Student Experiences Abroad
How to prepare to work, study, and live in Germany
I guess the first time I actually went to Germany, set foot in the country and tried to function in a way other than a backpacking tourist looking for the next bar or museum, nothing could have really prepared me for how difficult communicating in a foreign language can be. But that aside, it was a really good idea to be in Germany for a longer period of time with some kind of job to do. It took me places, forced me to speak German all the time, made me feel useful at times, enabled me to get to know some ‘real live Germans’, gave me the opportunity to try to imagine actually living in Germany on a more permanent basis, and I could see the ‘local side’ to Hamburg. I also developed friends and contacts in Germany, to make coming back to Germany a greater and easier possibility.
Germany isn’t drastically different than the United States. It’s not like going to Bali or India. There are enough small differences though to keep you confused many times, frustrated, interested and excited. The best way to prepare yourself culturally for a long stay in a foreign country is to go there as a someone interested in getting to know a different place because it is different. Take notes. Try everything. Confusion and language misunderstandings should, for the most part, be fun and enjoyable and teach you either about yourself as an American or about Germany. No one expects you to do it right as you are a foreigner. Foreigners are interesting and funny. They see things from different angles and with different glasses. That’s you. That is isolating sometimes, but being in America can be damn isolating sometimes too. There is no kit to prepare you for the cultural differences when you go to a foreign country. But you should go because you want it to be different and challenging.
It really depends on where you live as to how much money you will need during your stay in Germany. The West is still a bit more expensive. Berlin is the cheapest city to live in, people are payed less accordingly though. Rent in Munich is outrageous and apartments are difficult to find. Maybe the Uni there helps out with that though. Berlin rents in a shared apartment are around 200 a month, including heat and electricity. Food prices are about the same as in the States. Really cheap eats out in a ‘stand-up-kind-of-place’ start at $2.50. A half litre of beer in a normal bar is around $2. So whatever you spend on food now is what you’ll spend in Berlin. Of course you will, and you should, go out a lot. Theater does not have to be that expensive, some theaters sell student tickets, or sell left-over tickets cheaper on the day of the performance. Concert tickets are the same prices as in the States, but entrance fees into clubs are cheaper than in New York City. The most expensive place I’ve ever been to wanted $10 at the door. Most places want $3-5, and not all good places have a cover charge. A bottle of beer in a club is $2.50.
Well, enough about the price of beer...
Well, all classes and most reading is in German, so studying here will basically kick your ass and be pretty difficult, depending on your level of German. Many classes require you give a presentation (can be given in groups though) as well as writing a 10-15 page paper. Some have exams at the end instead of a paper. If you talk to your professor, there is an option of writing your paper in English if you are having tremendous difficulties, although the point of being here is to improve your German AND YOU WILL.
Just keep in mind, no matter how bad or frustrated you feel about your language skills, they ARE getting better. Just relax, and have fun with the whole confusion. In comparison to Bard, there is less reading to do each week for each class (unless it’s a literature class!), so you won’t have to read a German book a week or anything.
During the first two weeks you “shop around” for classes, meaning you don’t sign up (unless it says so in the course book – very rare – but check out if you have to read anything prior to the first class!) but visit whichever class sounds interesting and then pick the ones you want. Make sure you sign up on the lists that get passed around on the first day and pick Referat (presentation) topics as soon as you can. If the class is really full and the professor wants people to leave, you should get priority as an exchange student.
The professor-student attention level is different to Bard. If there are 40 people in class, it is impossible for all to say something. It’s easy to feel lost in a big sea of students. Each professor has specific office hours and there is ususally a sign-up list hanging on his/her door a week before. Then you have to sit and wait a while to talk to him/her. It depends on the professor if he/she has time for you or not. But there is a lot less hand-holding by the professors and administration than goes on at Bard. If you are an exchange student though, there should be some Bard-connected advisor there, no?
If you are coming over to study independantly of Bard, there is a whole bunch of paper work to do and lines to wait in and things to collect. That is a whole other report....
But, ultimately, the three things you'll need are a dictionary, a sleeping bag and an adventurous attitude.
The most important thing to stress is not hanging out and speaking English with other foreign students. It is so difficult to make friends with German students, but one thing I did in Hamburg that worked really well was to start a language exchange/ literary discussion group. I just put a flyer up at the Uni, and some people responded. We started out discussing English and German literature, but then basically all became friends, and the language exchange worked really well.
It is also really normal to feel lonely and disoriented for the first few months - it does get better! I think it is also common to reach a language plateau after a few months - you understand everything, but just can't express your ideas the way you want to. This takes a lot of time and effort to work through, but it is worth it.
It is SO easy (and cheap!) to register at German universities as an auditor, and while this is not an especially good way to meet people, it is a great way to get a feeling for German academic life.
