Make the Leap and Go On Exchange!

Alexandra K., Dual Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering and Business
Berlin School of Economics and Law, Germany (Semester 1, 2018)

Imagine thousands of people sitting by a river, beer in hand, basking in the sunlight or throwing a Frisbee while techno music plays in the background. This is the definition of a Berlin summer. Sadly, my exchange was for the fall semester, where snow and a Glühwein by a fire was more favourable. However, being kept indoors also meant more time to bond with the students who I shared my dormitory with. Students from all backgrounds and languages mingled daily, and there was certainly no shortage of partying. The little things are what makes an exchange so memorable, such as ice skating at the Christmas markets together or using the car seats from an abandoned van in our living room. Some of the people I lived with have made their way into my heart as life-long friends, who I have already visited in their home countries.I attended HWR for one semester with the goal of deepening my knowledge of international management in an international setting. The experiences and lessons I gained from the teachers who are sourced from all round the world were invaluable, and helped to set me apart from the curve. HWR, like most of Germany, is very old-fashioned and traditional in their approach to learning and bureaucracy. No lectures are recorded and you are expected to build a relationship with your teacher. This approach at first seems a bit intrusive or unnecessary, but my teachers were able to connect with me on a personal and professional level. This approach encourages students to develop their own opinion and solutions to issues presented, as opposed to simply memorising content.

Culture shock in Germany was inevitable, but learning the language is the best step towards fitting in and finding your place. Before my exchange, I studied German in Brisbane at the “DerDieDas” school, which was excellent to ensure I was not wasting time on the basics when in Berlin. After my 6 months of exchange, I am currently at a B2 level, and am undertaking an internship in Berlin now. Advice for your exchange I can offer is be prepared to feel lonely, homesick or just displaced. Take the time out of your week to call home, be ready for the shopkeepers to be rude to you, and don’t be afraid to go out alone. One of the highlights of my experience was simply going to a local German-owned café and spending hours preparing for my German exam the next day. This small decision lead to me meeting my now-boyfriend, a Kiwi who lives in Berlin! Just make the leap and go on exchange, but don’t stop there, make the leap and squeeze every last drop out of the experience.

What One Can Do Tomorrow, One Can Do Today

Harry B., Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Laws (Honors)
Berlin School of Economics and Law, Germany (Semester 2, 2016)

The task of conveying my experience on exchange feels somewhat futile, for what made the experience unforgettable – the people met, language learnt, and culture lived – cannot, without losing something of its charm, be neatly distilled into a blog post. Can my friends, my parents, really understand just what it was that I underwent, why it was that I relished my time overseas; the experience and memories being so subjectively and personally my own. Perhaps this scepticism is shared by the exchange faculty, who advised in the writing of this post I focus on the university, facilities, costs, campus life and general tips – in short, just the most useful and easily digestible snippets of information addressed to the palate of the reader who is preparing, or contemplating, their own experience, not so much yours. So it is this I have attempted in the following few paragraphs.

The Berlin School of Economics and Law, where I studied, is in German classified a Hochschule – something of a university, but on a smaller scale, with smaller class and campus sizes. My lectures rarely had more than 30 people, my tutorials even less. This is vastly different to QUT and, I discovered, quite to my liking. For it was because of this the students became better friends, and the learning experience more intimate. Downsides do exist, but are not sufficient, surely, to hamper things: the library was to my mind under resourced, having neither enough places to study, nor computers to use. But I am guessing those reading this, if they’re on exchange, will not frequent the library all that often. My chief gripe, which is to the detriment of us internationals, is the absence of a well organised and supported club for exchange students. Although some effort was being made to remedy this towards the end of my stay, this was of no help to me, whose efforts to meet people would have been greatly assisted by an organisation, like QUT Exchange Buddies Club here, which organised bar nights and activities. Again, given the city in which you live, Berlin, is not short of entertainment, you may not find this gripe as deleterious as did I. But certainly one has a far better time gallivanting around with friends, than without, and it is through clubs run for the benefit of exchange students you meet such comrades.

I resided in private accommodation, which was quite expensive. Places in Berlin are becoming dearer and harder to find, so ensure you secure a place to live –using, say, AirBnb or or the fantastic WG-gesucht.com – well, well, in advance. Alternatively, one could through the university apply for a room in a student dorm, run by the organisation Studentenwerk. Though in general further out from the city centre, they are very affordable and populated with students. You will find, I am told, that the commute is not prohibitively long (especially biking to the train station) – at least not so long as to negate the other, sizable benefits of staying there.

