International Idiosyncrasies: Unique Aspects of Life in Germany

Int'l Indio. Pire Photo 2On evenings when I walk home from work, there’s a street I cross that rarely gets any traffic. Still, even if the street is completely dead, I wait for the walk signal to appear on the pedestrian traffic light. Even though my Boston mentality urges me to cross streets even when cars are fast approaching, I try to heed the local culture; even if a street is empty, most Germans will wait for the walk light to appear to cross the road. I’ve noticed many differences between American and German culture during my first month in Kaiserslautern, the most striking of which stray far beyond pedestrian crossing attitudes.

1. Bluntness
One infamous aspect of German culture is the bluntness of its people. Since American culture generally perpetuates sugarcoating things in the name of politeness, it can be jarring to be amongst people who are extremely direct. Since I’m not particularly good at being blunt myself, experiencing this communication style is helping me become more straightforward.

2. Unorthodox applause
At the end of the first team presentation I sat through on this co-op, I began to clap, only to be drowned out by the cacophony of fists knocking on desks around me. Instead of applauding as you would after a presentation at an American university, audience members knock on the table or desk in front of them, as one would knock on a door.

3. The love of bubbly drinks
One German word learned quickly here is schorle. Translating to “spritzer,” these refer to any drink that has carbonation added to it (water, juice, wine, etc.). Bottled water comes in different varieties of carbonation (i.e. light or medium), and if you ask for water at a restaurant, they’ll bring you sparkling water unless you specifically request still water.

4. Dedication to lunch time
Lunch appears to be the staple meal of the day in Germany. The campus cafeteria serves up an intense menu every day, and some businesses even close at lunch time so employees can have a proper lunch break. One of my coworkers explained the German outlook on lunch like this: if you don’t have time to break for lunch during the work day, you’re not living a good, balanced life. This stance is a breath of fresh air since the American workplace sometimes calls for working through lunch breaks.

5. Grocery store nuances
The first trip to a German grocery store can incite some confusion. There’s a metal gate at the entrance of supermarkets like Aldi and Edeka that must be passed through, forcing you to leave the store through checkout; as far as I can tell, you need to buy something in order to exit the store. Additionally, plastic bags need to be purchased at checkout, so most people use reusable bags (not sure if this is done solely for environmental reasons, but charging for plastic bags seems like a great incentive for people to bring their own).

6. An intense recycling system
One aspect of German life that’s hard to miss is how environmentally friendly their recycling practices are. Glass is recycled by color (green, white, and brown), plastics and metals need to be placed in special yellow recycling bags only obtainable at the town hall, and if you don’t separate your recyclables properly, yourInt'l Indio. Pire Photo garbage won’t be taken away. Plastics also include a lot of what would be considered waste in the US, such as candy wrappers and juice cartons. Additionally, plastic bottles with return logos on them can be deposited at a machine, and you’ll receive a receipt with some money back for recycling. If you bring the receipt to a grocery checkout, that money will be subtracted from your subtotal (another great incentive to recycle).

7. Building floor numbers
In the university buildings I’ve been in so far, I’ve noticed that the first floor is deemed level 2 if there’s a basement level to the building, the bottommost level being considered level 1. So, to my relief, even though my office is on the fourth floor of the building numerically, I only have to walk up three flights of stairs to reach it.

8. The pharmacy monopoly
CVS has always been my one-stop shop for snacks and medicine alike, so I was surprised to find that German drugstores have a limited over-the-counter drug supply. Products like aspirin are only sold at designated pharmacies, not at drugstores or supermarkets. This point also brings to mind one of the general drawbacks to shopping in Germany: aside from a few exceptions, all stores are closed on Sundays.

While my observations are restricted to Kaiserslautern, noticing the aspects of life here that deviate from life in America has provided me with an undeniably unique snapshot of German culture.

This blog was written by Nicolette Pire.  Nicolette is a junior Combined Linguistics and English major. She is currently pursuing her second co-op as a research assistant in the psycholinguistics group at the University of Kaiserslautern in Germany. An aspiring polyglot, she’s using her first international experience to immerse herself in as many cultures as possible while sharing her international faux pas along the way. Feel free to reach out to her at


Get Out of Your Comfort Zone. Move Away From Home!



When I say “move away from home,” I don’t mean move out of your parents’ house. I mean that you should move out of the city/state you consider home at least once in your life. As someone who was born in Alaska, lived in Oregon from age 7 to age 18, spent six years in Boston, and now have been living in North Carolina for two years, I know a little bit about moving away from home. I made my first solo move away from home so that I could attend school at Northeastern. I remember during the first few months during introductions and ice breakers I would always have people say “WOW! You’re a long way from home!” They were absolutely right, 3000 miles is a long way from home, and I would be lying if I said there weren’t days where I missed home like crazy. But the excitement of getting on the roller coaster that is college was enough to keep me distracted most of the time.

