Large-scale immigration from Italy to Germany goes as far back as the 1950s. Back then, Italians moved to Germany as "Gastarbeiter" (guest workers), for a relatively short period of time and then returned home, where they could afford a house or a small business. Today, immigration from Italy to Germany has again reached high levels after a period of stillstand between the 1980s and the early 2000s. However, the motivations for migration have largely changed, with young people moving to Germany, and Berlin specifically, for reasons often unrelated to their career. This research project consisted of 6 oral interviews with young Italians who studied in Germany and moved to the Berlin area as students or young graduates. The aim was to investigate the role of pull factors such as an international environment, the possibility of language learning and an appealing tertiary education system. The results point to a decrease in the classic economic and professional motivations, which, however, remain important, in favor of cultural and educational motivations.
Le prime migrazioni su larga scala dall´Italia alla Germania risalgono agli anni '50. All'epoca, gli italiani si trasferivano in Germania come "Gastarbeiter" (lavoratori ospiti) per un periodo relativamente breve prima di fare ritorno in patria, avendo risparmiato i soldi necessari per l'acquisto di una casa o l'avvio di una piccola attività. Oggi, l'immigrazione dall'Italia alla Germania è tornata a raggiungere livelli alti, dopo aver subito un arresto fra gli anni '80 e i primi del 2000. Tuttavia, le motivazioni degli spostamenti sono cambiate notevolmente, con giovani che si trasferiscono in Germania e, in particolare, a Berlino, per motivi sempre meno legati al lavoro. Questo studio si compone di sei interviste orali condotte con giovani italiani che hanno frequentato l´università in Germania e si sono trasferiti a Berlino e dintorni come studenti o giovani lavoratori. Lo scopo era quello di far luce sui pull factors (fattori di attrazione), quali ad esempio un ambiente internazionale, la possibilità di parlare o imparare una lingua straniera ed un sistema di educazione terziaria stimolante. I risultati suggeriscono un decremento delle classiche motivazioni economiche e lavorative, che tuttavia rimangono importanti, a favore di motivazioni prettamente culturali e formative.
Große Wanderungsbewegungen von Italien nach Deutschland reichen bis in die 1950er Jahre zurück. Damals zogen Italiener als Gastarbeiter kurzzeitig nach Deutschland, um schließlich heimzukehren und das gesparte Geld in ein Haus, eine Wohnung oder ein kleines Geschäft zu investieren. Heute hat die Zuwanderung aus Italien nach Deutschland wieder ein hohes Niveau erreicht, nachdem sie zwischen den 1980er und den frühen 2000er Jahren zum Stillstand gekommen war. Die Beweggründe für die Migration haben sich jedoch weitgehend geändert: Junge Menschen ziehen aus Gründen nach Deutschland und nach Berlin, die oft nichts mit ihrer Karriere zu tun haben. Dieses Forschungsprojekt bestand aus sechs mündlichen Interviews mit jungen Italienern und Italienerinnen, die in Deutschland studierten und als Studierende oder junge Absolventen nach Berlin zogen. Ziel war es, die Rolle von Pull-Faktoren wie ein internationales Umfeld, die Möglichkeit des Sprachenlernens und ein attraktives Hochschulsystem zu untersuchen. Die Ergebnisse deuten darauf hin, dass die klassischen ökonomischen und beruflichen Beweggründe, die jedoch nach wie vor wichtig bleiben, zugunsten von kulturellen und bildungsbezogenen Beweggründen abnehmen.
  1. Introduction

