Today of last year was the first day of my semester abroad in Berlin, Germany. I reached Berlin Tegel airport after a 10+ hour’s fly and my Middlebury friend Stanis, who arrived days earlier than I did, came and picked me up. It was still chilly in Berlin in mid-March, but my heart was filled with warm greetings from my friend. Excited but also a bit unsure what’s gonna happen in the semester, I calmly moved into my room after a long subway ride from the airport.
The semester in Berlin starts in late March and ends in late July. Students who attend Middlebury Study Abroad Program in Berlin will enroll as exchange students in a local university called Free University-Berlin (Freie Universitaet-Berlin). We take the same courses as other German students, do the same assignments and exams, and will have to write a 12-page paper (1.5 spaces) in German for each course.
It sounds a bit intimidating for me– I only have learned two years of German! But after the first meeting with Heike Fahrenberg, the residential academic director of the school abroad in Berlin, I was relieved and felt ready to go: all I needed to do to survive was just to be bold and broad-minded. What’s good about Middlebury’s study abroad program is that we have 30+ actual schools outside of the US, which means we have an office, a group of staffs and tutors in each of these schools to help you go through all the processes and challenges you might have during the time abroad.
Can’t believe it’s already one year since the first day I got there. I did had a great time in Berlin. Berlin is so different from Vermont. It is a VERY big city with over three million population. If you take subway to go from the east of the urban area to the west, it takes three hours. The university there is also completely different from Middlebury. There are 20,000+ students studying there and the students do not live “on campus”. Actually there is no real campus, but all the university buildings spread out the entire southwest part of Berlin. There were six students from Middlebury studying abroad in Berlin in spring 2010, and we all lived in places all over the city. The Middlebury program helped me find a dorm. The dorm buildings in Berlin were not properties of the university. They belong to a company in Berlin and the company assign dorms to all the students in Berlin. I lived in a dorm with five other suite mates who were from different universities in Berlin and pursuing different degree programs.
It took me some time to get adjusted to this new environment. I was too used to attending very small classes, seeing my classmates after class, going ask professor questions whenever they are in 0ffice… but in Berlin three of my classes had over 150 students, and one seminar had around 30 students. Everything was far away– I have to commute 40 minutes by bus to go from my dorm to classes, and another 30 minutes to dining halls or libraries.
Fortunately the staff in Middlebury school in Berlin was so supportive and helpful. Each of us students was paired up with a tutor who helped us with writing and speaking German. The director provided us great information about the city and the university. Berlin was awesome. It was covered by dark history but also has bright perspective for future. The people there were from very diverse background and of course, the beer and sausage was fantastic. The Middlebury program also provided us some fund to travel. I traveled around eighteen cities in Germany, and the trips made me grow significantly. Looking back, the semester in Berlin was a completely new experience– I learned to plan carefully and be rushing from this bus to another subway train, face difficulties with courage and maturity, and learn from different cultures even within Germany.
And in the end, I survived, with two years of study of German . The last day I was in Berlin three of the Middkids, Stanis, Donny, and I went to a plaza in the city center, and Donny was so excited that he started hip-hoping in English and generated lots of applaud from Germans. What a great way to celebrate our semester abroad!!
I am really thankful that Middlebury provided me such a great opportunity to experience city life in another culture. Middlebury’s campus is way beyond the Vermont border. As long as you’re passionate about a culture, possibilities are always waiting for you at Middlebury.