Tips, Tricks, and Resources
Once you’re here, you’ll want to go to other places in Germany, check out eastern Europe, TRAVEL. The trains in Germany are expensive, and they recently got even more expensive. If you make your travel plans a year in advance and are a family of 8, then the trains are cheap. If you have a normal lifestyle and are single then they are really expensive. Many people get around through ride-sharing. There are two websites:www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de
. They connect drivers and travelers together, you just pay for the gas. It is safe. I've done it many times and never had a problem and you can save tons of money.
Once you are here, there are some cheap airlines that fly out of Germany:www.germanwings.de, www.wizzair.com, www.airberlin.de, among others.
If you are planning to stay for a while,then you could put an add in one of the papers (Zitty, Tip) to tutor English or correct papers. As an inexperienced tutor you could charge €10-15 an hour. You can also hang up signs at the universities.
Finding an apartment
The best thing is to live in a WG (Wohngemeinschaft: www.wg-gesucht.de;www.studentenwerk-berlin.de) – share an apartment with other students. You can find furnished rooms for rent in WGs for a short period of time – called "Zwischenmiete" – from one month to as long as a year. This is the best thing as you will immediately have people to get to know and help you out, won't have to deal with signing leases or deposits, and won't need to buy anything for the apartment.
Another useful web page if you are interested in visiting Berlin or any other place in Germany, and need a quick overnight, few days place to stay is www.airbnb.com. On this website you can find all sorts of private accommodation ranging from really cheap to more expensive prices. Booking is easy and it is done through PayPal, there are no hand-to-hand money transfer problems and extra charged for taxes. You meet people from all over the world that make you're visit pleasant and fun. I would highly recommend it to anyone travelling to Germany.
The “best” places in Berlin (the places with the most bars, cafes, night life, cheap restaurants, and students, as well as cheaper to live in) are Prenzlauerberg (Pberg), Kreuzberg (Xberg) and Friedrichshain (Fhain). It also depends on which university you will be studying at. Schoeneberg is an alright neighborhood, but to me it’s more expensive and a bit dull. I have never gone out anywhere in Schoeneberg before. Most things happen in the three neighborhoods mentioned above.
Studying and Living in Berlin
Helpful Links for Berlin:
1. Das Studentenwerk Berlin - Support for German and international students
2. Rettungsring - The inofficial studyguide for students in Berlin
3. Meuterei - Visit this Kreuzberg bar, opened by a Bard graduate
Studying at the Humboldt Universität, Berlin
When i first arrived in berlin, it was a little unnerving because my housing situation was so unsure. before i had left for germany i had been looking on the internet a lot for rooms. a good website is www.studenten-wg.de
.also the magazine Zitty (www.zitty.de
) has listings online as well. when i got here, luckily things worked out with leonie fairly quickly so it saved me a lot of hunting! but i would definitely recommend that students live in a WG-Zimmer instead of the dorm. everybody i know lives in a WG now. a few people lived in the dorm last semester but they say it's relatively far away and not too nice (although it is cheaper!). but i think living in an apartment (especially withgermans) is an important part of the experience.
I loved berlin right away... it's a huge city but it's very easy to get around with public transportation. once the semester starts students must pay a fee (a little less than 150 euros, i think) and that gets them a 'semester ticket' which is valid for all forms of public transportation in berlin (as well as potsdam). it's a great way to get around. although i bought a bike at a flea market and i ride that almost always now that the weather is nice.
One thing to expect in berlin is lots of waiting and long lines. many offices have hours that change depending on the day of the week and don't seem to make any sense. but if you pay attention to the hours and go early, it shouldn't be too bad. there is quite a bit of bureaucracy that i had to go through in order to matriculate, including registering with the police, paying the fees, getting cleared for health insurance and so forth. also, getting a residency permit can take quite a long time. however, there are special days just for university students when the lines aren't so long. i went bright and early on one of these days and the wait wasn't too bad. i'd definitely recommend getting these things done as early as possible.
Computers are another thing. there are several 'PC pools' at humboldt but they are open strange hours and there are always long lines. (of course, there are internet cafes but those cost money) i would definitely recommend bringing a laptop if possible! i'm glad i did. but my modem doesn't work here (not sure if that's true for all US computers...) so i would say don't necessarily count on having internet at home.
