Deeksha Sharma needs a minimum of € 500 (around $ 560) to cover her living expenses as a student in Oldenburg, not far from the north coast of Germany and the border with the Netherlands.

Ideally, her plan was to do it without her parents’ help in Nepal, by finding a part-time job. She got the required work permit – but then the coronavirus hit.

Many of his comrades began to lose their jobs and had to dip into their financial reserves. Physics student Sharma also began to struggle.

Read more: Coronavirus – Is the EU’s Erasmus program under threat?

“I had a real problem for the past three months. I still needed to pay my rent and my groceries, and I didn’t want to ask my parents for money anymore,” she said.

“Unique” package according to European standards, boasts the minister

Sharma’s roommate stepped in to help bridge the gap early on. Eventually, she turned to the advisory office for international students at her university and it was there that she learned about the additional student loans currently offered by the German state development bank KfW. These are now also available to students without German citizenship, as part of the government program in the hope of helping struggling students.

“Such a broad program for students from a ministry of education is unique in European terms, perhaps even in international terms”, said Education Minister Anja Karliczek when presenting the package at the a press conference last month.

Help, but not without strings

Sharma says she’s not too worried about getting over her head. The monthly payments of 650 € to which she is entitled from July to next March are initially interest-free.

As it stands, however, the relatively low interest of around 4% will go into effect from April. And 18 months after the first bank transfer, the first refunds will be due. But Sharma says the minimum required rate of around € 20 per month is reassuring. She is also confident in the longer term to find a job and get her personal finances in order.

Read more: Germany could benefit from dropout of international students in US and UK

The young physicist is one of some 8,000 international students to have requested such assistance since May. The student candidates come mainly from Iran, India, Bangladesh, Syria and Tunisia. They all had to wait a month longer than the German students asking for similar help.

Free University of Berlin most popular with foreign students in Germany

Philip Rauh of KfW explained that international loans were postponed from one month to July as a safety measure, as it was technically not possible to guarantee the first installments by early June.

Many students are not eligible

However, many international students do not meet the strict eligibility requirements. At least, not according to Kornelia von Kaisenberg, who advises those concerned in Aachen on behalf of an association of Protestant students. To qualify, in the unusual German university system that allows students to progress at almost any pace, applicants must be in one of their first 10 semesters (or five years) of university study.

Read more: International students have to wait months to get a visa

“A lot of international students have passed their tenth semester just because a lot of them had to work while studying, which can often mean extending them,” von Kaisenberg said.

Protestant student associations in Aachen don’t just advise students, they also offer financial support – for example, a monthly stipend for students nearing graduation. Joel Mekiedje benefits from this scheme. He is studying at a technical university in Aachen and is currently writing his master’s thesis in electrical engineering.

Joel Mekiedje

Joel Mekiedje uses loan to complete master’s thesis at Aachen University

The Cameroonian citizen knows many students who do not apply for KfZ loans for fear of getting into too much debt. Their main focus is on the interest payments that will begin next year. He says they always borrow money, but rather from friends and family.

Solidarity between the international student community

Mekiedje said such mutual support is common among Cameroonian students but also international students in general.

“Naturally you pay it back once you have the money again,” he said.

The students also came up with other alternative fundraising ideas. When a recent study of 40 Cameroonian students showed that around 90% of them struggled to pay their rent and health insurance bills, he and his classmates raised around € 3,500 in charitable donations. .

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