James - Humboldt University of Berlin

Bachelor of Engineering/Arts
Semester 1, 2018
Eine Fahrrad Keine Problem

Academic experience

During my time at Humboldt University I studied the intensive language course prior to the official semester starting. During the semester I studied two Berlin Perspectives Courses (Rethinking the Migrant and East vs West cultural planning). From the Economics faculty I studied 3 courses (Labour Economics, Network Based Energy Systems and Energy Informatics). 

The course structure at Humboldt is fairly different at times to UQ in many ways. Everyone signs up for every course they could possibly want to do within the first week, turns up to class and decides then if you wish to undertake the course. There's hardly any information online (as with everything in the university) so you physically need to attend the first week of class to gain a good understanding of what the course is going to be like. This trend continues throughout the semester with a lot of the course information being handed physically with pieces of paper so don't loose them or gain friends that can hold onto stuff! 

I would recommend keeping electives/general courses till exchange. It makes it so much easier gaining credits back home. I took the equivalent of two economics electives and two arts electives. The Berlin Perspectives program is amazing if you can get credit for it. Beware some subjects require a lot more effort than others but some are incredibly easy, all of which are super interesting and I now have a much better knowledge about Berlin.

I would highly highly recommend the intensive language course at the start of semester. It is somewhat expensive and a month before the semester officially starts but it gives you a great head start on making friends and helps your German language skills. Most of the friends I have made (~15 person group) came from the first month of the language course. Everyone's in the same boat and just wants to make friends. Plus learning a bit more German always helps!

Personal experience

During my exchange I had a truckload of wonderful experiences. Berlin as a city has something for everyone. The nightlife is second to none and the park culture is amazing. Sitting around in the sun with your friends with nothing to do is probably the most Berlin thing you can do. 

Through the intensive language course I managed to make a variety of different friends. Once you gain a few friends I would suggest making a whatsapp or facebook message group ASAP. It helps bring everyone together so much quicker and make everyone get to know each other. Ours grew to about ~15 people so it was so easy to find something to do with someone on any given day. 

It sounds cliche but I would recommend just saying yes to everything for the first few weeks/months (or the whole time!). It allows you to experience new things and meet some amazing people. 

Also, get a bike. Bicycling around Berlin is the best way to know the city.

Specific things to do in Berlin. I would recommend Teufelsberg, Volkspark Friedrichshain, Schlachtensee, Sisyphos, 1st of May, Klunkerkranich, and CSD Pride Parade.

Accommodation

I lived in one of the student dorms (Allee de Kosmonauten, 20) offered by the University for exchange students. It was cheap (~250 euro a month) and as I travelled extensively prior to landing in Berlin with minimal internet I felt I needed the security of a place to live once I got to Berlin. Have a think of what you want out of where you live and how much travelling you're willing to do to get places.

Personally I had experienced student parties/drinking events through UQ student societies so I was no longer really interested in that aspect of student life. The travel times from anywhere to within the city were a minimum ~30 minutes usually by bicycle or public transport. The buildings/rooms themselves were nothing special and very much a sample of brutalist architecture that occupies East Berlin. Also East Berlin nobody speaks English so watch out if your German is Schlecht like mine.

Positives of my accommodation where that it was cheap. Put a roof over my head. It allowed me to explore extensively parts of east Berlin that are very far out of the way if you live closer to the centre and really experience what it would have been like before the wall fell. In addition finding an apartment in Berlin is incredibly difficult if you don't know anyone. It's harder to find an apartment than find a job. Some friends got lucky others took a month or two of multiple Air bnb's to land on their feet. 

If I had the chance to do it over again I would try harder to gain an apartment closer to the city centre to live.

Costs

At the end of my trip I ended up spending the OS-Help Loan + a 1k scholarship given by UQ abroad. I lived fairly comfortably without really considered money too much. My rent was cheap and I didn't have too many huge clubbing nights (maybe once a month). That being said I still did as much as I could and didn't consider money too much. Roller disco nights, comedy events, festivals, museums etc. 

I didn't do too much travel outside of Berlin, only to a couple of cities. I enjoyed living in Berlin and taking in everything the city had to offer. You can live very cheaply or you can live quite expensively, it's up to you. 

Day to day living is about 70% of the cost of living in Brisbane. Food is cheaper, going out is cheaper, phone plans are cheaper. If you want to travel more obviously bring more money but ~8 grand is easily enough to get by in Berlin for a semester (not including flights).

Professional Development

I took up an internship during my time here and intend to continue that for a while before coming back to Australia to graduate. In terms of Professional development from within the exchange program I mainly just gained the ability to relax when it's time to relax. During my time at UQ I worked and studied concurrently whilst having many other extra-curricular activities. During my time on exchange I've relaxed as much as I can and now that it's over I'm ready to apply myself towards some life goals again.

Highlight

1st of may, CSD Pride Celebration, Spati beers.

Top tips

Save up money and electives. Take Berlin Perspectives courses. Come in spring and summer if possible.