How much studying is actually in studying abroad? At some times I have felt extremely overwhelmed, but other times it has been a breeze.
The Metropolitan and Urban Studies program was one of the main reasons I chose to study with IES Abroad Berlin. I was most interested in the Urban Design and Sustainability course as well as the Gender in the Historical Perspective course. I am taking these classes along with Introduction to German, Europe and the Middle East, and Museums and Memories. Each of these courses, except for German, have pretty similar formats: a few papers, a couple presentations, some readings, stuff of that sort. Of course, I expected to do work while here, but many of the classes have all the assignments due at the same time in the semester. This, paired with responsibilities of being a senior (applying for graduation and figuring out post-grad plans), made some weeks of my semester quite busy. However, there were weeks that I had so much freedom and time to explore Berlin.
The workload was stressful at times, but the actual content of the class was not. In many of my classes here, I actually found myself wanting more of a challenge. Many of the courses cover somewhat basic concepts and discussion was limited. Often times, I’d dread my 3+ hour long classes because I knew we’d just be reading slide shows. The lack of challenging courses plus busy work definitely made the “study” part of study abroad disappointing.
Despite these issues, the highlight of my program has been my Gender Studies course. This is a once a week, 3+ hour long class, but it has been worth every minute. The professor is very engaging and ensures that we are experiencing Berlin to the fullest. Each meeting she asks us if we’ve had a “gender experience” that week (whatever that means), and it always generates a lively discussion. The curriculum has brought us to different museums across the city that are not typical of a museum studies course, like the Museums and Memories one I am also in. The professor has taken our class of seven on a Queer Berlin walking tour, to art exhibitions, and the Schwules Museum (the first ever institution in the world dedicated to queer history). We have discussed gender, race, and sexuality topics at our professor’s home while we enjoyed tea and pastries. I am passionate about the topics we discussed and the professor encouraged us to explore more concepts in our final projects. For my final, I researched the history of sex work in Berlin and its impact on the changing notions of gender and feminism. I appreciated that classes like these allowed me to become even more connected with the city I was living in.
It is difficult to compare my other courses to such an incredible class, but the varying degrees of professors’ passions have distinctive effects on the classes’ environments. I was very excited to take politics classes from a European perspective, but many of these courses did not expand further than surface level material. I had also hoped to engage a bit more with local politics, but there were few courses that enabled this.
Classes like the gender studies and museum studies courses allowed me to see Berlin from a more informed perspective. I began to notice small details in the city that, as a tourist, I would normally overlook. When my semester workload was light, I was able to explore the city and think critically about concepts we discussed in class. On the other hand, when my workload was heavy, I was stuck in my room or a library, yearning to soak in as much of the city as I could. My fear of missing out was furthered by the fact that most of the assignments were repeats of each other; I would write a paper, and a few weeks later I had to write one almost identical to the previous one. The courses were not fully developed in allowing for actual learning, and I wish each class was given more flexibility to connect the topic with Berlin like my gender and museum classes did.
Of course, very few people study abroad for the academics—it is all about the experience. If you want a brain break, these courses did assist in this, but be prepared to lock yourself in a library for finals week.
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Hallo! My name is Kassidy Witt, and I am a senior political science major at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX. I moved around the United States a lot growing up, yet my travel bug is still not content. I love adventure and I am a huge history nerd, so I am beyond excited to study in Berlin this fall!