My Time in Mannheim

Caitlin: University of Mannheim, Germany – Semester 2, 2015 & Semester 1, 2016

My name is Caitlin and I set out on my year abroad to Europe in July, 2015. At that time, I had no idea that the next year of my life would be the best year yet!! For the next year, I was undertaking my study year abroad at the University of Mannheim, which is located in the South/West part of Germany. This was a city of approximately 360,000 inhabitants and it was here that I made friends from around the world.

Galata Tower, Turkey

Galata Tower, Turkey

Prior to moving into my apartment in Mannheim, I did a contiki tour solo in Turkey and Greece. It was the summertime and I saw the perfect opportunity to embrace the beautiful weather. I highly recommend doing some travel before you start your exchange semester or year, so that you feel a bit more confident towards travelling solo for when you do arrive in your exchange destination.

Highlights

During my year abroad, I had some amazing experiences and was able to share these experiences with the awesome people I met along the way. My favourite parts of the year abroad were the wine festivals in Germany, of course the beer festivals too: P below is a photo of my friends and I at the Stuttgart Volksfest Beer Festival!

My Brother and I in front of Mannheim

My Brother and I in front of Mannheim

Travelling to Amsterdam was amazing, I loved the city’s atmosphere and would go back again in a heartbeat. I was lucky enough to travel to Norway to spend Christmas with one of my closest friends from exchange and experience a proper Norwegian Christmas. I will never forget it!!! There I am below enjoying the Norwegian snow! I would do this year all over again; it will change your life!

To find out more about QUT Student Exchange, visit our website!

Living in Berlin

Chloe: HTW Berlin, Semester 1, 2016

I spent Semester 1 of 2016 on exchange at HTW Berlin, Germany. I chose to study in Berlin because I had visited the city with my family in 2011 and fallen in love with the culture and the historical significance of the city. I did not know anyone else going to Germany, so I was very nervous. I arrived in early March for 3 weeks of orientation before classes began in early April.

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Reichstag Building (Parliament Dome)

I did not speak any German prior to moving to Berlin and this was a huge challenge throughout the semester. Very few people spoke English and a lot of the administrative information was only provided to us in German. I had to sign a lease in German as well as organise a phone plan, bank account and apply for a Visa extension. Fortunately the exchange office at HTW was very helpful with translation problems and made things a lot easier for us.

Dorm Room

Dorm Room

I was lucky to be allocated to one of the student dormitories, so I was able to make friends very quickly. Living in the same building as so many other exchange students was the best decision I made, as it allowed me to settle in a lot faster. The international dormitory was on the outskirts of the city, so it took around half an hour to get to the university campus and about 45 minutes to get into the city. Being located in the fast East of Berlin was very interesting, as all of the architecture was reminiscent of the Russian presence during the Cold War.

Dorm Kitchen

Dorm Kitchen

Surviving in Berlin

 

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At HTW, With regards to how I funded my time in Berlin, I financed my whole trip from the government bursary, the QUT scholarship and 1,500 of my own savings, so not a huge amount for 6 months in europe. However I found it super easy to live by with my 100 euro a week plan, this left me a little bit to do cheap travel in Europe. I did have my parents help with managing some of my finances but I found most of it was still quite easily manageable and allowed me to have both a lot of fun but also live comfortably in Berlin as it’s such a cheap and accessible city. Berlin as well as being cheap was also quite safe from how I felt, like all big cities pickpocketing is a risk but in Berlin thanks to the 24 hour transport system and nocturnal lifestyle I felt quite safe in most of my time there, only really general city safety precautions required. Culturally the Germans are actually quite welcoming and helpful once you get past the language barrier and the apparent anger (which usually isn’t the case, they just look and sound angry normally sometimes) overall I found the adjustment quite quick due to making friends fast in student accommodation and through the uni’s exchange activities.   One thing I would say you have to bring on exchange though if a good backpack you can travel in but also use at uni my backpack was great for getting around europe and also getting around Berlin and to uni so I never had to leave things like my camera behind if I wanted to bring it. Overall exchange was an amazing experience that gave me such a huge opportunity to grow as a person, become more dependent, and to become more of a global thinker, QUT has given me the skills, exchange gave me some experience and I feel that with these new abilities I could take my education and career anywhere. I would recommend this exchange program as almost a “must do” – the things you learn really cannot be replicated in many other ways, and with QUT’s amazing support system, it really is a great opportunity to see the world and I learn new things from a diverse range of people and places.

Integrating into the Berlin community

Living in Berlin is really easy and accessible, rent in the student accommodation was very cheap and the rooms were a good size and had their own kitchen and bathroom which was super helpful to have in a student place. Water and power was included in rent and I found it very easy to live on 100 euro a week (monthly rent not included) with grocery shopping being easily available and cheap.

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German is not too difficult to pick up and a lot of people in Berlin speak English as well, the adjustment period was daunting at first but I wouldn’t let the language barrier be off putting, it was actually a fun challenge but English was also easy to use if you got stuck. HTW provides a short German course I would also recommend taking up German as a subject while studying at HTW if you can because it’s a great skill to have and well taught. Studying in German was also a difficult but interesting experience, I did not speak any proper German before I left and while HTW was extremely helpful it was also a great incentive to practice more German day to day, but even when I couldn’t understand I was also given information in english which I appreciated greatly. HTW’s fashion design degree and general subject system was slightly different to QUT, I personally found the workload to be not too difficult or time consuming, but challenging enough that I knew I was getting a valuable education experience as well as that extra freedom to engage with Berlin culturally and gain out of uni experience as well.

