Academic differences from Semester 1, and all that jazz…

Mitch, second year, studying English Literature at Freie Universitaet Berlin

I’m just going to come right out and say it: a literature BA from FU Berlin, while similar in some ways, is actually very different (in this blogger’s opinion) from the version of the degree you get from, for example, Manchester.

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The anti-perks of studying abroad

Mitch, second year, studying English Literature at Freie Universitaet Berlin

As promised, my last blog was on the fun, positive side of Berlin and studying abroad (or a taste of it anyway). This blog is something a bit different – mainly because my study abroad experience certainly hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine all the way through. These occasional periods of negativity, which eventually lead to greater insight into myself and therefore a positive outcome, are anti-perks.

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Wherefore art thou, Berlin student discount?

Mitch, second year, studying English Literature at Freie Universitaet Berlin

Every time I write a blog, I wonder how to start it. I know that that’s kind of reasonable as I’m starting out on what I hope is a new idea, but I find that as I write, my ideas come to me a lot more naturally than at the beginning of a post. So, here I am, starting a post again. Wondering how to start it. So I’ll start by saying how amazing Berlin is for student discounts for cultural stuff! Yay!

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Worth the wait!

Mitch, second year, studying English Literature at Freie Universitaet Berlin

So. It’s definitely been a while. Like, a really, really decent while. Everything’s been quiet on the blog front while everything’s been hectic and busy on the ‘year abroad life’ front. I’ll start not by making excuses, but making a plan: this blog will be a general (hopefully interesting) ramble on things that have gone on for me recently on this period of time abroad – because it really is amazing in its own unique way. Then, there’ll be two blogs on all the fun things/hard things that have happened, all the stuff I’ve enjoyed (or not) and why/what I gained from these experiences, which I think is a pretty interesting topic, no?

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My post-Brazil, pre-Berlin (positive!) post-mortem

By Mitch Mainstone, English Literature (Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany)

So. Berlin is now a thing in my life. A big, leafy, musical, beautiful thing that up until a week ago I’ll admit I had no real conception of. I think that if I write that I feel that same way about myself, but reflecting back on myself as I am at the moment, in some future ‘conclusion of study abroad’ blog, then I think this year will have been a successful one!

I’ll start this by saying that both my uni-home of Manchester and my home-home city of Bristol have an incredible amount to learn from Berlin’s public transport system. Study in Berlin and you get an ID ticket that lets you use all systems of transport – Magic Buses seem almost barbaric in comparison, never mind the flaky monstrosities that pass for bus schedules in Bristol. I already love that if you want to get somewhere in the city as a student, the only thing you will really have to pay with is time. And, fortunately, that is something I have a lot of at the moment! When I met my new flatmates, because of this, I could actually get to know them instead of passing through the flat like some sort of crazed Erasmus orientation alien, which resulted in finding out that one of them is Brazilian! To others, this might seem pretty interesting, but to me, having up until three weeks ago spent six weeks volunteering there with AIESEC this summer, I CAN ACTUALLY USE PORTUGUESE AGAIN! I couldn’t really express how happy I was at that, because it was like I was combining a place that is already special to me (Brazil) with a place that I’ve newly started to call home (Berlin). The fact that he speaks almost no English, but amazing German, only helps the situation, as do my other wonderful flatmates who are brilliant, and from three other countries themselves.

That’s also one of the reasons I wanted to leave my first blog a little later, until I was half-way between being at home, and being fully immersed in FU Berlin student life, as Berlin has two weeks of orientation that are really not-quite-university but not-quite-home. That, as well as having all but a few days between getting back from Brazil, into the UK, and being in Berlin left basically no time for anything other than spending time out with my family! I feel like I’ve been doing the things that people talk about doing: the travelling, learning new languages and being freaked out a little by new cultural norms, and yet, here I am, relatively settled, happy, and wiser for it. This is where I’m at now: I haven’t completely left home in my mind yet, but I am most definitely in the thick of studying abroad, having paid my rent for this month, gone shopping, and gotten fully enrolled. My head felt like it was going to burst with how new all the sounds, sights and norms seemed to be here, and culture shock has proven itself to really be a thing, having been shouted at by one of the administrative staff, having signed my rental contract late! Anyone thinking of coming to Germany… get everything signed and sealed on time if you can!  But despite that cultural faux-pa, I’m trying to keep it in perspective as all a part of the learning curve of my year abroad fun, really.