Between the 1950s and the 1970s, migration from Italy to Germany concerned prevalently people working in the industrial and agricultural sector, with low level of schooling (BpB 2010). Coming from impoverished areas, they spent some years in Germany to then return to their home country and buy a house or a start small business (Pichler 2006). Modern trends of emigration from Italy, on the other hand, include people with increasingly higher educational attainments and, in general, of young age, with more people leaving Italy than people returning to the country (del Pra´ 2006; Tintori & Romei 2017). This has led scholars to talk about “new migration” (Altreitalie 2015) and media to speak, more pessimistically, of a “brain drain” (Tintori & Romei 2017), considering the high level of human capital leaving the country. Modern migration towards Germany is, I will argue, a mixed case of horizontal and vertical mobility, since personal, cultural and professional factors intermingle. Contrary to other migrant groups, Italian students move to Germany for reasons that are not always related to work. Some want to make an experience abroad, because they find the country appealing or aim to learn a new language. On the broader scale, though, poor working perspectives in Italy make it difficult to pursue a career as a young professional (Eurostat 2020; Istat 2020). Germany is regarded as a place that provides better career opportunities and better-paying jobs. For some young Italians migration is an investment in their professional life and career; studying in Germany is regarded as a good way to get acquainted with the language and make a first-hand experience. This research project aimed to investigate motivations in the decision on the part of Italians to attend university in Germany, with the intent to locate this migration route within broader intra-European trends. Results point to different pull factors, ranging from economic motivations to personal connection to Germany, city-specific appeal, and perceived (or factual) improvement in the quality of tertiary education.


  1. The interviews

For the purpose of this research project, six interviews have been conducted. The interview partners were Italians who have studied in Germany for longer than regular Erasmus programs (one year), either by enrolling in German universities or through other exchange programs. All interviewees were born and raised in Italy and decided to move to Germany for university, some for their bachelor’s and some during their master’s program.

The interviewees, 3 males and 3 females, were 24 to 29 years of age. The geographical distribution is varied, with two interviewees coming from the southern regions of Calabria and Puglia and four from northern regions (Piedmont, Lombardy, and Liguria). All of the interviewees except for one were or had been enrolled at the University of Potsdam, and all had either worked or studied in the Berlin area. Considering the high level of education within the Italian population in Berlin, compared to that of Italians in big industrial centers (Haug 2005), Berlin and its environs are expected to host a higher degree of highly educated young people than the rest of the country and the interviews cannot be considered as a representative case for all Italians moving to Germany. If anything, they constitute a case study for students and young graduates.

All interviews were conducted in Italian and translated by the author.


  1. Migrations from Italy to Germany

3.1 A brief history

Italian migrations towards Germany have happened since the early 1900s and have shaped the history of both countries for decades (Parisi 2005: 330). The largest migration waves happened between the 1950s and the 1970s, when Italians, together with Greeks and Turks, moved to Germany as Gastarbeiter. Germany was looking for workforce to kickstart the economy and modernize the country after World War 2. The majority of the Italian guest workers were performing hard labor: most were active in the agricultural sector, in the mining, as well as the construction industry, therefore compensating the lack of workforce in sectors of low specialization (BpB 2010; Pichler 2006). The bilateral treaty signed in 1955 between Germany and Italy established a circular principle: guest workers were to return after a period of work in the country no longer than 29 years (Schmidt 1994). This was meant to avoid costs of schools, kindergartens, and social housing, that were instead to be paid by the Italian government. On the other hand, immigrants, in most cases, did not wish to move to Germany permanently. If anything, they aimed at returning to Italy after a period of sacrifice, so that they could afford a property or start a small business (Pichler 2006). This combination of factors caused the return rate in that period to be around 90% (Haug & Rühl 2008).

Italian guest workers at the workbench – February 1952. SLM Winterthur/ CC-BY-SA-4.0


In 1973, the German government decided to put a stop to its recruitment policy (Pichler 2006). This, combined with a return policy on the Italian side, caused migration to Germany to come to a standstill during the 80s, with the number of emigrants almost matching the number of returnees (Altreitalie 2015).

3.2 Understand modern migrations

3.2.1 Italians in Germany: current trends

Emigrations from Italy raised since 2009 and Italians have now started to move abroad with increasing frequency, after a period of net migration that had been negative since the early 1990s (Tintori & Romei 2017). Data points to a change in the demographic of migrants, with age, economic status and cultural attainments being significantly different than the past.

