Ben M., Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)/Bachelor of Information Technology
Technische Universität Berlin, Germany (Semester 1, 2017)
Berlin is the most exciting city I have ever been to, it is so culturally and ethnically diverse and for the last 7 months I’ve been lucky enough to call it my home while I completed an exchange program at the Technische Universität Berlin.
Although I told myself I would do lots of research and find out as much as I could about the city before I left, it became quickly apparent that that was not going to happen. So I landed in Berlin speaking no German, had no idea about the culture or the history surrounding the city.
Was I excited? Scared? Missing home? Lost? To be honest, after over 24 hours in flights and two stop overs, I was tired and couldn’t wait to sleep.
One of the most striking things about being there was, surprisingly, the language barrier. Majority of the population speaks very good English, and 99% of people under 30 will speak perfect English, yet despite this it’s a barrier to work out how to ask someone if they can speak English with you; and it feels somewhat weird to be speaking a Language which is not the main language. Even the little things like buying cheese or milk in a supermarket were made a lot harder by having no idea what was what.
After a couple of days my perspective changed though, with the help of google translate, no more jetlag and lots of hand gestures I started feeling much more comfortable and began to make some friends.
The city has a very dark and interesting past; surviving two world wars, the cold war and from even earlier. This, often incredibly varied history, has created a completely unique cultural blend and sense of freedom through the whole city that I’ve never experienced anywhere else in the world. It feels to a large extent that you can do whatever you would like, however you would like, as long as you don’t hurt other people, or the environment. And that’s how the city lives and the rules its inhabitants respect, which also leads to a complete culture of acceptance of individuality and who people are. In one day you will see goths, businessmen, families and a whole multitude of others, who by normal standards are ‘quirky’ or ‘different’, yet in Berlin no one would blink an eye, everyone and everything is treated as normal.
More than that there is truly something for everyone in this city. If you want to experience the worlds best techno clubs (Including places to sleep and buy food inside the clubs) you can, if you want to work for a start up, you can, if you’re interested in business methods, you can learn about that, if you want to do something creative you can do that.
The city and its people are supportive of no matter what you are interested in and no matter who you are, where you come from and what you like to do; which made living there one of the nicest experiences of my life.
That said, the city does definitely has its draw backs, it is an incredibly large and diverse city and its constantly changing which is not for the faint of heart. It is a big challenge to keep up with the city and if you’re not careful you can burn out very easily, which I saw many other exchange students do.
Studying in Germany is also completely different, the education system for University is much more free than in Australia, and for the most part students are given a large range of freedom when choosing subjects and the number of electives they have. This is also reflected in the learning style, which features much more self-directed learning than I was used to. Once I became used to this change it was fantastic, there was significantly less assignments, take home quizzes and some of my units had just one exam at the end of the semester. This did however mean a bit more of a crazy rush at the end of the semester, especially given they have no mid semester breaks.
Most of the universities are also state run and students do not pay for the tuition. This means, usually, less fancy, showy and flashy buildings and technology, but do not let that fool you, the standard of the education is incredible and has some of the best research and professors in the world.
My best takeaway from exchange was to learn German as a second language. Not only is it a great skill to have but it makes life a lot easier. Even the basics of the language instantly meant I could order food, drinks, and go shopping with a lot more ease. Once I began to meet people and have conversations in German a completely new world opened up to me.
Learning the language not only gave me the ability to make new friends but gave me a much greater value and understanding of the cultural norms and differences and allowed me to understand a lot more of the quirks and things that I wasn’t used to.
Doing exchange was a fantastic opportunity that I was so fortunate to take, I learnt another language, experienced a city unlike any other and now have friends from all around the world. I can definitely recommend going to a city that is not first language English. Even if you don’t speak the language it will expose you to a completely different culture to what we are used to in Australia and give you many opportunities to learn a lot about your self and other people!
The experiences I had on exchange, and the things I learnt, make me feel like a completely different person. In just 7 months I learnt so much about myself and have memories and life lessons to carry with me for the rest of my life.