I just started the university so it's hard for me to say too much about it. the biggest problem i had was with the different types of classes. there are many different types (Vorlesung, Proseminar, Seminar, Uebung, etc.). As I understand it, to get Bard credit one must get a Leistungsschein from each class. It was difficult for me to figure out which classes gave out Leistungsscheins without going to all of them. So i think the classes will be confusing at first for students, but should become better before long. Oh, another problem i had is with the Vorlesungsverzeichnis (VV). There is a VV for all classes at humboldt that you can buy, but it doesn't have descriptions of the courses. Then, each individual discipline comes out later with a Kommentierte VV that you must buy as well (or i believe they are usually on the internet). Because i was interested in courses from different disciplines, it was a bit hard to figure out when which classes started (for example, all the literature classes started the second week instead of the first). The Vorlesungs are generally huge, sometimes there are too many students for the amount of seats. The proseminars can be quite small, however. Students can also take classes at the Sprachenzentrum during the semester. I would recommend it -- it's a good way to work on grammar problems and so forth. I've eaten at the Mensa a couple of times. It's quite cheap but the food isn't too great. The Mensa Nord at Humboldt is much better than the one in the Hauptgebaeude.
I haven't had any experience with advisors, i'm not sure whether i have one. Basically I had to figure everything out by myself (with the help of other students of course), but everything worked out fine.I also took the intensive language class during March at the Humboldt Sprachenzentrum. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who's doing the exchange program. It's a great way to meet people and brush up on grammar and also get a feel for the university before classes start and there are thousands of people everywhere.The international office sometimes organizes activities which are quite enjoyable. There was a bus trip to Potsdam, for example, and there's a boat tour next weekend. I've also been doing a lot of exploring by myself... Berlin is great because it's a huge city, yet there are so many parks and also forests and lakes not far away.
Being a student in Berlin is great... there are student discounts for many things, in particular theater which can be extremely inexpensive. (I'm seeing arturo ui next month!!!) And there are tons of great museums. Daniel Libeskind's Juedisches Museum is particulary interesting because of its architecture. It's quite evident that the city is changing rapidly... there's construction everywhere and interesting new architecture can always be seen. All sorts of cuisines can be found all over the city, as well. It's not too easy to find german food, but turkish and asian food is everywhere. And i would definitely say that the cost of living here is less than in the U.S.
When I decided that I wanted to study abroad in Germany last semester, I received a grant through my college of about one thousand dollars to help me pay for it. Although the grant essentially only covered my plane ticket; without it I probably wouldn't have been able to raise the money to pay for both the travel expenses as well as the cost of enrolling in the program at the same time, and so it was the grant that allowed me to go on this trip.
I enrolled in a summer program at the Humboldt University in Berlin called "Deutsch in Berlin," one of the schools three month-long summer courses. The course consisted of daily language courses of about 4 or 5 hours per day, which were split up into groups based on skill level. Each class had about 15 people in it. I thought that this was a good system, because it gave each person a good deal of time to speak and work on their own issues with other people who are at a similar skill level — and having the perspective of teachers who are also locals of the area was nice. In the evenings, there were a number of special events, tours etc., designed to give us a chance to see the city and surrounding areas and experience the culture of the city. I really enjoyed the way this was done, because each event was optional, giving us the opportunity to go to the events which seemed interesting (a number of them), but also allowing us time to go out and experience the city for ourselves. Over the weekends there was generally a lot more free time, and I some of which I spent looking around the city, and sometimes going a bit further afield. The last weekend, me and some of my friends there took a train to Dresden to look around that city and get a view of Germany outside of Berlin.
Another nice aspect of the program was the fact that the majority of other students there were not American, with the majority being from Spain, England, and Eastern Europe, giving me the chance to get a different perspective on the experience than if it had been a school field trip, for example. In fact, I spent far more time with non-Americans than with Americans, which I think was a great thing. Another good aspect of this was that many of the people I met did not speak English, or at least not very well, so I ended up practicing my German even when talking to the other people in the program outside of class. In general, the program was nice because it had a good mix of cultural and academic experiences, and I think I managed to improve my German skills while meeting people from all over the world, many of them Germans, but many others as well, and without the grant I would probably have been unable to do this.
Daniel, July 2007
Last year, I was fortunate enough to receive a Van Meeteren grant from the German Studies department at Bard College. With this stipend, I elected to return to Germany for a second time in order to better my grasp of spoken German. I first began studying German language in 2006 at Bard, and a year later I had already planned on declaring it as my second major in addition to music composition. But since this language was so fresh in my mind, I knew I had to submerge myself in it if I hoped to internalize it.
I thus spent my stipend entirely on tuition for a summer school program at Humboldt University. I studied in Berlin for 5 weeks, learning German language in a classroom with students from all around the world. Classes were lively and challenging; my instructor was always pushing us to the very last minute. As soon as I stepped into the student apartments, however, my heart sank. These apartments were located in former East-Berlin, by Tierpark, where cars race down the Autobahn only a few meters away from the glass zoo cages. The apartment was a stucco nightmare—every room looked the same. Worse, it was a 30 minute subway ride away from the center of town.