Statistics on emigration from Italy show that emigrants have increasingly high education levels: in 2020, one Italian emigrant out of four possessed a university degree (Istat 2021: 4). Emigrants also appear to be young, with an average age of 33 years old for men and 31 for women, and to include high rates of university students (Istat 2021: 4). Even though Germany was the second most popular destination for Italians between 2010 and 2019 (Istat 2021), assessing the total number of Italians in Germany is a particularly complicated task, since incentives on the part of migrants to report themselves to the Italian authorities are very low (Lafleur & Stanek 2017: 325).

The high number of Italians enrolled at German universities, making them the fifth-largest foreign student community (Statista 2021b), suggests that Germany is a popular destination for Italian students. The Berlin area also shows a high number of Italians enrolled at universities and Hochschulen, with Italians being among the most represented student communities (FU Berlin 2020; Amt für Statistik Berlin-Brandenburg 2016).

3.2.2 The economic situation in Italy

Since the mid-80s, the Italian economy experienced exponential growth, that lasted until the early 90s, starting from which the Italian economy faced a period of stagnation. Whereas the Italian GDP per capita in the early 1990s was similar to that of Germany and the UK (World bank 2021) and Italy was considered an industrial power, the situation slowly changed in the following decades. The Italian economy experienced a significant slowdown, driven by rising public debt, low productivity rates, and inefficient bureaucracy (Tintori & Romei 2017). The stagnation was aggravated by the 2008 international economic crisis, which made the economic and political instability in the country even more critical. Compared Germany and other EU countries, which experienced a relatively sweep recovery that allowed them to restore their economic fabric, Italy’s economy first shrank and then grew by only very small percentage points. Unemployment rose by 6% between 2008 and 2013 and then started to shrink, although never reaching the pre-crisis level (Statista 2021d). The GDP shrank, both in total and in nominal terms, and never reached pre-crisis levels again, causing loss of productivity and general impoverishment of the population (World Bank 2021; Tintori & Romei 2017). The economic situation of Italy is peculiar, as it remains a wealthy country in the global context, but not for Western European standards and in comparison to Germany.

According to Eurostat (2020), youth unemployment rates in Italy are just below 30%. The high youth unemployment suggests that work and career perspectives are a push factor for young people, independently of their education level. Even among young graduates between 25 and 34 years old, the chances of being unemployed are around 11,2% (Istat 2020). Germany´s employment rate being considerably low (6,1%) and its youth unemployment rate ranking among the lowest in Europe (6%), economic factors and better career opportunities seem to be a major pull factor for migrations to Germany (Eurostat 2020, Statista 2021c). However, data on new immigrants’ qualifications in Germany is only aggregate, which makes it hard to assess the level of education of Italians specifically (Haug 2015). To compensate for that, research on Italy-to-Germany migrations has, in part, adopted surveys and qualitative research (see Monteleone & Torrisi 2012; del Pra´2006). Nevertheless, the evidence gathered is not yet unambiguous and some questions remain open, first of which being the extent to which career perspectives and professional experience represent incentives to migration.

This research will attempt to shed light on the underresearched motivations of migration from Italy to Germany. I will show that career perspectives play an important role for the participants of the study, as they see the German labor market as beneficial to their professional life and German universities as a good way to approach the said market and acquire new professional skills. However, I will argue that a moderate dissatisfaction with the Italian school system, the desire for an international environment, as well as an improvement of language skills also represent important elements.