These first two weeks are FU Berlin’s way of registering who is where, doing what, and when. The pressure to get yourself organised academically-speaking, and in terms of accommodation has more than replaced the pressure to go out in the first week at Manchester… a pretty different kind of “re-freshers” week, I’ll be honest! After this fun but paperwork-heavy bit, I have a boat-trip around Berlin organised by my university (bizarre, wonderful, costing only 5EUR), and, currently, nothing else.  There is this gulf of time this week where I want to do things, but don’t really have any clear idea what I could do. I already feel like study abroad goes at such a breakneck pace, so I want to at least make a big list of things that I can do, see, and get involved in, to feel like I have some influence over the feeling of displacement that I myself have gotten, and expect to get again, as my own personal facet of culture shock. But, I imagine, this blog will definitely help, as will making an effort to truly ‘live’ my year abroad, with all the difficulties and triumphs that are undoubtedly coming my way.

Auf Wiedersehen (Pet!)

Berlin, Jan 2013. Wearing approximately 8 layers.
Berlin, Jan 2013. Wearing approximately 8 layers.

By Joanna Harris (Freie Universitat Berlin, Germany).

The time has finally arrived for me to move to Berlin. When I applied to go on exchange over a year ago it almost seemed like it would never really happen… But now it feels like time has flown by!

So here I am. As I sit in the airport writing this I have such a strange mixture of feelings… a fuzzy flutter of excitement mixed with a small (but definitely noticeable) twinge of nerves. Firstly though, the excitement: I am so looking forward to being in Berlin again – I visited for a few days last year and loved it, despite the slightly chilly -15 degree temperatures. I had only paid to bring hand luggage, and found myself wearing every item of clothing I had packed, constantly, for the four days I was there. I’m so excited now to see Berlin in the sunshine, it all its graffitied glory!

Now the nerves: as I said, there is only a twinge. This twinge is almost countered by my excitement. Not quite though… What has been crossing my mind occasionally is: ‘you have a house and friends in Manchester. Why are you choosing to move to a place where you have no friends, and nowhere to live?’ This has worried me occasionally, but I also find it quite exciting. It’s a bit like a challenge. I know (or at least, very much hope…) it won’t be like that for long!

My mum sent me a text earlier which said: ‘Have an amazing time. I hope you won’t be lonely’. This, coupled with a card I received from a friend which concluded with: ‘I hope you make some friends’, has made me consider that perhaps I am giving off some sort of vibe indicating that I will struggle to meet people. I hope this is not the case (!).

I am waiting now to get on the plane and I wish I could cancel out all the travelling and just be there in Berlin. I hate the waiting around! I just want to get there and explore. I have booked to stay in a hostel, provisionally for 10 days, whilst I look for a room I can sub-let for a few months. I have heard this can be quite tricky in the lively areas of Berlin where I (and apparently many others, unsurprisingly…) want to live. But I am going to stay optimistic. My thinking so far has been along these lines: I’m definitely not going to live nowhere…

So in conclusion, I am: 1) Getting very impatient waiting for my flight; 2) A tiny bit nervous about my living situation; 3) Mainly just really excited to start getting to know Berlin in the summer! I have heard on the grapevine that a beach bar is created by the river throughout the summer months, and this sounds juuust lovely to me…

Bis bald! (See you soon!)


Ps. For anyone wondering about the title, ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ was a TV programme about Geordies living in Germany. As I am leaving my home in Newcastle to move to Berlin, this seemed quite fitting…

This is what Berlin looked like the last time I was there... lovely, but very, very cold!!
This is what Berlin looked like the last time I was there… lovely, but very, very cold!!

I hope I can find more stuff like this when I get there!