I can’t believe we’ve already come upon and flew by our midway point in the semester. I only have one month and 4 days left until I’m on my way home! Witchcraft!
So, as we reviewed for our midterms, I figured I’d also offer up a halfway point review of IES Berlin Language and Area Studies so far.
1. The City
Berlin is absolutely amazing. It’s my favorite of the many cities I’ve visited these past few months. (That could be a slight bias since I’ve been here longest, but we’ll just pretend that’s not the case.) Now, my college requires a cross-cultural experience, which most of us get by studying abroad. I decided to go, not just out of the country, but out of my ‘comfort zone’, so to speak, and head into the cities. I’ve never lived in a city before I started out on this journey, then I jumped right into an extreme by living in Beijing over the summer. I’m glad I started out there, because now all the other cities are a piece of cake. They’re not crowded or filled with pollution. Not in the way Beijing was. I even have multiple chances to get a seat on the subways here! I could barely breath on Beijing subways.
But, yes, back to Berlin. So far, I’ve loved it. It’s filled with all sorts of odd people. You never know what you’re going to see heading to class some mornings. And yet, it’s all perfectly normal too. It doesn’t feel like a touristy city the whole way through. There are those sections, but it’s not as aggressive as other places. There’s a lot to do, depending on what you like. I’m not a huge fan of going and sitting at a bar all night, so I have almost no clue about those things. The only bar/dancing place I actually went to was called Café Burger. The only way I can describe the atmosphere was “Russian ska polka disco”. Think Gogol Bordello plus some. But really, there are movies and plays and poetry slams and nice parks to relax in and a great public transportation system and love little places that sell only pancakes and beer late into the night and it seems like you can’t go wrong in a city like this. Not to mention you’re at a major hub in Europe and can travel by plane for a fairly cheap price.
And, oh the clothing! Now I, by no means, am a fashionable person. Jeans, shirt, and a jacket is how you’ll see me outside. I’ve even incorporated a scarf into the mix to fit in slightly more. But let me tell you. Berliners know how to dress. Even if they’re still is off the wall crazy, they own it (you kind of have to with extremes). Everyone is always well dressed, with clean, taken care of hair, and they carries themselves as such. It makes you want to amp up your own fashion skills just by looking at everyone else. It’s definitely a huge step up from the US college campus that have students in sweatpants going to class.
2. The ‘Rents
I’ll just come out and say it: having a host family is pretty weird. I didn’t have one in Beijing (we were in an International Student Dorm) and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. You have an idea, coming into the program, what your host family will be like, but you can never really know until the balls gets rolling. My host family is super cool. The thing is, we don’t see each other that often. At least, for the first half of the semester. We’d be busy, then I go travel for a little bit, then they’d go travel for a little bit, and before we knew it we hadn’t seen each other a few weeks! It’s bittersweet. I often enjoy being on my own (I’m an introvert, I get exhausted being around people for too long). I’m also sometimes nervous to talk to them because I have such poor German compared to some in my program, but I have to talk or else I’m not going to get any better! It’s a struggle I go through with all my language courses. I’ve been getting more comfortable with living with another family, but I still feel a little out of place sometimes. I’m working on it.
3. The Work
And of course, the program itself must have an midterm evaluation as well. I will say this: I barely had the language skills to get into this program. You needed 4 semesters of college-level German as a minimum. My second year of German was not a strong one. I felt like I didn’t learn as much as I should’ve that third semester, so I taught myself for the forth semester with the help of my university’s German department head. My skills are below many of the other students here because my second year was so wonky. My fault, I’m dealing with it.
IES Berlin has two programs: Language and Area Studies, which is a language intensive, and Metropolitan Studies, which is similar, but the classes are in English with a German class. All of our classes are in German, plus we have our regular German language class. It’s all German all the time.
I knew I wanted the language intensive because I really wanted to challenge myself and better my German skills, something I didn’t see myself doing in Metro Studies. I felt like I’d slack off there since it’d be in English. I think I was right. But let me tell you, boy is this program a challenge. This will probably be the hardest semester I have while in college simply because I can’t understand every single thing 100%. It takes me hours to read things and another few hours to type up short papers on them. I can’t half listen in class because, if I do, I’ll get nothing from the discussions at all. If you are looking for a fun-over-education type program, you can skip Berlin L&A studies. I said I wanted a challenge, and I got it. I’m just getting nervous this will be too much of a challenge for me. But I’m going to stick with it until the end and return home with a feeling of pride because, ‘yes, I did just take an entire semester of courses in German without it being my native language.’
I am only a semester student (sad times at Ridgemont High), and that does limit what classes you can take, meaning Humboldt classes are basically out of the question. It’s strictly IES (unless there’s some crazy loop-hole I don’t know about). They offer a good range of subjects: literature, sociology, art, theater, history, economic, etc. but I did feel a little stuck, spoiled from semesters of having too many classes to choose from. I am taking both Literature classes (‘Women in Literature’ and ‘Berlin in Literature’), and two sociology courses [German Popular Culture and Portable Roots (otherness in Europe/Germany)]. But if you end up being a full year student, or are in the spring semester and can stay until later into summer, your options will be much more plentiful. There’s a lot of reading involved, and it’s not always easy (not for me at least). There’s a decent amount of writing and also presentations (still getting nervous over those too). There are tutors available, even if you only want a paper looked over. Good recourses all around.
Basically, like I said, it’s a challenge, especially for those coming in with only two years behind them. But be proud, because two years isn’t very long to study a language at all, let alone take a full semester in that language!
I think this post turned into half encouraging people to take the program and half encouraging myself to make it out alive.
And so we continue on into our final month of classes…