3.2.3 New mobilities

The situation of Italians in Germany seems to reflect a broader trend of new intra-European migrations.  Some areas, especially capital cities, have become hotspots that are able to attract large numbers of young, qualified people. Migration studies have described this as a new phenomenon involving the so-called Eurocities (Berlin, London, Amsterdam and Paris, among others) and have located it in a broader intra-European network involving students, young graduates and highly qualified workforce in general (Smith & Favell 2008). This has led some to portray this new migration path as an elite phenomenon, often forgetting that categories such as students, artists and young precarious workers are involved in it, which can be hardly considered as an elite (del Pra´ 2006). The common denominator of these migrants is the high propensity toward mobility, with frequent time spent abroad for work or study reasons before settling long-term. Also, the component of work plays a secondary role, with elements such as study, quality of life and relationships moving to the fore (del Pra´ 2006). New immigrants tend to live in a more international environment, showing high degrees of integration, although also a large tendency to segregation when difficulties with the language manifest themselves. Their social circle includes both the local and the international population: modern immigrants show much lower tendencies to form an actual community than it was the case in the Gastarbeiter period (del Pra´ 2006).

3.3 The case of Berlin

Berlin does not lie outside this network of migration. If anything, it is the core of this new trend: with 284.000 non-German EU citizens living in the city (Statistisches Amt Berlin-Brandenburg 2019), it constitutes a popular destination among young Europeans and especially Italians, who are the fourth immigrant population in the city (Statista 2021b). Contrary to other German cities, Berlin could attract young Europeans since the late 60s, due to its peculiar characteristics and cultural environment that constituted a unicum in Europe. The artistic and political environment sparked the interest of people around the globe, who saw their worldview represented by the German capital city. Especially artists and creatives saw Berlin as a place where they could express themselves freely and experiment a new lifestyle that would barely be conceivable in their home country (Pichler 2016). Young Italians, mostly coming from a left-wing environment, were willing to face the reality of German universities and engage in student protests (del Pra´ 2006). The sparkling political scene of the 70s and 80s also attracted young Italians, with left activist groups organizing demonstrations and opening bars and activities that worked as meeting points for political discussion (Pichler 2016). The so-called rebels often squatted in abandoned buildings and were attracted by the myth of Kreuzberg, a neighborhood that became a symbol for an alternative, experimental and creative lifestyle (del Pra´ 2006).

Parallelly, new immigrants came to the city that were not as starkly politically active. Many arrived in Berlin as students: their numbers increased in the 90s, when EU exchange programs were started and many settled in the city after the end of the program. New experiences and cultural exchanges became central, accompanied by a shift in the sectors of occupation: most of the immigrants aimed at working in the tertiary sector, even though the gastronomic sector was widely used as a crutch to make a living during the studies and work toward future goals (see Pichler 2002: 268).

New immigration waves seem to reflect these patterns, with an increasing number of freelancers working in journalism, management, architecture, and other sectors that require high qualification. Alongside them, the number of students grew that either do an Erasmus program or study at local universities. Modern migration patterns appear to include more economic migrants and people that migrate for other reasons than Berlin’s creative and artistic scene and its political activity (Pichler 2016).

In the next section, the main motivations that have shown up in the interviews conducted between July and September 2021 will be analyzed. Quotations from the interviewees, as well as contextualized fragments of their personal stories, will be included; common experiences and recurring opinions will also be highlighted.


  1. Findings

4.1 New experiences and language learning

When asked about the reasons for moving, interviewees often mentioned making new experiences as a leading factor. Ettore, for example, moved to Berlin after high school and regards the city as a refreshing alternative to Monza, a city on the outskirts of Milan where he grew up.

<< I didn’t want to stay in Italy. I wanted to go out and see something new. >>

After her Erasmus in Greece, Alice also set out to move to Potsdam to make an experience abroad. She saw Germany as an opportunity to continue her studies in a more international environment and make new acquaintances.