I didn't even unpack. I had made many friends in Berlin from my last summer there, and so I made arrangements to stay at an artist co-op in Kreuzberg. This new space proved to be an invaluable part of my studies for the summer. One of the house-members was a single father musician and his 4 year old child who didn't speak a word of English. Whereas many of the students in class relapsed into their mother-tongue during each classroom break, I had no choice but to continue wrangling the German language into a viable means of expression in order to simply communicate with my house-mates. At the end of the school-day, I would hop onto my bicycle and ride back to Kreuzberg to the bridge on Admiralstrasse, where I would perform on the street with my battery-powered amplifier until dusk. At the beginning of the summer, I was too shy to speak with people as they came by to thank me for the music. By the end of the summer, I was confident enough to argue about the moral implications of playing noisy music in the public sphere.
Summer in Heidelberg University
Jeniffer, Summer 2010
I am writing to describe my experience in Heidelberg, Germany, and to express my gratitude to those who made it possible. On a basic level, this trip allowed my first plane ride and trip abroad, but in the larger picture, it opened up a whole new realm of communication for me. Although I have been studying German for several years, it was my time in Heidelberg that helped me more fully connect with the German-speakers in my family. The understanding that I gained felt subtle at first, but is now precious to me.
My host family was unbelievably welcoming and my family has kept in touch with them since. On my first day alone, my host father and I discussed the differences between American and German education systems, attitudes towards police, and other topics that frequently approached from just one cultural perspective. My host sisters, 15 and 21, were just as loving and were always up to chat at night. Having German peers, as opposed to being surrounded solely by international students, helped increase my vocabulary and confidence in conversation; although it did take me an hour to translate "awkward." Celebrating my host father's birthday and watching Eurovision led to genuine interactions in German, which are hard to prompt outside of German class.
Not only am I grateful for the all the effort and organization that went into the trip to Heidelberg, but I think I was particularly lucky with my host family's location. I lived right at the foot of the castle and was a five-minute walk from its citywide view at the top. In between dinner and dessert, I'd take the path hidden behind my apartment building, pass a lush pasture with sheep, and then see the most beautiful view I've ever seen once the trees cleared. This view followed by the hike up Philosopher's Way on the other side of the Neckar were incredibly gorgeous and dumbfounding. An absolute highlight was getting to climb on 1000-year-old castle ruins with local children as Herr Kempf sat in the middle (the very image of the wise man on the mountain). I couldn't help but think how amazing it is to have such a huge, historical site be your playground.
Another highlight was the flow and topic of the first class discussion about Chomsky and language development. I am a joint German and Psychology major, because of my interest in psycholinguistics and cultural influences on language development, so this was right up my alley. Having French, Greek, Romanian, and Spanish speakers in the class added entirely new perspectives to not only the discussions, but also basic vocabulary and grammar lessons. The structure of the class allowed even more freedom than even the smallest of classes at Bard, because my professor, Angelika, wanted us to explore and live the language, not just study it.
Overall, I was blissfully overwhelmed by opportunity and novelty. Three operas, a dozen city and museum excursions, countless lunches out with peers, endless hikes, rowdy World Cup screenings, daily black bread, tea and jokes with my host father, several days without a word of English... I am flooded with memories as I am typing. The trip to Heidelberg helped me solidify my academic course of action and provided a much needed and much desired exposure to a new culture and lifestyle. It is very likely that I will return to Heidelberg to do research for my senior thesis and I can only hope that a second voyage will be as rewarding and enjoyable as the first.
Sydney, Summer 2010
My experience in Heidelberg in summer 2010 was by far one of my most enriching academic as well as personal experiences. Though I felt uncertain muddling through the language at first, being in Germany built my confidence. By the end of the four-week course, I was able to speak without reserve and even though what I was saying was not always grammatically correct, Germans could understand what I was saying. Immersing myself in another culture was unique and I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to do so. The intricacies of other nations simply cannot be fully expressed in a classroom setting or in this document.
The actual course was tailored to our interests and current events. In a small setting - about 12 students - we all had many opportunities to speak. Our teacher, Angelika, always kept us on our toes as far as grammar was concerned, which was very beneficial. The end of the course demonstrated how far we had come in our German language skills because we had to give a 15 minute presentation in German without notes. Everyone in the class pulled it off swimmingly, but before the course in Germany, I would have paled at the thought of a 15 minute presentation in German.
Through Bard, my experience was doubly enhancing because of all the extra activities arranged by Franz Kempf - our liaison from Bard in Heidelberg. He went to great lengths to make sure we had culturally prevalent activities almost every day along with class. Ranging from city tours to operas, these side excursions were always entertaining and I even wound up learning from them. The Heidelberg Program was a magnificent experience overall and I am very thankful that I was able to participate.
