I chose HTW based accounts from students who had previously done semester abroad there. It was also in Berlin and I knew this is where I wanted to spend my semester abroad. It was an amazing opportunity to live and study in Berlin at a time when it is flourishing.
My first impression of HTW were not exceptionally great. The campus which we had our orientation was physically very ugly, however this style of architecture is common around Berlin so was not of a great bother, and the excitement of starting the semester was greater.
Berlin is an amazing place. There is an intangible sense of freedom within the city. At the moment it is in a very dynamic period, lots of young creatives are living there and you really can do anything. It was also a very interesting time to be there, in the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis and to be a witness to this mammoth human migration, and see how it will affect Europe.
The buildings of HTW’s second campus, where I had most of my classes were redeveloped from an old cable factory and the facades were really cool, all brick buildings and alongside the river. HTW had fashion specific facilities which QUT does not, including extensive knitting machines and screen printing equipment. However to use a basic sewing machine was harder than doing any of this specialist stuff, there were not a lot of machines and time to use them was very restricted, which was nonsensical considering that the cohort was really large.
Based on accounts of students who had previously done a semester in Berlin, I chose not to live in student accommodation. Student accommodation was in a far out suburb and I wanted to experience living right in the centre of Berlin. I knew I would be harder to find something, and it was, but I also wanted the challenge to put myself on another level of independence, and it did.
However finding accommodation was extremely difficult.
All that said finding accommodation was extremely hard and difficult. Friends of mine rented through Airbnb, this worked out well for them as they were three, and could rent a whole apartment. I arrived about a week before university started and began to hunt. There is a massive amount of people arriving in Berlin all the time, especially students at the beginning of semester and mostly everyone wants to live in the same few central neighborhood. There is only a finite number of rooms and this makes things incredibly difficult.
It was very stressful at times but it was a period of growth and it worked out in the end. I ended up living in a flat with an Albanian girl, in a great location. In hindsight it was a great learning experience and when it worked out it was great. I was sort of homeless, living in short term rentals for about three months but it stretched me and made me think about myself and how I react and cope. So it was a learning experience.
At times the language barrier was a problem. My German was below par and some of the lecturers would not/could not speak with us in English. I don’t believe they should have had to, but their refusal was really frustrating especially in Patternmaking, where we were learning technical methods and had to rely on other students to translate. In this situation, and when we were figuring out the specifics of assessment, it was really useful being in such a big group (there were 7 of us from the BFA) as we shared information.
As exchange students our work was not graded on a scale , only pass or fail and so in that regard the academic intensity was lesser. I was however doing six subjects and at QUT I would only be dong 4, so in that regard it was more intense. It was interesting to experience another studio system, as QUT focuses much more on technical production than HTW did and I appreciate this more and I believe that it shows within the work.
I left Australia with $14 000 AUD. This was comprised of personal savings as well as all the HECS loans/grants etc and I was also receiving centerlink while studying. This money lasted me for the whole six month exchange and two months of travel prior.
The day to day cost of living in Berlin is cheap! Transport (which is great) was covered within our university fee, food is cheap and so is alcohol. Rend was not however, I paid 450 euro ($650) a month for my room. I used a Citybank account to access this money, as they do not charge withdrawal fees. As a backup I also had a traveller card with my normal bank.
Lots of challenges come with moving to another city and establishing life there for however short amount of time. However cliché it may sound, these challenges are what grows you as a person and makes the experience so rewarding and enjoyable.
Quite quickly I fell into a quite a large friendship group, which was great. It was somewhat easy to make friends with other exchange students as most people are quite open and are wanting to have the same fun time.
I did not find European culture that drastically different from Anglo-Saxon Australian culture to incur culture shock. But there were enough differences to keep things interesting. The change in weather was a large challenge for me. I know that I do not cope very well with the cold, and I learned to manage this, but another factor was the drastic lack of sun. You can get used to anything though.
I find travel a sort of secret ingredient to creativity. It allows for time and space away from the familiar and mundane, you learn and see things, which then changes your perspective on many facets of life. Then it is about taking with you what you have learnt, and integrating it back into your life and living in a sort of new and improved way. Exchange has allowed me to see a part of the world and expand myself, my expectations and my capacity. It is an amazing opportunity to not only travel, but live in another country as a student, I would absolutely recommend it.