International Explorer: Iulia
In January 2011 we sent 4 students to the Winter University at Humboldt University – Berlin. On their return we asked them to answer a few questions – here is Iulia answers (JW):
Nothing compares to the feeling that overwhelms you when you step off an aeroplane in a new city and realise that due to the fact that yet another flight was delayed by over an hour, you only have a half an hour to get to an apartment and you have no clue how to get there. Taking a taxi was slightly expensive but the quickest and best way to get me to the check in apartment before the closing time of 20.00.
Once there, I was checked in by Mareen, one of the girls in charge of making our stay in Berlin as enjoyable as possible, who showed me to my apartment in which I had my own room but shared a bathroom, kitchen and lounge with two South Korean girls enrolled in the same course. The apartments were clean and the bedding was great. All cutlery and crockery was provided and we even had a TV. Everything was however voice-overed in German so it was a little difficult to watch. The only negative thing would be the fact that there was no internet connection at the apartments. This was super inconvenient as we needed it to communicate with our lecturer as well as do research and of course keep in contact with home. The Starbucks does provide fee WiFi for a couple of hours which we took advantage of. It however was fairly far away. We were given access to the University network and internet, but that could only be accessed on campus.
On the first day we attended a welcoming session as well as a class and a welcoming party which was aimed at getting to know as many people attending the winter school as possible. Our lecturer was away on a trip, so for the first week and a bit we were taught by one of his PhD students who really made an effort to get to know us as well as suggest great places to visit in Berlin.
Next time around…
In general, I think I was well prepared for Berlin. The only thing I would have done differently is take a really great pair of warm walking shoes as doing a walking tour for 3 hours with freezing feet is not so fun, as I discovered.
It was very convenient that we lived in self-catering apartments as it allowed me to both eat some healthy meals as well as spend less money on eating out each day. I’m not too keen on take out so I often packed my own lunches (a sandwich and a fruit) and I always ate breakfast at home (cereal). I liked having my daily latte at Starbucks though. The fact that I didn’t really buy much fast food saved me a lot of money, which I later used on shopping. The museums and entrance fees to art galleries and tourist attractions are on average between 5 – 10 euro with a student card (all German places accept Stellenbosch student cards). Humboldt University does organise many outings, which are of course free. I tried to go to all of them, missing only the ice-skating as I caught a cold. So with all of the extra sightseeing and tours as well as the food I purchased, I didn’t use over 400 euro ( 100 euro per week for food and 100 euro for all the extra sightseeing was more than enough). There are however some fantastic clothing and shoe shops in Germany and I did use a great portion of my budget on shopping (especially as most shops were having sales). There was no program organised for the weekends in order to allow us to travel. I took the first opportunity to go to Stuttgart and visit some friends. The flights in Europe are super cheap though, especially if you book in advance.
The classes were discussion based with a little reading we had to do in order to prepare. We had class about 3 times a week and each session was between 2 to 4 hours long. It was super interesting to exchange opinions and points of view with students from all around the world, so often we would carry on over time. With that said, it was super relaxed thus allowing us a lot of time for our own excursions on top of the ones already organised by Humboldt.
All in all the experience was fantastic. The winter was a little tough and the lack of internet access inconvenient, but besides that I had the most amazing and eye-opening experience. It is necessary that you go over with an open mind, but once you do, you learn a great deal from the people of Berlin as well as the many that have come from all around the world to attend the same course as you.