Kaitlin - Technische Universität Berlin

M. Architecture
Semester 1, 2017

Academic experience

While studying at TU Berlin, I undertook four courses: an intensive four-week German language course, a design studio that was integrated with two research subjects, and an architectural theoretical subject. 

Undertaking the language course was fantastic. Not only did I meet other international people who were also new to Berlin, I was able to pick up some German language skills (which were completely absent when I arrived). The course enabled me to feel more comfortable in hearing and understanding German; especially when conversing with cashiers at the supermarket and in the uni Mensas (cafeterias), where most people did not speak English. I was extremely proud of myself when I could help an elderly lady read a label at the supermarket (with an entire conversation in German); and when I was able to order a kebab by myself! 

The design course was interesting - it focused on addressing Berlin's current housing shortage through densifying the city with point towers. The teaching style was different from UQ in that model making was a very high priority through the design process. We were encouraged to make a new model each week or each time we altered our designs. While this sounds intimidating, it was great to experiment with a different method of designing... and wasn't as intense as I had initially anticipated. The course was also paired with a research subject, where I was able to learn how to use and apply the program QGIS (a spacial mapping program); although this section of the course was taught in German, so I relied heavily on my German-speaking peers (and YouTube). 

To become enrolled in a design course was also very different from UQ. Masters students had to complete an Aufgabenul (Project 0) for the studio they wished to undertake and then were selected by Professors to join the course. Thankfully the course I applied for (one of two that were advertised as being offered in English) was not as popular as others and I was accepted without issue. This system seems to only be the case in the Architecture school and begins a week before everyone else's classes. 

The theoretical subject (also offered in English) was on the topic on Monumentality and operated in a seminar-style format. I was impressed by the German student's enthusiasm for debate and the discussion by students on each topic was of a much greater focus than that of UQ. 

While I found all of the subjects I undertook extremely interesting, the study was not too stressful (perhaps because of the pass/fail system while on exchange) and I still had time to go away on weekends and enjoy other things that Berlin had to offer.

Personal experience

The number of personal experiences I gained while on exchange in Berlin are so overwhelming and immense, it's somewhat difficult to summarise.

I was able to travel for a month before arriving in Berlin and on weekends during the semester, so was able to see firsthand many of the buildings I had studied in my first years of architecture. These travels gave me an insight into different cultures, styles and foods; and gave me unique experiences that I will never forget - like snorkelling in Iceland, seeing the Foo Fighters play at a music festival in Poland, taking a 16km hike in Greece, and dancing in the streets of Sicily. 

I was lucky enough to meet so many people from different backgrounds, countries and languages. Because I stayed in a dormitory with mostly exchange (or Erasmus - the European exchange system) students, most of my friends weren't actually from Germany. My friends were mostly a mix of Spanish, French, Welsh, Czech Republic, Chileans and Columbians, so I was able to see a huge variety of languages and cultures. I'm really thankful that I met so many different people, as I now have so many places in the world to go to visit them all!

Berlin itself is such an eclectic and exciting city. Everyone is their own unique personality and is quite happy to show it (think glitter and 80s spray jackets). On days such as the 1st of May (Labour Day) and Fete De La Musique, people crowd and party in the streets during the day and into the night. The city's nightlife is incredible, with one of the best techno scenes in the world (before going to Berlin I hated techno, but that perception changed after my first night out). People take advantage of sunny days, with beers in the park, bicycle rides through Tiergarten, or swimming at one of the many lakes in the area. With the constant festival days and events in the city, it's hard to be bored!! 

Through this exchange experience, I gained an appreciation for living in the now and making the most of my time by packing as much into my days as possible. I now actively look for new experiences and am excited at the prospect of new people.

Accommodation

During the semester abroad, I lived in a dormitory, approximately 15mins walk from the uni. The dormitory I stayed in was Siegmunds Hof... and staying there was honestly the best decision I could have ever made. I would highly recommend staying in a dorm (especially Siegmunds!) as it made it soooooo much easier to make friends (and was really convenient to move into; as opposed to the seemly stressful Berlin rental market). All of the people I was staying with were exchange or Erasmus, which meant we were all in a similar mindset of seeing the city and travelling throughout Europe. While the dorm was a while away from the main clubs, it had a bar in the basement (Bierkeller, with a pool table and foosball) and there were always people to jump on the train and go out with. Many other exchange students would also come to our dorm as everyone was so friendly and social. While sharing a kitchen with a large group of people was difficult at times, I couldn't speak higher of my time at Siegmunds, and am so thankful for all of the friends that I met there - many of which I think I will be friends with for many years to come. 

So my advice would be... if you're going to Berlin on exchange, STAY AT SIEGMUNDS!

Budget

Berlin was not nearly as expensive as I had anticipated.. in fact, it was quite cheap for a European capital. I would say that my living expenses were considerably cheaper there than in Australia. 

My rent in my dormitory was 200 Euro a month. A 200 Euro payment (a part of enrollment) at the beginning of the semester at uni gave me a Semester Ticket which covers most public transport within Berlin for the whole semester (including to and from the two major airports). Food was pretty reasonable (maybe slightly cheaper than in Brisbane); and kebabs (the most amazing kebabs you'll ever eat) were only 3 Euro. The best part, though, was that beer was 60 cents (or 3 Euro in a club).

Professional development and employability

Visiting the Berlin Wall
Visiting the Berlin Wall

Skills that I gained during my exchange that have contributed to my professional development include problem-solving, time management, confidence in meeting new people, communication, and a healthy hunger to seize every moment and opportunity. 

Travelling always brings its challenges - such as running for a bus in Poland, almost missing a flight to Sicily, or attempting to communicate with someone that solely speaks German - but the skills that are developed from these experiences really build your integrity as a person in both a personal and professional sense. Your organisation and communication improve; as well as your understanding of what makes other 'tick'.

Highlight

I feel like my whole time in Berlin was the highlight of my experience. Going on exchange was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made as I had the opportunity to see so many new places, meet so many new faces and experience so many new things. 

Strangely enough, I think the main highlight of my exchange would have been my time at my dormitory. All the friends that I made there and the experiences I shared with them really added to my experience of exchange. From dancing to Reggaeton in the dorm common rooms to visiting Berlin's lakes, parks, galleries and clubs with them, I couldn't imagine my time in Berlin without all of my Siegmunds family. I made so many (I would say lifelong) friends there that I was so sad to leave and come home. On returning home, one of my friends described the feeling of missing Berlin really well, calling it 'homesickness'.

Top tips

  • DO IT!! You will never, ever regret going on exchange and the number of things you will experience in such a short time and the amount of friends you will make is priceless. 
  • Stay in a dorm. It is so much easier to meet people, and the people you meet are in a similar mindset to you. 
  •  Be open. Be open to meeting new people and changing plans. It can be a little intimating arriving to a place where you know no one (and aren't sure if anyone speaks the same language), but people are surprisingly almost always open with you when you are with them. Leave a door open in your dorm and people will almost always say hi as they're walking past. 
  • BE A YES MAN. Say yes to every opportunity - to go to brunch with a group from your dorm on your first day; to going away by yourself for a weekend; to going out on the night you're tired; to dancing in the streets with everyone else; to trying something new. The best advice that someone gave me while I was away, was that it was the things that I said yes to would be the things I'd remember the most. I wouldn't remember sitting on the couch at home or feeling tired, but I would remember sharing a laugh or experiencing something new with friends.
Kaitlin - Technische Universität Berlin