Jenna Kersten - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I always wanted to travel as I was going up, and learning about other countries and cultures has always fascinated me. As such, when I was considering which college to attend, I wanted to choose a school with lots of options and support for studying abroad.

Why did you choose Academic Programs International (API)?

I knew that I wanted to study in a German-speaking country, and API's association with the FU-BEST program in Berlin seemed to have everything I was looking for in a program: the option to live with a host family, intensive language courses, and an engaging and exciting city to live in! Also, it had enough of the courses I would need to graduate on time, which was very nice for obvious reasons.

View of Berlin from the Deutscher Bundestag
View of Berlin from the cupola of the Deutscher Bundestag

What was your favorite part about your Berlin?

I love how socially conscious Berlin is. While it is a city certainly filled with awareness for the cruelties of the past, the Berlin of today is lively, energetic, and compassionate. For instance, many of the people that I met were filled with a sense of caring concern for the plight of refugees that were moving into the city. It is a city unapologetic in its openness to the goodness and talents of others, which was a trait I learned a lot from.

What made your experience abroad unique?

I think one of the things that made my experience abroad unique was that I was writing a great deal throughout it. I was able to write blog posts for the API Abroad blog, write for my personal blog, and I was posting to the Study Abroad Facebook page through my school. Having the opportunity to write about a place, like Berlin, helped me to come to know it a little bit better than I would normally, because I was reflecting on it more. Also, I got to know other writers and journalists in Berlin through different ways, like volunteering and contacting Berlin-based online news sources.

How did local API staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff was incredibly supportive! Our orientation with API allowed us to get a feel for Berlin before we started our orientation through the university. Additionally, our excursions and events with API helped me to see more of Berlin and Germany on the whole.

Describe a typical day in the life of the API FU-BEST program.

I would typically wake up around 6:30 a.m., get ready for class, and eat breakfast. Then I would take two buses to the campus for my 9 a.m. intensive German class. After three hours of class, I would usually have lunch in the campus dining hall with some friends. If I had afternoon classes, I would stay on campus and do readings or assignments for those courses. If not, I liked to find a cafe to read or write in for a few hours. Then, I would go home and have dinner with my host mom.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

I enjoyed finding new cafes to try, as it was a good way to explore new parts of the city with intention. As the weather became warmer, I loved to find nice spaces where I could sit outside and enjoy the sunshine. Berlin is also a city filled with all sorts of cool and interesting events! For example, I went to a poetry reading, a cooking class, and the Syrian Mobile Film Festival, to name a few. There's so much to learn about and see, if you look in the right places.

John Lennon Wall, Prague, Czech Republic
At the John Lennon Wall in Prague

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

I lived in an apartment with a German family, about 30 minutes from the campus of the university. I had my own room there and my host mom was tremendously kind and helpful. I loved that, while I had some space to myself, I wasn't living alone. There was a lovely balcony that faced the street, so I really enjoyed drinking coffee out there when the weather turned nicer. Also, it was a four-minute walk to the bus stop, and either a five-minute bus ride or 15 minute walk to the nearest train station, both of which were very convenient.

What do you wish you had done differently?

I'm naturally a fairly shy person when I first meet people. I wish that I had challenged myself to break out of this a little sooner than I did. Not only do I think that this would have allowed me to meet more people and develop closer relationships, but I also think that it would have helped me to be less nervous to speak in German, which would have greatly improved my language skills. Furthermore, I wish that I had engaged in more consistent volunteering during my time there. The time I did spend volunteering was among the best experiences of my time abroad, and I wish that I had done more. Finally, I wish I had spent more time getting to know my host mom. She was quite friendly and kind, but I ended up becoming busy with friends and wasn't at home enough to develop a closer relationship.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in the API FU-BEST program?

Berlin is cold. Very, very cold, so be prepared for that! Also, Berlin is a fairly large city, so it will take a while to get from place to place. I would routinely travel about an hour to meet up with friends, or to discover other neighborhoods. This wasn't bad once you adjusted to it, but it was hard at first to get used to.

Would you recommend API FU-BEST to others? Why?

Absolutely! I think that FU-BEST with API was the ideal choice for my study abroad semester. On the API side of things, the staff was very consistently supportive and helped us all to adjust and stay comfortable in Berlin and Germany as a whole. The FU-BEST program was also quite good! It was heavy on the academics, which I liked, and the intensive German courses helped me to improve a lot.

Now that you're home, how has your API program abroad impacted your life?

I think it impacted me in many of the ways that study abroad is supposed to impact one's life: I've matured as a person, become more responsible, developed better communication skills, and broadened my awareness on issues that are facing other parts of the world as well. It has made me more intimately concerned with current events and things that are happening around the world. Additionally, it has helped me to realize some career goals more fully, such as that I want to work and write abroad more in the future.