Roca, Summer 2010
Studying in Heidelberg for a month was a great experience. It really filled out the immersion program for me. The school was very helpful and had positive learning reinforcements, but living with a family was the best practice, Mine spoke very minimal English but readily engaged me in conversation and we tried to use our dictionaries as little as possible. Living with a kid my age also helped bridge the culture gap, I wasn't always expected to be an adult all the time and it made me bolder when speaking, I was unafraid to make mistakes when a peer corrected them. Speaking with my host mother turned me on to the experience Germans and others have overseas, and the differences that come with each culture depending on how easy they adapt to things. We spoke a lot about the new generation and the expectations everyone had for it that were going unfulfilled, and how that changed depending on the country and the social status of each individual. We talked about the world economy and the consciousness that most people lack to see everything as an interconnected whole. I found myself more and more happy to spend time as the Germans would, rather than as French-American abroad. Adapting to their behavioral codes was a new experience, but I was always enthusiastic about what nugget of culture I would assimilate each day. Also going during the World Cup was a great atmosphere.
Heidelberg was the perfect size for the time we had. Almost impossible to get lost in and very beautiful, I was happy to explore once i got the hang of public transportation and greeting customs. I very much appreciated staying in a town with so much history at my fingertips. Sitting on the banks of the Neckar facing the Old Town was always breathtaking, with the hill as a backdrop. It was a very inspiring place, open and welcoming. The huge amount of tourists was often entertaining and the night life was easily accessible. Going to a bar and seeing how easy and friendly people were, without being crude or imposing, was an important part of my general view of the German people. It was a culture snapshot that spoke volumes about societal norms and the spectrum of propriety in Germany. It was refreshing to see such high standards of behavior and interaction being self enforced. Compared to an American High School or a regular College, the bars were like posh cocktail parties for a state function. It was nice to be a part of that level of class.Lianna, Summer 2010
The month I spent in Heidelberg this past summer is certainly one that will be forever in my thoughts. The combination of our German language classes, cultural excursions, on-sight historical lessons, and the opportunity to meet others with a passion for the German language and the rich culture of the country, created what I can only describe as one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.
I write to you now from a cafe in Berlin, where I have chosen to spend the next school year studying. This summer was my first time really living abroad, and I know that my time spent in Heidelberg really helped me adjust to my first few months here in Berlin. Upon first landing in the airport at Schönefeld, I was instantly grateful for my experiences in Heidelberg; I was able to navigate through the airport, exchange my Dollars for Euros, and get myself to my hostel. I know for certain, that the intensive language instruction and the lessons about German culture that I received while in Heidelberg, play a large role in my day-to-day success while here in Berlin.
For me perhaps the most important way in which the program in Heidelberg has impacted my life is by bolstering my confidence in spoken German. Needless to say, confidence when speaking is of utmost importance when living abroad. I often find myself taking the leading in navigating my group of fellow foreigners around the city, people know they can rely on my to have their needs met in a city where they don't speak the language.
Additionally, the opportunity to live with a German family was a most valuable and unique experience. My family was generous, interesting, and kind. I learned about German customs, participated in stimulating discussions, and saw a side of Heidelberg I might otherwise never have been exposed to. I am to this day in touch with my host family--in fact my host father is coming to visit me in Berlin this week!
So far, I don't think there has been a day that passes, during which I don't make some mention of my stay in Heidelberg; whether I'm struck by the color of the sky
that reminds me of those beautiful Heidelberg afternoons, I mention Heidelberg as a city spared from the ravages of World War II, or I'm struck my a memory of life in a German household, Heidelberg is always in my thoughts and will be for the rest of my life.
Working with the 'Musikfestival'
Working with the music festival was a great experience, but I think this would be better for more advanced students. After spending a year in Germany, I was very well prepared to a real part of the Festspiel team. It was a lot of fun (and a lot of work) to plan a summer's worth of concerts. At the end of my time there, they let me be a ‘Konzertleiterin’ for two of the smaller concerts, which involved doing everything from booking hotels and arranging travel to making sure there were enough chairs for the audience to handling the sometimes 'komplizierte' musicians.
I was an intern at the classical music festival for just over a month. The festival operated out of Hamburg, but the staff also traveled around Mecklenburg-Vorpommern to work at various concert sites. I worked in the Hamburg office the first half of the week and drove around the rest of the time. The team I worked with was fortunately a really nice group of people and I had few problems adjusting. Any problems were perhaps my own frustration with the language or lack of sleep while on the road. I did various jobs like sell programs, set up the concert rooms, drive musicians around, put together and distrubte press kits, write any English correspondence...anything that needed to be done.