As you can probably imagine, Boston was VERY different than anything that I had ever experienced in Oregon. Growing up I lived in the suburbs and drove everywhere, so living in the city and using the T as my main form of transportation was one big piece. Another big difference, that took some getting used to, was the speed at which life happened. In Oregon, life moved slowly. People got things done but didn’t rush, they NEVER used their horns while driving unless there was imminent danger, and it seemed like there was always enough time for life outside of work and school. In Boston people were always in a rush, I won’t even go into the horn honking, and it felt like I was constantly running out of time. It was easy to get sucked into that lifestyle because there were so many things I wanted to do in addition to classes and co-op. There were so many amazing opportunities around me all the time, that I often chose them over sleep and downtime.

At times this new lifestyle was exhausting, and sometimes I would get on the orange line to Arnold Arboretum so I could lie on a blanket in the grass and pretend the world was moving a little more slowly. But this new lifestyle also taught me things about myself. I learned that I work well under pressure and that while I’m a procrastinator I somehow always manage to get things finished on time. I learned that although I loved my time in Boston, it wasn’t somewhere I could see myself living for the rest of my life. Even though Boston wasn’t the place for me, I never would have known what else was out there if I had played it safe and gone to school in Oregon. I would never have learned that while I have the ability to work hard and play hard all the time, I prefer a lifestyle with more downtime built in. I’m sure there are people who achieve a slower lifestyle in Boston, but it wasn’t something I ever figured out.

Maybe for some of you, Northeastern was a move away from home. If you fall into that category, I hope you’ve experienced some of the benefits that I did, and I encourage you to try somewhere new if your first big move wasn’t to the right place for you. For those of you who haven’t moved away from home yet, I encourage you to do so at some point before life gets too complicated to uproot. It doesn’t have to be forever because even just a few years can completely change your views of yourself and the world that you live in. And maybe the place you grew up is ultimately where you want to call home. I’m not in any way trying to advocate against that. But I’ve learned from experience that getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new is the best way to learn about who you are, and who you would like to be. Boston was my home for six years. It was a different home than the one I had known growing up, but it was home nonetheless. Now after two years in North Carolina, I have another home. This home is teaching me all sorts of lessons about myself and about life, and while I do miss being close to family, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t challenged myself by moving away from home.

Katie Stember is a Northeastern Alumni (Class of ’13) who was very involved with Husky Ambassadors as a student. She is currently a Ph.D. student in Biomedical Sciences at UNC Chapel Hill studying an autoimmune disease called ANCA Vasculitis. She’s a proud cat mom and in her free time does volunteer photography for a local animal shelter. Feel free to contact her at

Want to Give Back to Your Community? Try Volunteering



Volunteers-make a difference image

Have you ever thought of doing something different but not sure what or how to get started?  If yes, ask yourself how do you usually invest your time? When we think of doing something innovative other than what we do in our daily routine, like making plans to socialize with family and friends,take road trips and travel, wouldn’t it be great to invest our time differently, like learning and improving ourselves? Have you ever thought about investing your time to volunteer for a non-profit organization (e.g. hospital, animal shelter)?

How often do you volunteer or think about volunteering?
Experts say that focusing on someone other than yourself helps you reduce mental and physical stress.(Student-Life Community Service.) Isn’t that great? When I volunteer, I feel the satisfaction of being connected in this world and feel good about being able to do something for someone else. Everyone has a different purpose/reason to volunteer. I do it for personal growth and learning. Ask yourself why you do it. There are various non-profit organizations that are in search of active volunteers. However, it is also important to consider your interests, values, and topics that you care about. When you know what volunteer opportunity you want to get involved with, you may be able to address these values and interests in a meaningful way.

Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community.
Personally, my volunteering experiences helped me improve my leadership and communication skills; it has also made me a potential contributor and a strong team player. So, volunteering has so many benefits, not only for our communities but for ourselves as well!

If you agree that volunteering is a great way to learn and want to give it a try, you may check out International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE). As a committee member of ISPE Boston Chapter, I get an opportunity to network with international students and industry professionals. ISPE helps me grow professionally and gain recognition in the industry. You may also check out ISPE’s student chapters as well (Northeastern University, Boston University etc.) where students get a chance to develop themselves on an international platform and build a strong network by working together on campus.

Let’s unite and work together for a common goal and make a difference!

This blog was written by Heena Thakkar, a graduate student at Northeastern University majoring in Regulatory Affairs. She worked as a Research Assistant at Northeastern University and gained volunteering experience (NU ISPE,RISE 2016). She is currently working at BBCR Consulting as a clinical and regulatory affairs summer intern. She actively volunteers, networks and socializes. Feel free to reach her at