you could support. Just giving a quick search will give you so many options. Even helping to organize events in Frankfurt, or in the case of the Foreigner’s Advisory Council, for local elections we always need people there to collect the votes. You can also do this for your local consulate, and help register everyone who comes to vote in foreign elections. So you can also get involved with your home country if you want.

The opportunities may not be as obvious in the beginning, but even just looking on Facebook is a great start. There are so many events listed there, you will certainly find something!

 

Catalina is running in the next Foreigner’s Advisory Council election on March 14, 2021 as a representative. If you are an international person living in Frankfurt, we encourage you to inform yourself about all candidates and your eligibility to vote for local representatives. You can find more information here:

Who can vote: Everyone who does not possess German citizenship 

How to vote: on the date of the election in person or by mail

Vote: <link wahlschein.ekom21.de/IWS/start.do;https://wahlschein.ekom21.de/IWS/start.do?mb=6412000&fbclid=IwAR2sCFWXYSdg6US01Sd_MRsTJFt6OoimdqlZHGL5VA_kabcomPFnfJbnzLQ</link>

 

Be sure to follow us for future chats with GBS students and alumni, and find out what achievements define our community. With 600+ alumni in our network, we have 600+ fascinating stories to tell!