A friend of mine was au pairing in Hamburg and her family kindly allowed me to stay at their home while I was in Hamburg so I did not have the stress of trying to find an apartment or paying for one. That really made things much easier.
Praktikant(in) in Germany (Internship experiences)
I lived in a small space in Frankfurt that was attached to a house full of A.R Penck prints and Tom Christopher paintings. My living space consisted of a tiny room with a bed and desk, a bathroom and a small living room. Stairs trailed from floor to floor, finally reaching my room. I had asparagus for dinner every night because it was Spargel season in Hessen. Asparagus, hollandaise sauce, potatoes and fresh strawberries, every day for four weeks. My days were singular, soft and even a little bit beautiful. Most days would consist of a similar routine—something that I missed in the chaos of college life. I would wake up and eat breakfast, usually alone or with the housekeeper from the Philippines. The woman I was living with (who happened to also be my boss) had been gone for almost an hour, since she would take her seven-year-old son to school every morning. We would eat the fresh strawberries from outside Frankfurt, Muesli and really dark bread with cheese. After breakfast I would step out of the house, making sure that I had locked the door at least five times (the family that I was living with wanted to protect their art in as many ways as possible). I would always walk to the U-Bahr stop on Fritz-Tarnow Strasse, passing a Malaysian restaurant, as well as a Thai take-out diner. Patiently I waited for the train to come, watching the many men in business suits and children waiting with their mothers. The short U-Bahr ride from Fritz-Tarnow Strasse to Feldbergstrasse was somehow always a little bit different, every day. Sometime I would hear a homeless man chatter away to a stranger and other days I would overhear business conversations between men that had traveled all the way from Osaka.
After a ten-minute walk from the train station to the Galerie Barbara von Stechow on Feldbergstaf3e, I would take out my keys, enter the Gallery and say hello to Barbara and Sylvia, the two other women that I worked with. My days at the Gallery consisted of packing paintings, visiting customers with my boss, Barbara, unpacking trucks of paintings, making price lists and even helping out at the Gallery's big opening that summer. The job was peaceful, and I found myself suddenly slipping into relaxed German conversation and even going to a couple of strange parties hosted my multi-millionaires and other people that seemed totally alien to me—the people in Frankfurt who bought art from our Gallery. The conversations that I had with these people, who were generally nice, were by no means stimulating, but they were certainly interesting. I'll start with the first big party I went to—mostly comprised of bankers, art dealers and a couple of art historians and other gallery owners.
I felt a little strange in a place full of suits and high heels and a language that I wasn't entirely fluent in, but I feel as though I did my best and learned a lot in a recycled silken scarf evening gown that my grandmother gave me, a thick American accent, messy hair and a little too much information about making a print and not quite enough about how to sell one's own art, or, well, to make money in general. A couple of young fellows who had begun their dashing careers in the fields of either investment banking or sales looked at me with wide eyes, calling me a dummkopf for following my dreams—and also taking my hand and telling me how they think that they would give all the world to study what they love instead of being safe—painting or economics, they said. Other ones just told me about their love of investing. I met an art dealer who spends a lot of his time in Newport, Rhode Island and cherishes the soil beneath Mark Rothko's feet. The night ended with a big headache—the excessive amounts of German that I was speaking again, the alien nature of everyone at this party that my boss took me to and the culture that comes with a lower drinking age...they were all big changes that I hadn't quite gotten used to after only a week of being in Frankfurt. The next party was the Gallery opening, which was called sparkling summer. Despite the ugly name, a couple of the artists were good. I was lucky enough to have dinner with one of the artists and his wife. Finally! Someone I could talk about Aquatints and etchings with! It was the first time I felt truly normal again—the conversation was easy and light, and I felt like I didn't have to pretend that I was interested in investment banking. I'm not saying that the other experiences were by any means bad, I'm just saying that this was the first time that I felt...well, at home, normal. The opening was lovely, and I had the chance to meet the US-Consulat. I discussed my internship with her, and the awkwardness that I sometimes felt. I even confessed my insecurities about studying art to her. She responded with a, "we need artists! You should, if you want to, be one—I mean, I buy art all the time and maybe if I see yours, well..." Another woman came up to the US-Consulat and started a conversation, and I slipped out quietly and grabbed a seat next to Sylvia, who was serving wine and cheese.
Things like this were ubiquitous in my life as a Praktikantin in Frankfurt. My life during those six weeks wasn't all work though—it also consisted of travels throughout Germany and Switzerland. I took a trip to Basel to document the Basel art fair with Sylvia for the Gallery, went to Kassel for the Documenta, went to Berlin to see more art and visit family as well as Freiburg to visit an old friend and the Schwarzwald. Trips from one end of Germany to the other ...getting to know Berlinisch, Schäwbisch and Hessisch accents... getting to know the language, the culture and the European world of art.
