What made this study abroad experience unique and special?
Karl: Part of what made my trip so enjoyable was the unique character of Berlin. The city is exceptionally open and welcoming so I found myself feeling at home after just a few weeks. I noticed that when I returned to Berlin from one of my trips outside Germany, I had a similar feeling as when I returned to the states from Europe; in a sense, it felt like coming home.
I think that regardless of what kind of person you are, Berlin has something (probably a lot) to offer you. It has a rare combination of history and modern energy, along with an extremely wide array of cultural and social events. This is a special feature that I didn't notice in the other cities I visited.
What did IES Abroad do for you and what did you need to do on your own?
Karl: One of the real strengths of the IES program is that they seem to strike a really good balance between providing guidance and freedom. They cover all of the essentials, such as lodging, transportation, emergency contacts, healthcare and the basics of the culture, but you are really free to spend as much or as little time at the IES center as you desire.
They occasionally offer tours and excursions which are totally optional (but always very fun). Whenever I felt that I was missing something or needed assistance, one of the staff members was always there to help.
Describe your program socially and academically
Karl: I think that with a relatively short 7-week program, academics are going to receive a little less attention from most students. My own experience tended heavily towards the social side of the program. I was able to keep up with all the academic requirements and produce some quality work, but IES fosters a strong social community at the center which I enjoyed being a part of.
Everyone made friends quickly and spent a lot of time exploring the city together, and the IES-led events such as dinners and day trips provided an opportunity to spend a lot of time with your classmates.
Do you think your program changed you as a person?
Karl: Absolutely. I grew in a lot of ways during my trip. I would say that the social interactions I had in Berlin turned me into a much more enthusiastic and outgoing person in general. Spending so much time around different people in a new city really impacts how you respond to social gatherings, in my opinion.
I would also say that I have come to a much better understanding of contemporary culture by comparing what I know from America to the unique culture of Germany. The ideas embodied in German art and literature (both topics that I studied there) are essential for understanding the modern world, and provide an interesting set of questions that we have to grapple with in the 21st century.
Finally, I think I gained a lot of independence and confidence through my experience with the program. When I was forced to rely upon myself to get from place to place or find out where I could buy something essential, I learned to assert myself and get the job done. I made plenty of mistakes that required some quick problem solving and thinking on the fly.
What was the best place you visited outside of your study abroad city?
Karl: I visited Istanbul, Turkey one weekend during the program. I enjoyed it because it was such a different experience from the other cities I had been to. The sprawling size of the city and its rather confusing streets made it feel daunting compared to Berlin.
The age of some of the architecture there is really astounding, and there is nothing like walking under the massive dome of Hagia Sophia for the first time. It's almost worth visiting Istanbul for this alone!
The culture there is obviously quite different, but you find the same welcoming spirit that makes Berlin such a great place. I definitely recommend venturing away from Western Europe at least once, and Istanbul is a great place to see another side of the continent.