Reason You Chose this Program: I've never been to Germany before and the program was brand new so I understood that it was going to be something completely different from all of the other study abroad programs that I had heard about/researched. Overall, CIEE specifically was definitely the right choice. It has an academic track that is for political science/ IR majors, which was also very appealing, considering that I wanted all of my credits to transfer over too.
Favorite Classes: Two of my favorite classes were the Politics of the European Union and Contemporary Controversies in IR. Both courses were taught by the same professor, Ralf Welt. Professor Welt was extremely knowledgeable and overall a very interesting person who I was lucky to have as an instructor. His knowledge and insight into the world of foreign affairs is extremely important, he is definitely someone that I will be contacting in the future for possible recommendations and internships. The courses were primarily focused on developing both a general understanding of the overall topic but also, learning how to properly communicate your knowledge via student-led presentations and discussions, which is not something so frequently practiced at my home institution in the U.S.
Describe the Housing Situation: The study abroad program that I participated in is located in Kreuzberg, Berlin. The neighborhood has undergone an extreme transformation since the fall of the wall. The building that I lived in also houses the students, so its part dorm, part classroom, which was very convenient. I lived in a four-person dorm suite, with two separate bedrooms and shared one bathroom. The other options for living arrangements were singles, doubles, or triple rooms. We had communal kitchens and a communal laundry room, at any given time there were about 140 students participating in the program.
Advice to Future Study Abroad Participants: Do not find it necessary to go abroad with people that you already know. I went to Berlin completely alone and came back with a group of friends that are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. It was extremely helpful to actually be on my own. This is not something new to me, I've actually usually started out new in different places without familiar faces and I've found that more often than not it ends up being the right choice.
Best Memory: Living in Berlin, there is a lot of secrecy. But this is not something that is negative. The fact of the matter is that you constantly have to search for hidden treasures, and thats just the nature of the city. My favorite memory is a collection of things, an experience; overall, being able to find new and interesting things every day was the best part about being abroad. The unexpected really makes living your life in a different country actually easier.
Biggest Surprise: While living in Germany you have to understand that the society is very cooperative. This means a few things, but mostly that people tend to be extremely respectful and understanding that if something goes wrong, then there is always a solution, however, that solution may or may not come as quickly as you want it to. In America, we like to be validated quickly, but in Germany, what happens, happens. This also goes for every day life activities. From riding the UBahn (subway), to relaxing in communal spaces around the city, or going to night clubs, people tend respect themselves and others. Overall, the environment/mentality of Berlin is "you do you, I do me, but if we happen to cross paths thats cool too" This was the best part of Berlin/German culture, that nonjudgemental, anything-goes kind of attitude.
If I could do it over I would: Become friends with more locals.
What I wish I knew before I left: Pack light.
Greatest Challenge: Traveling and maintaining enough time to spend in the city that I was based out of.
Going abroad versus staying on campus, discuss: Two completely different experiences. But one is not better than the other. Don't be intimidated or upset if you chose to stay in the U.S. and don't expect yourself to know everything about everything just because you went abroad for a semester. Neither experience confounds the other.
Fact about your host country that people are surprised to learn: People expect Germans to be really cold. This is mostly true EXCEPT... if you make a friendship with a German person, they take that friendship seriously. Germans cling onto their friends and respect their friends more than anything else.
Definitely apply for an internship while abroad, you'll be killing two birds with one stone.