I am sure that the life of a gallerist is not the life for me, but the life of the artist is and this was made clear to me after my internship. By seeing another angle of the art world, I became certain that the part of the art world that I wanted to live in, and I am sure the world of an artist that I wanted to cherish is the right one. Never had I been so sure. Even though my official internship in Frankfurt was more about the transfer and business in art, I grew from the experience. I spent so much time in art, around art and making art. The Basel art fair, Documenta, the art shows in Frankfurt and Berlin, the artists that I met from the Galerie Barbara von Stechow and, most importantly, the daily work of my internship have helped me figure out what intellectual and artistic paths to follow in the future.
I worked for 8 weeks from June 4 until July 31, 2007 at the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin. The Foreign Ministry merged the public diplomacy (Kommunikation) section with the cultural (Kultur) section. My assignment sprang from the fact that the Cultural Section had extensive methods of measuring the success of their projects while the public diplomacy section did not. The Deutscher Bundestag was becoming increasingly hesitant in funding projects without clear benchmarks of success, and my mentor, Martina Nibbeling-Wrißnig, was tasked with finding out what other governments and organizations were doing to solve similar problems. I was given a free hand to plan, organize and conduct interviews with foreign missions, professors and organizations to find methods of measuring the effectiveness of public diplomacy projects. After the merger of the two departments, my duties also included writing about cultural section meetings pertaining to aid in Africa.
For my main project, I conducted interviews with the American, Spanish, and French embassies in Berlin and an economics professor at the Technical University of Berlin. My first assignment threw me straight into the deep end: I was tasked with setting up an interview with the Public Affairs section of the United States Embassy. Due to a prior commitment, my mentor ended up letting myself and another intern conduct the interviews. As an American and Hungarian Citizen, I was given the unique opportunity to represent Germany at the United States Embassy. After each interview, I had to write a report in German, which was put on file at the Ministry.
My internship included an extensive amount of time outside of the office: the Foreign Ministry organized different events for interns. I was able to attend small lectures on German-Foreign relations at the Australian, Japanese and Polish Embassies. I also received an informational tour on the German Foreign Ministry political archives: I saw the Hitler-Stalin pact, the Treaty of Rapallo, the contract that dissolved the DDR, and Bismarck's decree in 1870 to create a Foreign Office for the Northern Gelman Union. Additionally, I visited the headquarters of the Axel Springer Verlag, sat in on a meeting of top journalists at Berlin's Tageszeitung, and took part as an audience member in the political show "Maybrit Illner".
The Steuben Schurz-USA Interns program placed the two Bard Interns in Germany and organized a get together in Frankfurt a.M. I flew down to the event with four other Berlin interns, and we were lectured on important information about living and working in Geunany. We got to meet other American interns placed around Germany and shared experiences. The event culminated with a reception at the US Consular General's
residence where our work was honored by Steuben Schurz President Dr. med. Ingrid Gräfin zu Solms-Wildenfels and Consul General Jo Ellen Powell.
My internship in Berlin was successful for two reasons: the excellent mentoring I received from Martina Nibbeling-Wrießnig as well as the scholarship I received from the Van Meeteren Foundation. As a result of the generous scholarship, I was able to fully cover roundtrip airfair to Berlin, my rent for two months, appropriate work attire, as well as part of my food costs. This made it possible for me to work at the German Federal Foreign Office, which does not give any compensation to their interns.
To be an au-pair for a year: Pros and cons
Being an au-pair was a fabulous experience. There were not any cons for me,but it is important to really like kids, and not just use it as an easy way to get to Germany. If I could do anything differently, I would take a German language course. My speaking improved dramatically, but I still had grammar problems when I came back, and I think if I had been studying and writing at the same time, things would have gone a lot faster in terms of language acquisition. It is also helpful to read only (or at least mostly) in German - then you can use your new vocabulary right away. One advantage of being an au- pair over being a student is that you are totally immersed in a German language environment (unless the family wants you to teach the kids English). Also, it is not as lonely, since you are part of a family from the very beginning. Plus, there is no better motivation to polish your language skills than being corrected by a five year-old you are trying to scold!
If you go through an au-pair organization, know your rights! I had some friends who ended up switching families because they were expected to work 6 days a week and clean the bathrooms. According to German law, the time you work is limited to a certain number of hours, and you are allotted a specific salary for that amount of work. Also, your responsibilities do not extend beyond caring for children - which may involve cooking, laundry, and some light cleaning, but mostly for the kids. Some people do try to exploit this, so it is important to know what you are entitled to going in.