<< I decided I needed a more international environment, so I looked around and Germany was the one whose [university] time schedules were the same as Italy, so I could start in October. So, I found an international program that I could attend in English, and I did… I applied for it>>

Mirko also considered an international environment as enriching. He felt that constant contact with one´s own cultural context is limiting and, in a sense, constraining, which made him want to see something new:

<< In Bari, I think, this is probably what I missed. I missed living together with other cultures. It’s obviously not like Berlin: there are… you are dealing day by day with people of your own culture, so, at some point, I felt that my curiosity was unsatisfied>>

Most of the interviewees mentioned the international environment as a major pull factor. Berlin´s fame as an international and multicultural city often attracts students and young graduates searching for a more stimulating environment, an opportunity to learn or practice another language or to acquire new professional skills. Fabio also mentions that learning a new language was one reason that pushed him to choose Berlin. For him, as an English literature student, cultural and professional experiences overlapped. Berlin was a chance to get to speak the language he was studying, which was difficult to practice in his hometown, Cosenza, where very few contact with English-speaking foreigners was possible. Furthermore, he considers language as a personal challenge and a driver for further integration.

<< I want to stay in Germany until I can overcome the language barrier. I want to learn the language very, very well and feel like part of the German society in full […] Because, to me, moving here also means… it´s a challenge of feeling home>>

Confrontation with the local language is common to all interviewees, all of which show at least some degree of German knowledge, although with varying degrees of proficiency. Different is the case of the language chosen for the degree program, which is English in four cases out of six. Generally speaking, the intention of interacting with both the international and the local community is evident, even if the widespread use of English in the academic environment, as well as in everyday life, might sometimes pose a challenge to German learning.

4.2 Improved living conditions and different cultural contexts

A mild dissatisfaction with life in Italy overall is also a leitmotiv within the interviews. Interviewees often mentioned differences in mentality and lifestyle between Germany and Italy, with Germany representing a slight but noticeable improvement in overall living conditions.

<< Italy is very close-minded, this is my perception, both from an academical point of view and from the point of view of life… outside of Italy, so to speak, it is like the world did not exist.>>


<<[Italy] is not like Germany. Germany is a bit more open, there are a few more job opportunities, but also for students, and, in my opinion, Italy has a rather old-fashioned attitude>>


Ettore noticed a certain difficulty for young people to be professionally active, especially in the music field. In Milan, he says, the jazz scene was rather small and reduced to circles of experienced people who hardly ever allowed newcomers. According to him, big German cities have a livelier music scene, which is also more open to new talents.

Fabio, on the other hand, saw Berlin as a place where living standards were higher than the European average, both economically and in terms of livability. Besides the labor market, the nature of the city and the relatively low cost of life constituted a better option than Italy and than other European cities. He said:

<< London, I have been there, and I saw it was a very chaotic city, people were, let´s say… I saw them as some sort of robots: everything was too frenetic. I decided to come to Berlin because of […] the calm that the city provided; its nature fascinated me. Because I thought: <<Berlin is an important economic center, but, at the same time, not too chaotic>> so I thought there was a good quality of life>>

For some, negative experiences in their home country went far beyond mere dissatisfaction or poor standards of living. Mirko had to fight against discrimination that left its mark on him during childhood and adolescence. To him, language learning was a way to distance himself from an oppressive environment.

<< I think, at the beginning, my love for foreign languages was, how should I put it? Hatred toward my culture and my origins […] I am a person who is characterized by a lot of things that I think are misunderstood. So I had to fight, often alone. So, in particular as a teenager and as a child, the fight is always tougher compared to when you are a self-aware adult>>

After an Erasmus year in Saarbrücken, he felt that Germany could be a place to settle for a longer period of time. Traveling to Berlin as a tourist gave him the chance to get in touch with a culture that he regarded as more open and inclusive, which he eventually decided to be part of.

The specific appeal of Berlin often plays a particularly important role in the moving process. The Berlin area is perceived as an open-minded, inclusive environment, where discrimination is hardly tolerated. For someone who experienced some sort of injustice, Berlin is a lifeline to start over, away from a toxic environment.

4.3 Tertiary Education System

Tertiary education has revealed itself to be a major push factor for students. All interviewees have shown some degree of dissatisfaction with the tertiary education system in Italy and consider moving to Germany as an opportunity to receive better quality education.

