Although I was required to study abroad as a component of my major, I most likely would have studied abroad regardless, due to my fascination with the world and a bottomless curiosity regarding other countries. I grew up in Australia while my father was working there, so from a young age I was very interested in continuing to travel the world and learn as much about it as possible through immersion. The fact that I had the opportunity not only to do that, but to also receive credit towards my major was definitely appealing, and I was making plans for study abroad pretty much when I started university.
Why did you choose American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS)?
I was introduced to AIFS at one of my school's study abroad fairs, and although I liked all of the programs I learned about there, I found that AIFS was the most cost-inclusive, easy to understand, and willing to follow up and help me make decisions regarding studying abroad. The staff I encountered were very friendly and the follow-up calls I received from them were informative but not pushy, which I really appreciated. Since I'm specializing in European studies for my major, I wanted to go to a European nation to study abroad, and I ultimately selected Germany, due both to the courses they were offering and how generally impressed I was by the description of the program.
What was your favorite part about Berlin?
Berlin is a city that's rich in history, and you can really experience a lot of their journey just by being there. Walking around the city gives you the chance to learn more about the country's more ancient times, the horrors of the Second World War, and the changes that came with the fall of the Berlin Wall. It's fascinating to see the way modern times and history combine to make Berlin so unique.
Whether you're a history buff or more of a trend-chaser, the city has something for you.
What made your experience abroad unique?
Although being in Berlin through AIFS meant that I was a part of a group of American students, the events hosted by the university itself gave me the opportunity to branch outside of that group and meet other students from every corner of the world. Being able to feel comfortable and share experiences with people from my home country and also being able to learn new things from people who aren't was a wonderful balance, and I was thrilled to leave Berlin having made new friends from all over the world.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
My AIFS on-site staff member was absolutely amazing, and very helpful during my time there. She planned and hosted several events that AIFS students could go on if they wanted to learn more about the city, and she was always available to answer questions if she needed to. She made herself accessible to students who wanted a sense of structure, but did not force her help on anyone who preferred to be more independent, and I really appreciate the fact that she was there for us as much as we individually needed her to be. In addition, when I had to leave Germany early to avoid traveling in a snowstorm at home, she did everything in her power to help me reschedule my flight and get to the airport on time. Considering how nervous I was that I wouldn't be able to make it happen, her help in my unique situation meant the world to me.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
It might be a bit predictable to say, but I wish I had managed my money better! I love buying gifts and getting little trinkets for myself as well, and if you don't pay attention to the money you're spending, it's gone before you know it. Although I did manage to end my time in Berlin with a bit of cash to spare, I was cutting it close near the end of the session, and I think that could have been avoided if I wasn't so eager to have material reminders of my time there. If you're as much of an impulse buyer as I am, my advice is to keep a written record of the money you spend, so that you're reminded at all times of how much you have left.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
On the four days a week I had class, I would grab breakfast at the convenience shop under my apartment building and then head to the bus that would take me to the heart of Berlin and to school at Humboldt University. What I did after class depended largely on what time it got out. On days when class ended in the early afternoon, I would grab lunch at the cafeteria and then do something on my bucket list, like visiting a museum, a memorial, or a shopping district. On days when class ended in the late evening, the sun was already down, since I was there during the winter, so I would usually go to dinner at one of the restaurants near the metro station before heading home. Unless the nightlife was calling my name that day!
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I really enjoyed sightseeing, and would often brave the cold just to go see something new every day. Luckily, a lot of what I wanted to saw was indoors, so you'd often find me at museums, but I would also go to the city's shops or bars just to explore and talk to new people. I also enjoyed trying food, both German and otherwise. In fact, my favorite food there was Doner, a Turkish street food that's very popular in Germany!
As much as I enjoyed being a tourist, I also liked to see how the locals lived, and made a habit out of exploring places that were recommended to me by people who lived in Berlin full-time.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I lived in an apartment about twenty minutes from the university with two other girls who were there through the AIFS program. The apartment itself was fantastic, fully furnished, comfortable, and secure, but it didn't have any Internet connection and doing laundry was a bit of a pain since the entire apartment complex was working with one pretty small laundry room. Despite those setbacks, I was generally really happy with the accommodation, and my favorite thing about it was how accessible everything was; a bus stop and a metro station were each about five-minute walks from there, which made exploring the whole city very easy.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
I'd like people to know that they definitely shouldn't go to a new country expecting what they're used to, and that they shouldn't expect to be catered to just because they're new. Some of the people in my group sometimes became annoyed when people didn't speak English or when there were small cultural differences, and it's very important to remember that you're a visitor there. Even if it does get frustrating to have to deal with culture shock or language barriers, my advice is to treat everything as a learning experience, no matter how small. You'll come out of studying abroad with a new appreciation for differences and a new ability to deal with challenges.
Now that you're home, how has your time in Germany impacted your life?
Going to Berlin really erased any doubts I had about my field of study; I came out of study abroad knowing that I wanted to enter a career that would allow me to help people throughout the world, and I've become much more confident in branching out academically as a result.
In addition, I feel much more equipped to talk about global issues and my plans for the future due to my time abroad. Talking to locals about both of our countries and the problems that we as a planet have to deal with allowed me to gain new perspectives, and I've used my time there as a stepping stone to continue learning about other nations and perspectives as well.
Would you recommend AIFS to others? Why?
I absolutely would recommend AIFS to others, and I do, since I now work as their on-campus representative at my university! I was attracted to the program due to its all-inclusive cost and the ease of applying and learning more about their programs, and the help they provided in my application was just the beginning. A staff member is always ready to help you at any step in the process, but they also give you the opportunity to be independent and learn more about both yourself and the country you choose to go to. They perfectly balance providing support and allowing you to move forward on your own, and in an experience as unforgettable as studying abroad, that balance is very important.
Darby is a junior studying international relations, with a minor in psychology, and an all-around travel lover. From growing up in Australia to studying abroad in Germany, she has always been fascinated with the way countries interact, and believes that the best way to learn about the world is to go out into it and experience as much as possible.