Berlin, apart from the sometimes high cost of private accommodation, is affordable. We live in an expensive country, so I suppose wheresoever we go we will be pleasantly surprised, but everything – public transport, food and groceries, alcohol, entertainment, health insurance – is markedly less expensive than Brisbane.

As to the culture of the place, I have been on a previous exchange to Germany, that time to Mannheim, and must say, the feel of Berlin is itself unique; it has no counterpart, I do not think, across country or even Europe. Frankly, I can imagine few places where a student exchange would be more fitting. There is plenty to do and see – which you probably did not require my assurance of. I recommend learning the language: there is an intensive class offered in the month preceding the commencement of classes. It helps to know a few words. Culture shock, to be honest, is not the problem it may have been in other Germany cities and towns. Berlin is extremely cosmopolitan, an unbelievable melting pot, and it is not uncommon to hear many different languages spoken in cafes and trains. To be sure, there are many locals earnestly going about their business, whose sensibilities you ought not to disregard. But on the whole, people tend to coexist in acceptance of and harmony with everyone else.

Tips:

  • Should you have the money, get German health insurance (80 Euro per month) – this will save you some hassle.
  • Ration your money, spent wisely and be resourceful.
  • Without being reckless, take risks: you are, for a short period, incognito.
  • Meet people and make friends as quickly as possible, organise outings.
  • Improve your cooking, stay healthy, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, and take vitamin pills.
  • Above all: do not waste what little time you have. You will be on your long haul hour flight back to banal Brisbane before you know it, so hit the ground running, be prepared and make no excuses for yourself. What one can do tomorrow, one can do today.

There is Truly Something for Everyone in Berlin

Ben M., Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)/Bachelor of Information Technology
Technische Universität Berlin, Germany (Semester 1, 2017)

Standing in front of Technische Universitat Berlin

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.

In central Berlin The Fernsehturm is a must see!

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.

Riding a bike through Berlin

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.

A great spot to see the Teufelsberg towers

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.

Living like a Local in Kassel

Xaythavone Phommachanh, Bachelor of Engineering

Short-term program: Hessen University “Hessen International Summer University – Kassel”

Germany (June/July 2018)

Doing exchange abroad is one of my favourite opportunities that I could do while being in university. On July 2018, I took a journey to Germany to participate in an exchange program called International Summer University (ISU)– Kassel. This was my very first trip to Europe and Germany and I was excited and looking forward to it. Eventually the very first day arriving Germany came, it took some time to travel from the Frankfurt airport to the city of Kassel where the exchange program took place.

The city of Kassel is a small city where everything is pretty much easily accessible by trains, trams or foot, for example, stores, cafes, restaurants, museums, parks and so on. The University of Kassel, main campus, is situated not far north from the city centre. There are many tram stops around the university so it is very convenient to travel to study from the city and also outer suburbs. The main campus is large in terms of area. There are many buildings, namely the library, central canteen, study areas, etc. and my most favourite building of them all is, and I think you know what my choice will be, Zentralmensa or Central Canteen. This is because they serve cheap and good food, but you need to know how the Zentralmensa works so that you will get all the benefits.

Cheap and good food on campus

Throughout the program, I found that it was very well organised, educational and enjoyable. Staff and other participants were very kind, caring, cheerful and friendly. The program offered a German language course and a variety of seminars for participants to choose. Along with all those on-campus components of the program, the participants were also offered off-campus and extracurricular opportunities, for example, field trips in order to improve participant understanding about the chosen seminar topics and movie night or BBQ gathering to maximise the cultural experience of all participants. Furthermore, there are also recreational trips like a trip to Berlin, Fritzlar (a small historic town) and hiking trips, to name a few.

Recreational trip to Berlin

The cultural experience of the trip was maximised through extracurricular activities.

As the time of applying for this ISU program in Kassel, there was one aspect of the program that stood out and interested me to participate, and that was the opportunity to stay with a German family, they were really great at helping out with transitioning to the German culture. By spending time with them, I learned a lot about them and also the things that only the locals know best. I have to admit that I did little research about Germany before actually going on exchange, but because of them, I felt that I did not miss many things that are expected to do in Germany. Fun Fact: they like Tim Tams a lot!