University Life in Berlin

Going on exchange with QUT is one of the most valuable and amazing experiences you could possibly have while studying, to be able to travel, study and experience so many new and wonderful things is an experience QUT gave me that I will not soon forget. My name is Neneh and i’m currently in my 3rd year of the Bachelor of Design Fashion at QUT and have just returned from 6 months exchange in Berlin Germany with university HTW. For fashion design Berlin couldn’t have been a better place, it was fun, busy, huge and certainly one of the most creative places I’ve ever been, Berlin offered me so much in the way of skills both university related and life skills and it was an experience i’ll be able to draw on for the rest of my life. The university (HTW) was a great place with lots of resources and super helpful teachers who went above and beyond to help us when our German wasn’t very good, the staff are friendly and listened to our concerns as exchange students providing a lot of much needed help with all aspects of a new life in Germany. HTW provided lots of great activities and fun stuff to get to know our fellow exchange students and see Berlin, in particular the university organized Prague trip was such a great opportunity I wouldn’t have gotten without the HTW exchange office’s involvement in student life.Pic1

I was living in the student accommodation the university recommended in Biesdorf on the east of Berlin called Wonheim Victor Jara and for anyone going on exchange to Berlin I would actually really recommend it, most of the exchange students go to live there and it’s a really great way to meet and get to know lots of different people, the area is nice even if it’s a bit of a way out and the house staff are friendly and helpful, I had a lot of fun living there together with most of the other exchange students and made some great friendships.

My life-changing Berlin experience

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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.

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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.

Creative Industries in Berlin

Impressions

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.

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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.

Location

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.

Accommodation

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.

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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.

Academics

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.

Finances

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.

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Challenges

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.

Benefits

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.

 

 

 

 

An Electrifying Experience in Germany : The After

The university offered an intensive German course which spanned the entire month. It prepared me enough to make actual German friends, during classes, sport training, parties and various other situations. It also enabled me to take (and pass) a technical subject in German – I was quite shocked to realise during the first class that it wasn’t actually taught in English, as I had presumed! April then saw the beginning of summer, as well as the summer Semester. The sun seemed to materialize just in time for it to deserve its title.

Throughout the semester, I attended classes four days a week and travelled around Northern Germany on the long weekends with other exchange and German friends. Some of the locations I visited during this time were Cologne, Frankfurt, Berlin, Munster, Dortmund, Essen, Bielefeld, Hamm, Bonn, Kassel and Dusseldorf. I learnt a lot about the history of these places, much of which had to do with World War 2 bombings.

During the days that I spent at uni, I would catch up with friends for lunch in “der Mensa”, a giant cafeteria which served both lunch and dinner. Additionally in the evenings, there would be all sorts of social events, whether parties (uni organised and dorm based), movies, bowling, eating out or just hanging out at any random location.

What education concerns, I found the technical engineering courses well-taught and the content also very interesting. They were however quite challenging, given that the English-taught subjects were from the Electrical Engineering Masters program and the German-taught subjects were, well, taught in German. The advice I would give to future students wishing to study in Germany is:

  • Be involved in all organized social events, especially in the first few weeks, as this is the easiest way to make many friends from all over the world (i.e. other exchange students).
  • Make the effort to learn some German, as this will extend your opportunities and enrich your experience with German people.
  • Study Abroad and Exchange Office, QUT International  email: exchange@qut.edu.au Page 2
  • Travel on every free day you have – there is so much to see in Germany alone, and it can be done cheaply if you do so in a group.
  • Keep an open mind, avoid stressing and enjoy yourself!

 Jonathon Petrie,University of Paderborn

An Electrifying Experience in Germany : The Before

Before I even started my Electrical Engineering degree at QUT, I had my mind set on studying abroad in Germany. This decision was primarily motivated by the following factors:

  • I wanted to live in a location which was central to many other European countries, so that I would be able to travel as I studied.
  • I wanted to receive an exposure to new cultures, become independent, have fun, etc!
  • I wanted to experience life and study in a new language (I had been learning German).
  • Germany is a world leader on the engineering front and provides a high quality of tertiary education in this field.
  • Germany is one of the few countries in the world which have made a significant investment in renewable energies; an area which I want to pursue in my career.
  • I have a general interest in German culture and history.

As the German university semesters don’t line up with Australia, I took the opportunity to travel around Europe for the first few months of the year. I backpacked with some friends to 10+ countries in Europe, where I got to see and explore world-renowned sites and experience cultures which both shocked and thrilled me. Although I was told that it is more pleasant to travel Europe in summer, I’m quite pleased that I got to brave the harsh European winter; as the sites, atmosphere and temperature are aspects I’ll never experience in Australia. It also meant that I could travel cheaper and more spontaneously, due to it being low season.

Then came my exchange. At the beginning of March I moved into my dorm in the small German city, Paderborn.

Jonathan Petrie, University of Paderborn