Alumni Spotlight: Caitlin Livesey


Caitlin is a student majoring in Chemistry and History at the University of Richmond.

Why did you choose this program?

I was originally drawn to Europe because I had never been before and was fascinated by the rich history of the continent.

Eager to hit every hot spot, I wanted a central location that would make my travel goals possible, so I settled on Germany. Berlin seemed like such a diverse hub of culture, history, architecture, and fun, and also a relatively unique place to study abroad.

I also thought that the location of Freie Universitat sounded perfect. Although the FU-BEST program is located in the suburbs, there is easy access to the rest of the city. Being a suburban girl, I was comforted by the fact that I could escape the excitement of the city when I was on campus.

I loved the idea of the week-long international excursion that was included in the FU-BEST program, and I had heard from many friends that Berlin was an incredible city like no other. Thus I found myself convinced that FU-BEST was the place for me.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My home university and FU-BEST handled the finances and insurance I needed to study abroad. FU-BEST also coordinated my living situation, a homestay with a German family. The program provided transportation passes for easy commute to campus and travel throughout Berlin and also sent my official transcript for the semester to my home university.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I would advise students to take advantage of the cultural opportunities offered by FU-BEST! There are so many chances that this program offers to get to know unusual aspects of Berlin that you may not otherwise discover.

Throughout the semester, FU-BEST organizes excursions to locations such as the Stasi Prison Complex, the German Chancellory, and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. I did not go on all of the excursions and I wish I had! Each offers a different view of history and is a unique opportunity to gain a better understanding of Berlin. These are typically held on Friday's, when there is no class, and are a good way to get to know the city where you are living.

FU-BEST also organizes Stammtisch, weekly gatherings on Thursday nights at Berlin bars where students can get to know one another and practice their German. These were another great way to get to know my way around the city and learn about the nightlife.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Classes are held Monday thru Thursday at FU-BEST. German classes for the intensive courses are held every day from 9 am-12 pm, and the experiential courses are only Monday's and Thursday's. Other classes are 2 hours and 30 minutes each, either at 1:30 pm or 4:30 pm, and meet only once every week.

FU-BEST students typically take 2-4 content courses, depending on the level of German class. I took the beginners German class twice a week, so I took 3 content courses in addition.

Most program participants will eat lunch at the Mensa, or cafeteria, on campus. On Thursday nights, many students attend the Stammtisch events at local bars to kick off the weekend. The rest of the weekend may be filled with travel, exploring new places in Berlin, shopping at Alexanderplatz, visiting a museum, or one of the cultural excursions organized by FU-BEST.

Although the classes are long, the work is manageable, and very rarely were my plans compromised by the need to finish homework. There is plenty of time for both class and fun.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear going into my study abroad experience was probably meeting new people and making new friends. I essentially knew nobody in FU-BEST and was one of two students from my home university participating in the program. Although I knew that others would also be trying to make friends, I couldn't help but feel nervous traveling to a totally new place knowing nobody and also not knowing the language! I had also never been so far from my family before.

Before long, however, all of my fears were dispelled. My host family was so welcoming and helpful as I got my bearings, and I felt at home right away. I quickly met some wonderful, interesting, friendly students who introduced me to even more friends. I discovered that other FU-BESTers were looking for friends to explore the city and travel throughout Europe with, just as I was. I ended up doing both of these things with my new group of friends.

Events organized by FU-BEST, such as the Welcome tours, Stammtisch, and the international week-long excursion to the Netherlands and Belgium, all helped me to meet and get to know new people. By the end of my time in Berlin, I found it incredibly difficult to say goodbye to these people, and I have plans to see many of them back in the U.S.

Taking advantage of the opportunities to socialize that FU-BEST provides is so important and will help students to make the most of their time in the program. Studying abroad without friends from my home university gave me the skills and confidence to go new places and meet new people without the reservations that I had previously had.

Is there anything that you wish that you had done differently?

I wish that I had explored Germany more! I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to spend most weekends in Berlin. To truly live abroad for a semester, you need to learn your city and discover what it is like to be a true Berliner! I do feel like I spent a good deal of time in Berlin, but not enough throughout the rest of Germany.

While I traveled to places like Paris and Rome, I missed Schloss Neuschwanstein and Hamburg. There are so many wonders located right in Germany a mere train ride away, and I wish I had been able to see them all during my time in Berlin; however, I have decided that I simply must go back and see everything that I missed.