I had always heard stories from my friends and colleagues who had travelled abroad, but I had not paid attention to the finer details of their travel experiences because I never thought I would travel abroad. Having not yet travelled abroad, I was really nervous about a lot of things as the departure date drew nearer. I thought of applying for the summer school and prepared myself for the application by getting a passport prior to application. Having already obtained the passport ensured that my VISA application was done in time, but I was very much stressed about arriving for me VISA appointment and not having all the relevant documentation. To my surprise the VISA application process went smoothly, and the thought of my application being denied was completely erased upon receipt of an email instructing me to collect my passport. After thoroughly checking the provided checklist, and taking extra documentation that had not been requested – I was able to receive my VISA in time.
Being the organised and precise person that I am – I compiled a flip-file containing all the documents pertaining to my trip. All documents received from my travel agent, documents from my home university, documents from the host university and anything that I deemed important were in this file. This may seem like a lot of administration to some, but I must say that it was truly beneficial in having all my information together and available both locally and abroad.
Then came the packing – a task I very much dreaded due to the expected summer weather in Berlin and me being one who absolutely enjoys the cold winter weather that I would be leaving behind in South Africa. With the thought of packing less to return with more, I turned to the internet to see what the weather conditions would be like but I am glad I packed for alternative weather as it was not hot upon arrival to Berlin. I had never been on an international flight, and I would advise one to read through international customs documents online as that was also very helpful in informing me of things such as what is allowed in one’s hand luggage and also on baggage weight allowance and other relevant information.
All packed and ready to depart on Friday morning – arrival at the airport two hours prior to departure was beneficial and it is something I would suggest to anyone travelling abroad. Having to look up for directions a couple of times, and asking various members of staff at the airport for directions to the relevant counter can be time consuming, so early arrival ensures a less stressful time prior to boarding.
Experience at Summer School:
After a mind-numbing six hour layover at Abu Dhabi airport and two very long flights, I could not wait to land in Berlin. I had received very valuable information in the form of a pre-departure booklet from my host university, and even after printing and binding this booklet, I was really confused as to how the public transportation system worked. Those around me seemed very reluctant to speak English and I knew no German, but I was fortunate enough to arrive at my accommodation by communicating through hand-signals and making sense of what the driver had tried to write in English. The day prior to the start of the academic programme allowed me time to familiarise myself with what is in my opinion, a very efficient public transport system, and it also allowed me time to familiarise myself with the area and my fellow roommates and classmates.
First day of class at Humboldt University proved to be very different from what I was used to. I had my expectations, but these were far surpassed by various aspects such as how entry into the university did not require a card as it was open to the general public. Lectures took the form of a discussion and the form of assessment being presentations on various aspects of our content was totally different yet something I found very interesting and effective when producing knowledge. Other than exploring the university and its rich history and beautiful architecture, the course tutors were very helpful in orientating us around how one can make use of the cafeteria, the library and in sharing various other survival tips with us.
The course Global Cities as Centres of Knowledge Production had an academic programme that included tours to various areas and certain tourist attractions in Berlin. These organised trips included a trip to Kreutzberg, a visit to the German Bundestag, a gathering at the Beer Garden, a trip to Potsdam and various other truly enriching and memorable tours. What was most amazing to see was how going on these tours linked up well with the course content, and that provided a more practical example of many aspects that were dealt with in the course content. Apart from the organised social activities, the apartment became a truly social and fun environment as people from mine and other courses would arrive to drink a beer and share their personal experiences, culture and the interesting facts about their country. Living with people from various countries and various cultural backgrounds meant tasting various foods, and as we gathered to make and share this food – I was simply overwhelmed by the great conversations and knowledge-moments that would prevail.
The course itself was truly beneficial for me as a prospective teacher as most of the content dealt with knowledge production and in so doing addressed the many questions I had when it came to knowledge production. I am a passionate prospective educator, but I often only focus on education and not the other aspects that affect education and this particular course was able to bring those aspects to light for me. I thoroughly enjoyed all thirty hours of controversial debate, presentations and content discussions.
People often speak of “sad-goodbyes”, and I simply cannot deny how heart-breaking it was to leave everyone I had met – especially those I had come to know very well during the course of my stay in Berlin. A very well organised farewell-party took place on the last day of the course, and it is at this particular function while conversing with a group that was not really excited about their return home, that I realised how much I had missed my country. The Summer School experience was truly enriching and I am grateful for the opportunity to study abroad and to gain a different perspective on the many topics that were discussed, but I just could not wait to return and use the gained knowledge in a way that would be beneficial to those I work with or teach.
I would definitely participate in a semester exchange if the opportunity presented itself, as words would not suffice in describing the valuable knowledge that I brought back with me – a perspective and knowledge which I feel I can use as a weapon of change in my specific field.
I would advise anyone who has been considering participating in a Summer School to do so as it truly does expose one to various places, cultures and perspectives.