I recommend that everyone join this program.

Overall, the program is so good. I recommend everyone to join this program, International Summer University – Kassel. I am sure that you will have a good time here. 😊

A Unique Experience in a New City

Dominic Dall’Osto, Bachelor of Engineering

Short-term program: Hessen University ‘Hessen International Summer University – Kassel’

Germany (June/July 2018)

I’ve just returned from a 4 week short-term program in Kassel, Germany – the International Summer University (ISU). I was part of a group of 45 students from all over the world at the ISU. Well, every continent apart from Antarctica. The program consisted of studying German, along with a choice of classes in Environmental Engineering, German Culture, or Nanoscience. We also had a lot of free time to explore the city, as well as travel around Germany.

The best part of the program, though, was the homestay component. I stayed with my host mum, Kristin, and 2 other students from Colombia, in a small farming village in the outskirts of town. It was amazing to wake up every morning, look out over the green fields and see farmers starting their work, but only be a 45 minute train ride away from the city centre. It was also great to live with 2 other students in the program – we shared a lot of new experiences getting to know Kassel, learning German, and cheering for each other’s countries in the World Cup!

The view from my room over our backyard.

My new roommates!

I also spent a lot of time exploring the sights of Kassel. The city’s most famous landmark is the Herkules monument. It is perched 500 metres above the town with a huge complex of water fountains leading down to a castle at the bottom. A castle in Kassel, who’d have thought?! Twice a week the water is turned on and the site fills with tourists following the water down the mountain; through the fountains, down an artificial waterfall, under the Devil’s Bridge, along an aqueduct, and shooting 50 m high into the air at the bottom. All of it is powered only by natural water pressure and has been running for over 300 years!

The beautiful view from the Herkules (ignore the cranes and tourists).

Speaking of powering things with water pressure (smooth segue!) I studied environmental engineering during my time at the University of Kassel. We had guest lectures from experts at the university, and nearby research institutes. But the best bit was going on field trips to see renewable energy technologies in action. We visited a farming village that had built a biogas plant to provide its electricity and heat requirements. We also had the chance to go inside a wind turbine to examine it up close. They’re a lot bigger than they look from a distance! Thanks must also go out to the amazing tutors from the uni who looked after us and kept us entertained throughout the program!

Visiting a wind farm. Fellow students for scale.

A Biogas tank in the village of Jühnde.

Another highlight was the group trip to Berlin during the program. Especially interesting were the stories told by the program director, Jürgen, who had experienced the separation between East and West Germany first hand. Hearing his accounts of waiting for 5 hours at the border while his car was searched were chilling. We also caught Germany’s capital in the grips of World Cup fever, with a huge public viewing at the Brandenburg Gate. Unfortunately, spirits dropped after Germany got knocked out.

Overall, the Kassel ISU program was a great and unique experience: living with a German family, but also spending so much time with the other students that they became like family; exploring a new city; learning a new language; being taught by experts in the field of environmental engineering; and generally enjoying the summer in Germany. I would definitely recommend Kassel’s International Summer University program!

Opening My Eyes to the Beauty of Germany

Sophie Heather, Bachelor of Fine Arts

Short-term program: Hessen University ‘Hessen International Summer University – Fulda’

Germany (July/August 2018)

My time in the 2018 ISU Fulda was life changing. It’s hard to find the words that will give justice to the program. I applied not expecting to be accepted, but I was, and I had 8 weeks to get organised! (I didn’t have a passport…eeek!)

Going into the program I hadn’t heard much about Germany aside from it’s infamous history. Friends would ask me if I could speak any German, to which I replied “no, but we learn it as part of the program”. I expected to leave the trip being relatively fluent in German. Haha. The language is very hard as the grammar is very different to English.

I am welcomed into Fulda by the German tutors – students who attend the host university. The tutors ran every activity and were the people we consulted if we had any issues. They were so funny, welcoming and understanding – I hope to see them in the future. They are fluent in English and are just absolutely lovely. I am given directions to my accommodation which require me to take a bus. I learn that public transport is free for university students! This ended up saving me a lot of money.

