Berlin Consortium for German Studies - BCGS

Berlin Consortium for German Studies

About

The Berlin Consortium for German Studies (BCGS) is a joint venture of the University of Chicago, Columbia University, Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton University in association with the University of Notre Dame and Vassar College.

Since its founding in 1995, the BCGS has brought more than 800 US and international students to pursue academic work at the Freie Universität Berlin. During a semester or a full academic year, the students not only deepen their language proficiency and academic knowledge, they also gain a variety of personal and cultural experiences, which they take back home with them. Many subsequently return to Germany as diplomats, scientists, artists or writers who continue to function as mediators of transatlantic understanding.

Founded
1995

Reviews

Default avatar
Robert
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Outstanding Academics, Life-changing Growth, Fun City to Live in!

What makes this program stand out so much is it's commitment to cultural and language immersion. The BCGS staff is committed to helping you adapt to Germany's unique academic climate through their six-week pre-semester language courses which mirror some of the aspects of a typical university course (you prepare a "Referat" - presentation, and have a small final paper). At the same time the entire exchange program (outside of some very important information) is run completely in German. Everything from preparing for the (somewhat notorious) trip to the foreigner's office to directions for the language course's weekly excursions becomes an opportunity to dive deeper into German and Berlin culture, while of course learning new vocabulary every step of the way!

With this program being so immersive, it would be wrong of me to say that the experience isn't difficult at times. However, the BCGS hire writing tutors which you meet with every week during the semester to help make sure you're on track by discussing readings, commenting on mock presentations in preparation ones you'll do in the , and planing a work schedule for the various final research papers. The program's directors, Carmen and Niko, are also incredibly approachable and are excited to help you with any problems you will encounter while in the program. The visiting professor is also a great resource to discuss and reflect on differences between the US and German education systems, and they offer wonderful classes that are stylistically somewhere between these two systems, which is great if you're a little nervous about jumping right into the German system.

In terms of academics, there's really nothing you can't do; courses at all of the 4 major universities in Berlin (expect studio courses at the UdK) are available for you to take, and the visiting professor and directors are there to help you with your course selection. The difficulty lies more in learning how to adjust to the life of German academia and doing it all in a foreign language, and less in the rigor of individual courses. The unique challenges I faced in Berlin helped me grow in ways that I could have done had I not chosen to study abroad with this program.

Berlin is also one of the most fun places to live! There is an endless selection of museums, neighborhoods, cafés, bars, parks, restaurants, and shops to explore, all usually less than 40 minutes away by public transit. Berlin is also well connected to the rest Europe, both by long distance train and through its (now unfortunately only 1) airport. Taking a long weekend to go explore a new city on the continent is definitely possible!

What was your funniest moment?
I personally find it funny when having a conversation I meant to say one thing in German but actually said something completely different! Rather than getting scared or embarrassed in situations like this, I usually just try to laugh and remember both the meaning of what I actually said and how to say what I wanted to say. It's learning extra vocabulary without even asking for it! German's a very fun language to speak, and if you don't laugh at it every once in a while it's easy to get frustrated that you don't speak it like a native! I guess just remember, universities are international communities, no one there (or even in a multicultural city like Berlin) really expects you to speak perfect German. Don't be scared to mess up, and just insist to keep speaking the language and you'll do great!
Default avatar
Colin
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Perfect Balance of Independence and Support for Study Abroad

The semester I spent studying with BCGS was a wonderful experience. Carmen and Niko were well-organized and really oriented the program to help us to get the most out of Berlin. Although we did have many program activities, especially in the beginning, what I liked most was the freedom afforded to participants. We had the option to live on campus or find a sublet elsewhere (admittedly very difficult), and could spend our time outside of class immersing however we chose.

In my individual pursuits, I felt supported along every step of the way -- Carmen especially took time to check in about these things. The academics were top-notch, and some of the students I spent the semester with have gone on to pursue graduate degrees in German Studies (or other fields) in fantastic programs. In general, the people I joined in BCGS were very brainy and a real pleasure to spend time with. The German instruction was great and the program's explicit focus on cultivating the ability to speak and write academic-level german was a huge benefit, even for those of us who never intend to use it.

I have actually found myself back in Berlin as I began a job here recently, and I must say, I constantly think about how thankful I am to the program for holding my hand (but not too tightly) when dealing with German bureaucracy for the first time. I now feel much more confident and capable, and have navigated all of my visa processes, health insurance, registrations, etc etc alone and without issue -- and I am incredibly thankful to BCGS for making these processes less intimidating for me the first time.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Be prepared for a lot of work! Even though the primary product of a German semester is only the term papers at the end of the course, these are no joke. It takes significant time and research to create something decent, especially as a nonnative speaker.
Default avatar
Paisley
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

BCGS was an unforgettable experience!

I really loved my time with BCGS. The program directors are so supportive, and I made lifelong friends not only through my cohort, but also in Berlin through my classes. My German language skill improved dramatically over my year abroad, as well as my confidence in speaking, reading, and writing the language. I was challenged academically, socially, and pushed to be more independent than I had ever been. It was definitely a challenging program, but I learned so much about myself, about German culture, and about Berlin through it all!

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Don't be afraid to make mistakes! Whether that's in your language-learning process or just in general. I learned the most from the mistakes I made during my year abroad.
Lorraine
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Life-changing experience studying abroad

Originally from China, studying in the US is already study abroad for me. But halfway through college, I realized my worldview was limited by what I could see in front of me. Having studied German for four years back then, I wanted to come to Germany through a program that provides a fully immersive environment for me to improve my languages skills and learn about the culture. BCGS did exactly that. I enjoyed a high degree of autonomy during my time in Berlin, while BCGS gave me a home away from home that I could always fall back on. Being able to live with a host family at the beginning of my stay allowed me to adapt faster, and even till this day I’m still in touch with my host parents. And then, apartment hunting, learning to speak up in a classroom full of German students, surviving the long Berlin winter and then enjoying the best summer one could have – every day taught me to grow, to be more independent and disciplined, to find confidence and my inner self at an age of uncertainty.

Time in Europe significantly shaped my worldview and gave me the confidence to embark on an international career in the future. Although I’m not sure if I will come back to Germany immediately, Berlin will always hold a special place in my heart and remain a home for me oceans away. If you are reading this and are considering BCGS, be convinced it is one of the best study abroad programs out there. Just be prepared to grow, know what you want to get out of this experience, seek out opportunities and resources, and keep an open mind toward every person you meet. BCGS was the most transformative year of my college experience, and I’m very thankful I did that.

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
I would simply relax and cherish every opportunity to meet new people!
Default avatar
Juchi
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Well-run program with top-notch academics

It's not easy to fit a year abroad into an academic schedule, especially in a STEM field. However, the payoff is fully worth the challenge. Not only is grading and credit transfer from the Freie Universität favorable, but the semester break (only available if you do the full year!) affords you the opportunity of doing an internship abroad. Don't make the same mistake I did by passing up this chance!

I can only assume that Dr. Carmen Mueller is the same model of organizational efficiency and dry humor that she was when I studied in Berlin in 2014-15. BCGS does most of the heavy lifting, administratively, for the study abroad process, leaving you free to study at the three offered universities in Berlin, explore Europe, widen your horizons, push your comfort zone, and all the other things commonly associated with studying abroad (hint: aforementioned cliches lose their luster but they exist for a reason). Also, your German-speaking abilities will be miles better when you come home.

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