Natalia, for example, has done her bachelor’s degree in Italy and has noticed a weak educational offer in some areas of her curriculum in Italy. She first noticed it when she did her Erasmus in Scotland.

<< When I made an Erasmus experience in Scotland, I realized that there was a completely different method of study. […] The Italian system is basically all about memorization. They give us loads of books, we memorize them, we go to class and repeat them, You get good theoretical knowledge bases, but it bases a lot on theoretical knowledge. In Scotland, on the other hand, it was all about writing essays, writing essays, writing essays: a lot of individual research>>.

Natalia then moved to Potsdam for her master’s degree, in the hope that a more international, Scottish-like tertiary system, that was focused on research rather than memorization, would help her pursue her career as a language researcher.

Ettore, on the other hand, moved to Berlin to follow his passion and cultivate his musical talent. After attending lessons in both Germany and Italy, he noticed a big gap in music teaching and approach to music overall.

<< The level of German conservatories is very different than in Italy […] the quality of teaching, the program, the way students are welcomed and followed during the program […] I had travelled a couple of times to Cologne [before applying for music school] and I found out that there was an enormous gap [with Italy]>>.

German conservatories, he claims, are more open to young people and give them the possibility to perform live at events around the city, which would be hard to do in Italy for a person with little experience.

For Alice, the educational system also played a role. During her bachelor´s degree in Turin, Italy, she had the chance to approach the field of academic research and came to the conclusion that a more international university system would be a benefit for her personally and for her career.

<<Speaking with Italian professors I was told it was better to start writing publications and not to go around and do Erasmus. […] My professor meant I was supposed to move up in Italy, so I could get a job there and not abroad… he was very disappointed by his experience abroad, so he did not push students to move out, and it is a bit, a bit… I think research in Italy is a bit closed and can’t find a way to open up>>.

Moving to Potsdam, she found an environment that was much more open to foreign students:

<< Life Sciences and Systems Biology [in Turin], it was… all classes were in Italian, so it was impossible for a student coming from abroad, unless they speak Italian, to apply and attend classes, even for Erasmus students. In Potsdam, on the other hand, I actually met people from India, Bangladesh, Iran, New Zealand, Australia, Central America. So, the university of Potsdam […] has a much larger catchment area>>.

Apart from personal enrichment, Alice thought that this international environment would be beneficial for her career, especially in terms of networking in the academic field and experience with research methods she was not used to.

The international environment and the presence of study programs and methods that are often unavailable in Italy constitute important pull factors among the interviewees. The cost of moving abroad is often compensated, at least in part, by the absence of university fees in Germany. The cost of attending university in Italy is, in fact, higher, especially for people with higher income. The cost of books and learning material very often falls on the student, who needs to face additional expenses.

Natalia, for instance, factored in the economic advantage of studying in Berlin in her decision of moving to Germany:

<< I decided [to study in Germany] during my bachelor’s, I was wondering about what to do for my master’s. […] I was thinking about it and it is really inexpensive to do your master’s in Berlin. I figured: <<I’ll study in English>>. Therefore, it was quite convenient>>.

4.4 Career

As discussed in the previous chapter, education and career often go hand in hand. A stimulating educational environment often opens the doors for further career development. For Mariasol, career opportunities played a very important role when it came to deciding where to study. After first attending one year of law school in Imperia, Italy, she heard about a double degree program organized by the universities of Turin, Italy and Münster, Germany.

Even though she was not given much information about her career perspectives in Germany, she assumed she would be better off in a more international environment, where she could work on her language skills and eventually use them in the job market.

<< I know it would be something extremely… something I could take good advantage of, since I was, honestly, insecure I wanted to stay in Italy and become a lawyer, which in fact I didn’t, and I absolutely wanted to continue speaking German; I wanted to, I mean, have more international openings, so I knew it was the right path>>.

After graduating, she returned to Italy and tried to start a career there, although with little success. She then decided to move to Berlin at the beginning of 2021.

