I made it home on Sunday without difficulty. Swiss Air held the plane in Zuerich so that I and others with connecting flights could make it, and we ended up arriving in Chicago ahead of schedule despite leaving 40 minutes late. However, some of my classmates are still stuck in Berlin or other parts of Europe because of all the snow.
I thought it would be a good idea to include some tips for future Berlin students based on my experiences and things that I’d heard from others. They are in no particular order.
1. Expect that Berlin will be different from what you’re used to. Go with the flow and relish the differences. Don’t try to turn Berlin into the US, enjoy the cultural experience. You’ll get along with your host and the city in general if you don’t expect it to be something that it is not.
2. Cook at home. The main reason is that it’s cheaper. All IES Housing comes with a kitchen that you can use, so take advantage of it. And it doesn’t have to be that complicated, I often made pasta and pesto with pesto from a jar, which I could cook pretty quickly and easily and was quite good.
3. Do stuff with your host(s) if they offer it. Mathias made great food for me just about every weekend. During the meals, we had great conversations which really helped me improve my German (I didn’t realize that he speaks quite good English for at least the first month because we always spoke German). Other students also had great meals with their hosts. Some hosts even made breakfast for their student every day. Hosts also lead interesting lives. I tried to go to a concert that Mathias’ choir was putting on, but it was sold out by the time I got there. Another student got a private bike tour of Berlin from his host. Mathias said that past students have even gone on hiking trips with him.
4. Ask questions when you don’t know or even aren’t quite sure. When I was getting ready for the Eastern Europe trip, I asked Mathias what the best way to get to the airport was. I had an idea based on my map, but Mathias told me about a much faster way. He also told me about the bakery where I could get the good, cheap Broetchen that I enjoyed so much. The IES Mitarbeitern (employees) and especially the Student Assistants are also really helpful.
5. Go on the IES trips. They are pretty well organized, interesting and relatively cheap. You don’t have to worry about booking tickets or finding hostels/ hotels. I would also recommend some independent travel too, but the IES trips were a good start.
6. Get a lot out of your time. Berlin is a huge city and even if you are there for a year you won’t run out of stuff to do. You can relax anywhere, but there are lots of cool things that you can only do in Berlin. That is not to say that you shouldn’t relax when you need to, but do as much as you can in the time you have.
7. Don’t just keep doing the same things over and over. Berlin has so many opportunities to do stuff that it can be a waste to just keep doing the same things.
8. Don’t live solely on Doener and/ or Bratwurst. It’s possible, but not a very good idea. For one thing you’re missing out on all the other culinary delights that Berlin has to offer.
9. Pack light. It’s a lot easier to get to and from the airport with smaller bags. Wheels help, but there are sometimes when you’ll have to use the stairs.
10. Pack space. This could include stuff that won’t be coming back, like the gift for your host. You don’t want to not be able to get something you really want because you don’t have the space to bring it back.
11. Make a list (at least a mental one) of things you want to do and make sure you’re doing something from it regularly. Otherwise you won’t get to do everything you want to and will be disappointed.
12. Speak German as much as you can! This is the main (academic) reason to go to Berlin, to really improve your Deutsch. It’s a great opportunity to learn a lot of words, improve your grammar, etc. If you’re tired, soak up some Deutsch through TV (all IES Housing is required to have a working TV that you can use). Another way to get some German in with other IES students is “Denglisch.” The best version is when you say everything except any words that you don’t know, but even “Let’s go to the Bahnhof” helps some. And if Barbara (the Director of the IES Berlin program) hears you speaking German in the center, she’ll give you a little Ritter Sport chocolate.
13. Budget for yourself. Give yourself a weekly amount for groceries, going out to eat, etc. but also have some money for if you see something you really want or get an unexpected opportunity to do something.
14. Be ready for all kinds of weather. September is usually fairly summery in Berlin and Berlin does not generally get a lot of snow. But if I’d packed entirely based on those generalizations, I would have been in bad shape because of the colder than normal fall and snowy December. Being prepared for all kinds of weather also gives you more options for traveling, either to cold Scandanavia or warm Egypt, both of which are reachable relatively easily and cheaply from Berlin.
15. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when speaking German! If your Deutsch is perfect, then that’s great, but if it’s not, then the best way to improve is to speak it and get better. Ask people to correct you when you make mistakes. That may well happen every sentence, sometimes multiple times, but you’ll learn very little if you don’t talk.
16. Get help, especially on papers. Use the tutors or other Germans that you know to edit your papers.
All right, that’s it for now. I’ll post more tips as I think of them.