GoAbroad Interview

Kate Vaughan Williams - Project Manager

Kate Vaughan Williams - Project Manager

Coming to TU Berlin with a wealth of international experience, Kate thoroughly enjoys introducing foreign students not only to Berlin, but to the world of cross-cultural exchange. Though courses are offered in the summer and winter, the semesters in between are jam-packed with planning, organizing, and brainstorming new ways to help students make the most of their time at TU Berlin.

You earned your bachelor’s degree in zoology. How did you end up working in international education?

I worked in wildlife conservation while living in London, and then started bat survey work in the spring of 2015, after moving to Berlin. As this work is seasonal, I needed a new job and searched broadly in my interest areas, including in the field of science communication and science education. That is how I found my current role, which involves organising science and arts courses at the TU Berlin in an international context.

Kate Vaughan Williams

Why is TU Berlin Summer & Winter University different from other university short courses?

We have a strong emphasis on running courses that you could not study as part of an ordinary university syllabus, either because the courses are in cutting edge fields (especially in technical subjects) or because they build skills for entrepreneurship and business. Our summer and winter schools also have a big focus on international and intercultural exchange; we really want our students to mix with each other, so all our courses are accompanied by a cultural program, included in the price, with social, cultural, and sports activities.

You’ve spent time working and studying in Australia, England, and Germany. How do you use your own international experience in your current role?

Our summer and winter schools attract an extremely international profile of participants. In 2016, we had participants from over 50 different countries take part! My international experience has helped me hugely in my communication with existing and prospective participants, for which inter-cultural understanding is important. It is also important in communication with international partners.

Study abroad students at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany
Ice cream stop at the Brandenburger tour, Berlin’s most iconic landmark, during the TU Berlin Summer University.

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

Between the summer and winter universities, we are busy in our office in Charlottenburg, Berlin, curating courses, answering participant inquiries, liaising with our international partners, having meetings with the TU Berlin to check we are on track, and to report to them how the programs are running. There is a lot of organisation, admin, and marketing effort that goes into the programs.

When the students are here, we are partly in the office and partly out and about. We spend much more time on the TU Berlin campus, visiting the courses and helping participants with any problems or queries they have. Furthermore, we run cultural program activities in the evenings and weekends, so we might be leading trips to the palaces of Potsdam, exploring the city on foot on a walking tour, or enjoying a boat trip! Our job is to make sure everything is organised and running smoothly, and that the participants are well looked after and enjoying themselves.

As an expat currently working in Berlin, what advice do you have for students considering going abroad for the first time?

Moving to another country, whether it is for a short time or to live permanently, will always be scary and challenging, but this is exactly why it is a brilliant thing to do. You will have to draw on your creativity, flexibility, and perseverance in order to find your feet in a new place, and this will uncover parts of your personality you can be proud of and build your confidence with. My advice is to embrace the challenges, as well as enjoy the more obviously positive parts, such as fun, new cultural and culinary experiences. Meeting new people comes under the challenging, but most rewarding, category!

Study abroad students on an excursion in Berlin, Germany
Kate on a cultural excursion in Berlin for the TU Berlin Winter University.

What surprises students most about Berlin? How do you help prepare students for the “surprises” of study abroad?

Lack of internet connectivity across the city compared to other large cities has been the biggest shock for most visitors to the city! This is rapidly changing though. Culturally, the things that surprise students vary hugely depending on where students come from, whether it’s the food, the fact you can drink the tap water, or the interesting nightlife.

We have a really welcoming team who work hard answering student email enquiries right up until they arrive, and we encourage students to ask questions. On our first day of our programs, we always run a “welcome day”, where we play team-building and introductory games, give introductions to the city and to some sources of cultural shock, answer questions, and have breakfast.

You began working at TU Berlin Summer and Winter University in 2015. How has the university evolved since you joined the faculty?

The TU Berlin Summer University was first brought into life in 2015, as part of the TU Berlin’s internationalization program, so the program itself is a big change. In 2015, we ran our first program with around 45 students, which grew to 150 students in summer 2016, and we added our first winter program, with 65 students, in winter 2017. Even in that time our program has evolved; the length, variety, and number of programs we offer has grown, we have introduced scholarships, and we have built more international partners. 

TU Berlin Summer & Winter University staff
Kate and some of her TU Berlin Summer and Winter University team members

What do you love most about your job?

The variety of daily tasks and the responsibility that comes with being part of a small team, and of course the contact with international students. It’s great fun to work on a program for over a year, to finally get to meet all the students face to face, get to know them, and watch them learn so much on the courses that we have built.