Teach English with the Bosch Foundation
After my Bard graduation I worked as an English Tutor at the technical university in Ilmenau, Germany. This was a Bosch Scholarship – something that all Bard students can apply for in their senior year. English tutor, hmm, I wasn’t really sure what I’d be doing, but I packed my bags and left for Ilmenau.
There were meeting at the beginning, middle and end of the 10 month program. The first meetings prepared us a bit with what would be expected of us as tutors and established a network among us. I taught English Conversation, Grammar, and American Literature at the university. I had to organize and advertise my own classes, as well as find my own teaching materials. It was a lot of freedom – challenging, but I could do what I wanted once I figured out what that was. Others in the programm were given set classes to teach by their universities. The programm took care of where I lived and paid enough to get by on and travel a little bit. It was a great year, I made some wonderful friends (two of whom I am living with in Berlin with now) and traveled around Germany and got some teaching experience (which makes finding a teaching job afterwards much easier).
(Chicago, March 2003) - Also read Nathan's "Annual Bosch Report"
As a child, perhaps like all children, I digested my share of falsehoods in good faith. When I was in former East Germany last year on a Robert Bosch teaching fellowship, I was made particularly aware of one that had lived with me for a very long time, more or less unexamined, its truth as obvious to me as the world is round. Namely, that a capitalist democracy is good and communism bad. Insofar as I envisioned communism in connection with the Soviet Union, I imagined a virtual standstill, a country and a people shrouded in an oppressive and perpetual gray, unmotivated, unwashed, and idle; an overturned wheelbarrow, a muddy road, barefoot children in threadbare denims, an armed soldier in dingy boots, a ramshackle home, a diet of potatoes, turnips and onions. Undoubtedly these images were a distant and enervated cousin of the emotions kindled into fervent flame during the red scare; yet while they may have corresponded to regions of the Soviet Union, I learned that they were not universally the case. In some places children like myself, though they couldn’t travel west, went to school, then to college, and later to graduate school; they read 1984 in class as teenagers and discussed their opinions openly; at twenty-two or twenty-three, it was feasible to start a family and to undertake a Ph.D. simultaneously, because the state paid for day care and University tuition, subsidized housing, food, and healthcare, and then offered you a job that answered to your credentials when you finished your degree. When we compare this situation to the demise of contemporary Ph.D. students in America, individuals who generally wait until they are thirty-five or forty to start a family, who do so under the yoke of sometimes as much as eighty thousand dollars of debt, and who enter a job market that feels more like a lottery of luck than a personal payoff, we cannot roundly condemn communism.
I came away from Rostock, where for ten months I had taught American language and culture to University students, with the following impressions: national borders do not reflect a permanent state of affairs but a state of arrested conquest and exhaustion; a need to regroup and replenish a military’s need of men; to proselytize and generate a consensus called popular opinion, or nationalism or patriotism; to educate an army of engineers and scientists that can organize and manufacture raw materials into a country’s internal prosperity; to gain leverage over potential rivals and to incite less fortunate countries to pursue amicable although dependent and therefore indebted relations. In short, my confidence in a capitalist democracy was shaken, not because democracy is inferior to communism, but because governments abuse and will always abuse their power, because virtuous leaders are seldom born and even less frequently succeed.
I find that I now take little comfort in the thought that men could live at peace with one another, although they certainly possess the power to do so. And it is not because they don’t want to. It is because we remain convinced that nations facilitate human happiness; that governments reflect our interests; that militaries are essential; and that wars are sometimes inevitable. None of this is true, although all of it is confirmed by and needs the support of public opinion, which has always been the opiate of the masses, whether cut in the cloth of religion or of materialism. Nations and public opinion are inseparable; the latter is simply internalized, and corroborated and extended by word of mouth; it is a form of self-government that corresponds to a nation’s political and fiscal ambitions.
I find my opinion about the relation between government and men confirmed whenever I travel abroad; that everywhere individuals share largely the same interests—in truth, the good life and beauty; in inquiry, family and art; in curiosity, friendship and genius—and that it requires the sustained assault of metaphysical fanatics to persuade us that we are genuine, ideological, irreconcilable enemies. But this rhetoric, an intoxicated cruelty freely distributed from the wagon of charisma, is a fantasy. Only he that has come to believe in it could ever impose it as truth on the impressionable hearts and minds of children or students, or on a nation weakened by intestine discord and poverty. The tragedy, of course, is that men and women flourish in society; that a government structures and ensures the safety of society; and that men can’t live both prosperously and peacefully with government or without it. The only specific against the unconscionable excesses of government and the inadvertent tyranny of the masses. . . is a critical and independent mind. Such a mind is both the most vulnerable and the most indefatigable enemy of popular opinion; and it is also its own defense; and if it is drawn to pursue its freedom in a foreign land, then its inclination to do so is beyond reproach.