<< To me, it was about being valued for my career path, since I was caught into the loop of believing that… to the narrative of: <<well, I’ve just finished university, they can’t pay me, I don’t even deserve reimbursement of expenses, right? Because I don’t bring any value>> that’s what I was told by the lawyer [I worked for] […] I was sure, looking at my previous experience in Münster, that many more young people are given the possibility to enter the academic world [there] […] I thought to myself: <<with an Italian and a German background and with, I mean, a bit of experience, I will be able to find a job that will allow me to earn a living and to feel independent and to feel valued for what I learned>> >>

Natalia shares a similar experience. After she concluded her bachelor’s degree, she was advised by a teacher to start a Master of Research, which focused on writing and research rather than memorization. She realized such a degree program was not available in Italy, so she had to look abroad.

<< Talking about my student career, she told me I could start a Master of Research, since Masters of Research are more similar to postgrads […] Whence I said, well, it is already cheaper to move to Germany [compared to staying in Italy], then if  Germany has a system similar to the English one, international, where you do a lot of research and writing, it makes more sense for my career to do that compared to a master’s degree in Italy, which still has a lot of theory and very few writing>>.

Berlin is perceived as a place where to make encounters and connections that would be more difficult in Italy. For a professional musician, for example, Berlin can offer chances of networking, as well as creative ideas to implement in your own work.

<<In Berlin it was much easier to do networking since the city is much… bigger and more compact. People meet more often and play together, there is a lot of exchange>>.


After two years in Berlin, from 2016 to 2018, Ettore decided to drop out of music school and cultivate music as a hobby. The hypercompetitive environment and poor career opportunities made him opt for a more stable solution. In October 2018, he enrolled in a bachelor’s program in Business Informatics at the University of Potsdam.

Fabio was interested in working with immigrants and teaching Italian as a foreign language. He wanted to put his expertise to good use and enroll in a master`s degree that would allow him to become a language teacher, cooperating with NGOs. Yet, he felt that the Italian political environment in 2019 could not allow him to work towards his goals.

<< I saw that there was a coalition between 5-star movement and Lega, I saw Salvini, Matteo Salvini as a Minister of the Interior and I thought that there was no way for me to do something like that in Italy. I thought I could do it abroad, and I thought it would be even more interesting, indeed, since you could maybe find a market there>>

Even if he was not familiar with the political environment in Germany at the time, he perceived the country as more liberal and attentive to human rights, an important pre-condition for the field he was trying to be active in.

4.5 Personal connection with Germany

Interviewees showed very little family connection with Germany. All of them came on their own, as part of an independent relocation and not joining any family members. Some, though, have family in Germany. This is the case of Ettore, who was raised in Italy by an Italian father and a German mother. He has relatives in Germany but no family in Berlin.

Some, like Alice, have made friends from a previous exchange program.

All in all, though, thorough insights on Berlin or previous acquaintances seem to be scarce. Interviewees showed low previous connection to Berlin, often limited to short visits to the city. Previous language knowledge or exchanges in the country, on the other hand, were very common, which suggests that moving long-term and studying in Germany is often an educated decision that presupposes some degree of familiarity with the country.

4.6 Previous experiences abroad

One can notice that experiences abroad are common to most of the interviewees. Natalia, Alice and Mirko reported having been in am Erasmus program before enrolling in a German university. This allowed them to have a first contact with foreign university systems, as well as foreign students and to confront themselves with new challenges. Oftentimes, the stimulating environment of Erasmus programs pushes students to seek for multilingual environments or different ways to put their skills and expertise to good use.

For some others, exchange programs already began in high school that allowed them to get in touch with a different culture and language.

Alice spent one year in Berlin at the age of 17, she moved there with her entire family and attended a local Gymnasium, before moving back to Turin and terminating high school.

Mariasol also spent three months in Germany during high school. In Boissano, Italy, she was attending a linguistic high school in which German was part of the curriculum. She accepted the challenge of studying abroad, even though she was not confident with the language yet.

