Emily Cole - 2014 Program Participant

View from the roof of the Reichstag Building in Berlin, Germany

On top of the Reichstag Building overlooking Berlin

Why did you decide to go abroad?

I've always been interested in other cultures and the teaching styles in different countries, so it only seemed appropriate to go abroad.

Why did you choose the American Institute For Foreign Study (AIFS)?

I was looking to study in a German speaking country and looked at many organizations. A friend then told me she was going to Berlin in the summer with AIFS and suggested I check it out. When I did I became infatuated with the city and knew that I had to go.

What was your favorite part about Berlin?

I loved the centrality of Berlin. It is so close to so many other big European cities that it made outside travel a piece of cake.

What characteristics of your program made it unique? 

With AIFS the price you see is the price you get. Meals and housing are always included in the price listed, meaning you will never go a day wondering where your next meal will come from. AIFS has you covered for that, even on weekend excursions.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The resident director in Berlin became one of my best friends on the trip. She knew the city so well, and not just the basics. She knew how to navigate the buses, trams, and subway systems but she also knew all the coolest bars, restaurants, shopping centers, and flea markets around the city. There was never a time she was completely clueless about how the program worked either. She was always on top of the activities, even when some of them seemed to be going downhill.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

Like most foreign countries in Europe, the people of Germany know the English language fairly well. Most of the people I encountered either spoke it fluently or had a basic vocabulary. I had a basic understanding of the German language as well so I was able to use that skill when communicating with locals that didn’t speak English.

The most difficult part of communicating (surprisingly enough) was checking out at the grocery store; the cashier gives the total in German. That’s when knowing your numbers will come in handy. Other than that there were barely any language problems. When trouble arose communicating certain things and vice versa, no one ever grew angry. All anyone ever wanted to do was help.

Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, Germany

Outside the Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam (it means no worries)

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish that I hadn't spent so much time trying to plan out my days. Sometimes my roommates and I would sit for hours planning out activities when really we should have been out there taking everything in. Some of the best things we found were suggested last minute by our resident director or found off the beaten path. There were so many things on my list that I wanted to do. If I had never made that list in the first place I wouldn't have been so disappointed when I never got around to doing certain things.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

The apartments we were housed in where somewhat out of the city, so everyday I woke up and took the 30 minute subway ride, 10 minute tram ride, and 10 minute walk to the school building. I was taking a German language course so I would be there for a few hours. When class ended I would meet up with anyone else that finished class and we would go to lunch at a nearby restaurant. After that I usually broke from the group and did some sight-seeing on my own. I would go to museum island or the park near campus, or walk around the neighborhood going into small shops.

Dinner was usually with a larger group. Many days we had evening activities, like visiting the Olympic stadium. Evenings ran long so we never returned to the apartments until after 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. There was a bar near our apartments that had free wifi so after returning, a majority of the group would hang out there late into the night before heading to bed.

Do you have any packing tips for students headed to Berlin?

The weather in Berlin is very unpredictable. My first day there I was expecting it to be on the cooler side but was completely blindsided when I stepped off the plane and it was in the 80s. Most of the other days it was cooler and rainy (of course, I would conveniently forget my raincoat on the days it poured). My biggest recommendation is to always carry either a raincoat or an umbrella wherever you go. The clouds move quickly so you never know when a storm will hit.

What is one of your favorite memories from your time in Berlin?

Our resident director had a friend in the city that cooked a kind of German meatball for us one night and provided a lot of other traditional German food. We watched the film "One, Two, Three" set in Berlin while we ate. It was cool getting to hangout with some Berlin natives.

What was the hardest part about studying abroad?

The hardest part was being away from my friends and family back home. My two best friends went abroad a few months prior to my departure date so while they were abroad I was sitting at home waiting for my time to come. I was only gone for four weeks so it definitely wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but I still missed them a lot.

When you’re abroad you can’t be afraid to really dive into the potential friendships there. Of course friends at home will be missed, but you can’t let that hold you back from putting your all into the friendships you’ll have while you’re there.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

I lived in an apartment on the outskirts of town with two other girls from the program. I liked the apartments because other students in the Humboldt University summer program were housed there so not only did I get to live around Berlin natives I also got to meet students from all over the world.

What surprised you most about Berlin?

I was most surprised about the layout of the city and the proximity to such greenery. When I think city I don’t think about mountainous landscapes surrounding it. The city was large and spread out, which is why it was able to be so green. There were no skyscrapers preventing that from happening. It took me almost the entire month to realize all the major tourist spots are along the same few connecting streets. It surprised me to pass them all within a few minutes of each other on my last day riding the bus to the airport.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before studying abroad in Germany?

I did so much research about Germany and Berlin before I left that I felt I had learned everything there was to know about the place. There isn’t anything specific I wish I had known before I got there though. I’m glad I was able to go there and have some kind of element of surprise. Even though I did all that research you can’t really know a place until you actually visit and spend time getting to know it.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of studying abroad is?

I think that no matter where you go, studying abroad provides you with a sense of self-confidence and independence you just can’t get without leaving. It’s different from traveling on your own or with friends. It’s different than a vacation. When you’re actually living abroad you have the time and the resources to fully immerse yourself in where you are.

I think it’s important to break from the group from time to time and experience whatever city you’re in on your own. When I did this I felt freer than I ever have. Bringing back this sense of freedom anonymity to my hometown I was able to go out and do things on my own that I wouldn’t have thought to do before. I became quicker in my decision-making skills and found myself being much more okay with being alone.

How has studying abroad impacted your life?

Being abroad has definitely made me more independent and confident in doing things by myself. I am also an ambassador for the organization I went with and am able to promote study abroad to people around my campus. It's taught me how valuable this experience is and how much I want to see others doing the same things I was able to do.

A beer garden in Berlin, Germany

Somewhere you'll find yourself quite often in this country are the beer gardens

Would you recommend the American Institute For Foreign Study to other students?

AIFS really stuck out as the best option for me. The staff in Berlin was so cool and helpful, as was the staff helping back in the U.S. I never had a time when I was confused about the process. AIFS was also great because with the way they work you never have to worry about spending out of pocket money on food; whichever program you pick they have a meal plan included in the price. This meant I got to save any extra money I brought to do other cool things with.

If you could study abroad again, where would you go?

Lately I’ve had a great interest in Ireland. I know that the landscape there is beautiful and I like that it’s so close to England. I don’t know very much about the country and I believe that’s what interests me so much. I’ve also noticed that across many different organizations Ireland usually lists literature courses as a class option. I’ve read a small number of Irish authors and learned a bit about Irish history, but would absolutely love to learn from someone experiencing that history. It seems like such an underrated country that needs more exposure.