Fashion is a creative industry that is often dismissed as frivolous and vacuous, however this misconception has spurred me to seek success and ingenuity as a young designer, and pushed me to pursue fashion on an international scale. The exchange program at QUT was promoted to me by undergraduate and fashion alumni, and while I was afraid of the challenges that a semester abroad would present, when I found out I was accepted there was no looking back!
I took my exchange at HTW Berlin because students and teachers recommended it as a progressive institution, and the city is somewhere I have wanted to visit for some time. The university and the city itself is a remarkable combination of modernity and antiquity, as Berlin is one of the most historically and culturally rich cities in the world.
The Wilhelminenhof campus is located in an abandoned cable factory, as is the case with many institutions in Berlin. The grunge undertones of the city are reflected in the street art and club scene that creates a tapestry of youth culture.
HTW provided excellent care for their many international students, and gave us options despite the prevalent language barrier. Moreover the students were willing to help us translate classes and support our endeavors at the university and beyond, as they all spoke English well and relished the chance to practice with native English speakers. I had several private lessons to gain a basic understanding of German before my departure, and once in Berlin, HTW provided a compulsory German language intensive, however our language skills were basic and we relied on the generosity of other students to fully understand the given work. While I am thankful that I learnt some German, several of the partnered teachers were understandably confused as to why we did not have an advanced knowledge of the language of instruction. I would recommend all students who are likely to exchange with HTW to try very hard to learn sufficient German.
The facilities at HTW allowed us to learn techniques that could not be feasibly taught in a smaller institution such as print making, knitwear and specialised pattern making. These are the benefits of having a very large student base, however the campus and machines are often crowded during peak assessment season. Other fashion students at HTW were committed and mature in their learning approach, and the workload is vast, demanding and stimulating. Berlin is a cultural hub in which every street can provide hidden inspiration and consequently, the style of fashion taught is less commercial and more Avant-garde. This was a welcome change and provided inspiration and practical work for my portfolio.
One factor that concerned me while I was applying to the exchange program was my age (18 at the time), and the fact that I have never lived outside of home, not to mention overseas. I decided that the best option for me was to apply with some of my friends from Fine Arts fashion and thankfully, we all were accepted! I lived in a long stay Air Bnb with two girls who are now my closest friends, and our apartment could not have been more central or more appropriate to our needs.
Before our departure I was granted money from QUT, which combined with money I earned, sustained me throughout my trip. We were warned that finding accommodation in Berlin can be difficult but we searched tirelessly through multiple websites to find a place for the three of us. The city is set up with an amazing underground train (U-Bahn) that took us to HTW and all around Berlin easily. One rewarding lesson exchange taught me is that you can fall in love with a city fast and hard, the aspects of which are unexpected and delightful.
I felt completely at home in Berlin, safe on the streets and welcomed by the community. It is important for visitors to be cautious in some areas of the city, but this is the case all over the world. In my six months
I experienced one threatening situation, which was resolved with rational thinking and boldness. Sometimes I had to think on my feet, as I tiptoed the line between ‘local’ and ‘tourist’, but ultimately I learnt independence and self-confidence.
Exchange is what you make of it, and what I made was an opportunity to see the world and improve myself. Making friends was the most special part of my exchange, and the international and local friendships I fostered are ones that I will cherish forever.
When my time in berlin was approaching an end I had to remind myself that exchange was always going to be a short-term experience, and one that could not be repeated- which is what makes it so special!
Before leaving Australia I was nervous that six months was a long time, that I would loose touch with my home, and that I would change too much. But while reflecting on my trip I realized that personal change is just enhancing who you are. I learnt so much about the industry and about myself in such a short space of time that it can be difficult to return to normalcy, but I have gained the understanding and I can travel and live in foreign cities again, and fall in love all over again.