Brandenburg Gate

There were four types of accommodation; I was lucky to be in the hostel where I had my own room and shared kitchen and bathroom. Instantly, I made friends with the other girls from the program; on the first night they were so welcoming and invited me to go explore Fulda with them! The second I started talking to these girls I noticed how unusual the Australian accent is – it was a really strange moment. I was the only Australian in my hostel, and one out of four in the program! Australians made 1 out of the 15 different nationalities that attended ISU Fulda in 2018.

I made friends from all over the world.

For the seminar, I chose Music Therapy. My class was very small, I was 1 of 8 students! Additional to Australian students there were Portuguese, Russian and Israeli students. The seminar was very fun as we got to play a variety of instruments including rare instruments one wouldn’t typically know. Our teacher, Wolfgang, was highly energetic and took an interest in our cultures; as half our class were from Israel, we learnt a lot about their culture and the Jewish religion which I found fascinating.

Playing rare instruments in the music therapy program.

I was in the Beginner German class and was taught by the lovely Jana – a Russian woman who loved to learn languages! She taught us through singing songs whilst she played the guitar, it was very helpful! There were also days where she took us out blueberry picking, and on the last day to get some cake; she has the kindest heart.

The Mensa is the campus cafeteria – the food is so cheap! Each day there are 8 new meal options and they always tasted so good! You could get a big bowl of pasta for 1.50 Euros! There were lots of salads and snacks as well as vegetarian and vegan options! QUT seriously needs one of these!

ISU really opened my eyes to the beauty of Germany. I had learnt in school the brief history of the country during the World Wars and the Cold War. However, to actually go to the places that were talked about (Point Alpha, The Berlin Wall, concentration camps) it was only then that the history lessons made sense. It was eye opening to learn about the suffrage of people due to power falling in the wrong hands. It was haunting to walk upon grounds where millions were murdered. It was incredible to see modern Germany where the civilians accept the past and continue to create a nation that focuses on love and peace.

Upon returning to Australia, everyone would ask me “what was the best bit?” I can’t think of one particular time, however, my favourite aspect of the trip was that I made so many friends. I was able to walk up to anyone and have a great conversation. I made lifelong friends from all over the globe; my most closest friends live in: The USA, France, Netherlands, Portugal and India. I learnt so much about their cultures, and they were so interested to learn about mine. I still keep in contact with these people and I intend to for a very long time.

The best part was I was able to walk up to anyone and have a conversation.

The trip threw me in the deep end and I am so appreciative QUT gave me this opportunity to broaden my horizons. If anyone is wanting to study overseas but does not want to stay long term, this is your program!

How was studying at HTW?

Chloe: HTW Berlin, Semester 1, 2016

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Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)

The university program was very different to what I was used to in Australia. The course had no real structure and the teachers had carte blanche to decide what the content was, what the assessment was and when the assessment occurred. For example, I was doing the same subject as one of my friends and we had completely different content, different assignments and exams and different course time frames. One of my teachers was pregnant so she did the entire course in 6 weeks, so I had already finished one of my classes by mid-May. My friends in the other class had to do the subject for the entire semester with a final exam in July. I found this very strange as the QUT program is so structured and uniform, everyone studies exactly the same thing, does the exact same assessment and all sit the exam simultaneously. No lectures or tutorials in Berlin were recorded, some classes had no lecture slides or overview of content and there were no prescribed textbooks. It was difficult to follow a lot of the content as the teachers had varying levels of English proficiency. Being a native English speaker was a huge advantage, as non-fluent speakers really struggled to understand what was going on. Sometimes it was very difficult to understand what the teacher meant and understand the PowerPoint slides, as a lot of the time it seemed like they had just copied and pasted the German wording into Google Translate and then put it on a lecture slide. This resulted in some very strange sentences and it wasn’t always immediately clear what their point was.

Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)

Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)

The highlights of my experience were being able to travel by myself and see more of Europe, meeting so many incredible people from all over the world along the way. I also

University Building

University Building

enjoyed having so much time to just explore Berlin. I was able to spend an entire day in one museum, perusing slowly and taking everything in, as opposed to rushing through like I had done on the first time I was there. I loved walking around every day in a city filled with so much history and seeing the classic tourist sites like Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall never got old. All in all it was a truly incredible experience and I learnt a lot about myself and how I cope with adversity.