When I studied in Europe, my best friend was a girl from Berlin.
She could read Greek letters, had impeccable taste in clothing and electronics and kept a piece of the Berlin Wall on her dresser. Her eclectic style, advanced education and international savvy were symbolic of everything you’d find in modern Germany.
Germany’s central location in Europe makes it an easy place visit during your time exploring the continent. A bustling transportation hub with regional and global connections, Germany has always been a place where people and cultures meet to exchange ideas. That makes it an ideal place to spend your gap year.
Although a gap year is often associated with students and youth, the phenomenon is becoming more popular among adults, too. There are gap year activities designed for mature folks who are changing careers, upgrading their professional training, taking a sabbatical from their jobs or just enjoying a long-term vacation.
Regardless of your age or stage of life, Germany has plenty to offer for your gap year.
Los Geht’s! (Here we go!)
Why Spend Your Gap Year in Germany?
Today, Germany is a treasure trove of natural wonders, archaeology, history and culture. Germany has a reputation for being on the cutting edge of economic and business ventures. There are also plenty of natural wonders to enjoy if you love the outdoors, from skiing in the Alps to exploring the shores of the North Sea.
It’s Germany’s economic clout that seems to set it apart from other nations these days. The country’s stable economic climate means it’s available to welcome students, volunteers and workers from around the globe. As a result, there’s a wide variety of programs to choose from, from high school to university level and beyond.
If it’s happening somewhere, it’s happening in Germany. It’s a great place to spend your gap year, regardless of your goals and interests.
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Visas and Paperwork
If you’re undertaking a gap year in Germany, you can plan your trip independently or join one of many programs organized by a private company. If you choose the latter option, any required visas and paperwork are included in your work, study or volunteer package.
There are both work and residence visas for those who want to spend extended time in Germany. Gap year activities usually don’t require work permits or visas if you stay in the country for less than 90 days. But your country of origin determines if you need a visa, criminal background check or any other documentation.
Most visitors use the Schengen visa. It gives the holder permission to travel or do business within certain EU countries for three months, so you can use the same visa to visit neighboring countries. This is a good choice if you’re on the move and don’t plan on staying in Europe for more than 90 days.
For jobs, classes or other activities that will take longer than 90 days, you’ll need a residence visa. Residents of certain countries can enter the country first and then apply for a residence visa. You must have a passport that’s less than ten years old with at least two empty pages available, and the application requires biometric data and a digital photograph.
If you decide to embark on your German gap year on your own, start by visiting your local German Embassy or Consulate. You need to go through an application process for both the Schengen and residence visas, but your country of origin determines exactly when and how you undergo this process.
There are different rules and documentation for European Union (EU) nationals and travelers from other countries.
Na Los! Here Are 4 Epic Ways to Spend Your Gap Year in Germany
There are a lot of opportunities to choose from for your gap year in Germany, and the following guide will help you organize those options.
Most of the following programs don’t require you to apply for a visa prior to departure. Either the paperwork is done for you, you apply when you arrive or you don’t even need a visa at all.
1. Language Programs in Germany
Most of the gap year programs in Germany you see advertised online or in your school’s language lab focus on learning the language. There’s a wide variety of types of language programs. They’re available to pretty much anyone who wants to learn German, regardless of their age.
Try FluentU free for 15 days to supplement your German studies. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized German language learning lessons.
Learning with authentic videos is fun and helps you pick up on native German accents. But the best part? They teach you about local culture, which will only make your gap year even better!
Here are some of the best in-person language programs in Germany:
- CESA Languages Abroad offers classes that last from eight weeks to several months. Students can live in Berlin, Munich, Cologne and other notable cities across the country. If you’re taking a gap year during high school, you can earn class credit for most of these classes.
- Education First, more commonly known as EF, has two different programs for those who want to study German in Berlin and Munich. Anyone over age 16 can enroll in either of these programs to improve their language abilities. One program focuses strictly on language while the other combines German classes with other academic courses.
- CIEE offers a language program that’s combined with cultural studies and other local activities to create a fully immersive language learning environment. This program is for high school students and takes place in Berlin over the summer.
2. High School and College Credit Courses in Germany
You can study virtually any discipline at the high school or university level during your gap year in Germany. All of the following programs offer classes in other academic subjects such as literature, history, geography and law:
- Youth for Understanding has programs divided into lengths of three, six or nine months—a perfect fit for the gap year between high school and university. If you want to do something unique on your summer vacation and you’re at least 18 years old, there’s a summer immersion option aimed at high school students.
- The KUNSTGUT School of Contemporary Art offers a unique gap year program that combines art studies with German language and cultural studies. Students can spend as few as six months or up to three years studying in a supportive environment with other artists. Both high school and college courses are available.
- If you’re focusing on business, check out programs at the Globe Business College in Munich. Students can enroll in a three-year program to earn a BA in Business Studies or pick and choose classes to update their skills or earn a certification. Those interested in fitting their classes into a gap year or less can take a summer or semester classes.
3. Career and Internship Programs in Germany
Not all gap year programs are intended for students or include classes and academic programs. There are plenty of activities that emphasize long-term career goals and job training for those motivated by their future careers or those who want a break from student life.
Use a German website such as MeinPraktikum to find an internship. Or you may choose to go through one of the following agencies instead:
- Internships Germany does more than just list options by location and job type. They also help you with housing and planning, and they provide a multilingual hotline in case you need help during your stay. For an extra fee they can provide you with consultation to help find the right placement based on your education level and work experience.
- There are several agencies that will find child care opportunities for gap year students or young people. Nannies Abroad is a reputable agency based out of New Zealand. AuPair.com is another great agency that places au pairs throughout Germany. This choice is ideal for someone who is pursuing a career that involves working with children or being a caregiver. However, there are age restrictions, and some German language skills are required.
- Berlin is home to CIEE’s Global Internship program, which covers a wide range of professional employment interests. Software engineers, urban planners, communication consultants and several other disciplines are welcome in this program.
4. Volunteer Work in Germany
When you think of gap year programs that include volunteer work, you may picture politically unstable regions or developing countries. But that’s not the case in Germany!
Volunteer work in Germany is so popular that it’s even organized on a national level. Like internships, there are several websites that can help you find the right activity in the appropriate time frame:
- Volunteer work is organized under two major designations: Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr (Voluntary Social Year), which is intended specifically for the gap year between high school and university, and Bundesfreiwilligendienst (Federal Volunteers Service) for everyone else. Many of the programs connected to these organizations welcome and even encourage international participants.
- You can find a variety of volunteer opportunities in Berlin, Cologne and Munich through German websites like betterplace.org and vostel.
- Volunteers for Peace coordinates volunteers in various projects around Germany. Options for volunteer work include reforestation, historic preservation, cultural festival organization, archaeological digs and more. There aren’t many age or educational requirements for these programs, and you can stay for a few months or for your entire gap year.
Helmut Kohl, the former Chancellor of Germany, once said, “Where is Germany now and where does it want to go?… We have to make clear for others what we stand for, where we’re headed and that we know where we belong.”
Of course, Kohl was talking about his own country. But we should also ask these questions of ourselves. One way to figure out what you stand for, where you’re headed and where you belong is to spend a gap year in Germany.
Kristy Ambrose has been writing professionally since 2010. She dabbles in various genres, including everything from short blog posts to serialized novels. Her inspiration comes from gamers, beachcombers, foodies and of course her fellow travelers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Victoria.