CHICAGO — Earlier this month, the last state in Germany charging public university students for classes abolished tuition, essentially becoming free to attend — even to international students.
But it isn't as simple as packing your bags and downloading Duolingo on your phone, said Jay Malone, who earned his master's degree in Germany.
The former Lincoln Park resident founded Eight Hours and Change, an academic advising company that provides support to American students studying in Germany.
Kyla Gardner says there are plenty of hidden costs studying overseas:
Malone studied abroad in Germany twice during his undergraduate career at Miami University in Ohio, so he thought the transition to a full-time master's degree in political science would be smooth.
"I kind of expected, with my knowledge of Germany, having studied here," it would be easy, Malone said. "But actually I had a lot of problems."
There were surprises — he didn't know he had to register with his city or face a fine. There were the cultural barriers, and the difficulty of being new to a city with no friends or family around to lean on.
Eight Hours and Change aims to provide the type of support Malone wished he had. He can help students find the right university town and program, match them up with German study buddies, and provide general guidance on the differences between German and American education institutions.
This summer, Malone will take prospective students on the first German university tour from Eight Hours and Change. Carlin Morris, a 17-year-old high school junior in Columbus, Ohio, has visited a few colleges in Pennsylvania, but hopes to add the international tour to her visit list.
"I have to pay for some of my college myself, and the less I have to pay and the less debt I have later in life, the more I'll be able to really live my life," Morris said.
The average U.S. student graduates with $29,400 in loans, according to the Project on Student Debt.
"One reason debt has gotten so out of control is because the market is so closed. People aren't challenging it by looking for alternatives," Malone said. "This is an opportunity for students to basically escape from the bonds of debt."
Malone said the cost of living for German students is lower, as they aren't required to live in dorms and have heavily subsidized health care. Even with flight costs — Eight Hours and Change is named after the time it takes to fly from the U.S. to Germany — Malone thinks the savings are worth it, especially considering the international experience.
Morris is drawn to the Keltologie program — Celtic studies — at Universität Bonn, which she wants to pair with a double-major in history.
"College is supposed to be this new learning, growing experience that when you get out of it, it makes you a better human being," Morris said. "What better way to prepare yourself for that than to live in another country, speak a different language, be totally independent?"
Though Malone now lives in Germany, he said students who return to the United States after graduating will be able to sell their experience abroad to employers.
"It's actually a positive to come back with a degree from a German institution, because it shows this initiative and independence, that you're able to go to another country to get your degree," he said. "It's not something that everybody can do."
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