<< [this exchange program] was extremely unknown, because among my acquaintances in my village no one spent a year abroad, right? So, together with a friend, she went to Canada for one year and I, I decided to go to Germany for three months. Only three months, because I thought it would be hard with German>>

All interviewees report their time spent abroad as being formative, as well as enriching. Oftentimes, it was the first approach to an unfamiliar environment and the first step towards life abroad. In most of the cases, it provided language skills (German, English, or both), as well as experience that could then be used for university in Germany.



  1. Conclusion


It is difficult to pin down all the factors that push Italian students to move to Germany. In this paper, I attempted to analyze some and, by doing so, insert migrations from Italy to Germany within the context of EU internal mobility. Given the increasing number of students engaging in intra-European mobility, and cooperation between European universities increasing (van Mol 2014; Burmann und Delius 2017), it is important to underline the motivations of specific student groups, that might vary considerably.

When speaking about mobility, two dimensions are identified:

  • Horizontal mobility happens between institutions of approximately the same level of academic advancement and economic quality. This type of mobility is usually temporary and allows students to experience different academic and social environments and profit from different stimuli than they would find in their home country (Rivza & Teichler 2007).
  • Vertical mobility guarantees levels of education and specialization that are not available in the student’s home country. This is usually the case of mobility from developing to developed countries (Rivza & Teichler 2007)

Looking at the case of Italy, it is possible to notice some elements of both. As discussed above, cultural exchange and experience played a major role for most of the interviewees, who saw enrolling in a German university as an opportunity to enhance their language skills, as well as being included in a more international environment. Whereas being in contact with Germans allowed them to get some insights into local habits and culture, and eventually improve their German skills and be more active members of the community, contact with international students gave them the chance to improve or keep up their English and to get to know other cultural contexts. From this point of view, migration to Germany can be seen as a prolonged Erasmus program, in which students get the chance to move permanently or for an extended period of time after graduating, basically providing them with an option for long-term stay and further integration.

On the other hand, vertical mobility is also part of the equation. Students reported finding or expecting better educational offers when moving to Germany, which would then allow them to higher their career chances. Whereas many interviewees pointed out some upsides of the Italian university system, university in Germany allowed them to pursue their goals in a way that is more tailored to their needs. In a broader sense, vertical mobility applies in that Germany often provides better career opportunities for young graduates, frequently offering decent wages even for entry-level positions, as well as jobs that require more personal engagement. Young graduates in Italy often fail to find an occupation, and, even when they do, they might find themselves stuck in underpaid internships or branches they did not plan to work in. Students oftentimes find it more rewarding to start a career in Germany, or to get the possibility to do so, rather than risking precariousness in Italy. Once graduated, students still get the chance to pursue a career in Italy if they wish to, while possessing a foreign degree and language skills that are usually appealing to employers.

The interviews were largely consistent with the analysis of new intra-European migrations (see del Pra´ 2006; Pichler 2006; Tintori & Romei 2017). Interviewees showed high interest in the topics of academic opportunities and quality of life, international environment, and language learning. Nevertheless, the aspect of vertical mobility discussed above adds some elements to the discussion: work and career opportunities still play a pivotal role and Germany seems to attract highly specialized people (or people in the process of specialization) from Italy in large numbers. The low university-related expenses and the quality of teaching make Germany a viable option for students´ further education, who, in many cases, opt for working in the country upon graduation. Italy seems to provide tertiary education training that, in some sectors, is disconnected from the job market, which makes university in Germany a more appealing option.



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Coletta, Mirko (2021). Interview by Giuseppe Patané [in person].

Cimenti, Alice (2021). Interview by Giuseppe Patané [in person].

Marangon, Ettore (2021). Interview by Giuseppe Patané [in person].

Mariasol (2021). Interview by Giuseppe Patané [videocall].

Rojas Mozynska, Natalia (2021). Interview by Giuseppe Patané [in person].



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Giuseppe Patané
Italian student of Sociology at the University of Potsdam, Germany.

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