FU-BEST is a program that takes seriously the goal of reinforcing the vacation-like experience of living abroad with rather more than the usual academic rigor. This does not mean that students are bogged down with busy work; in fact, one of the best aspects of the program is its flexibility, which allowed me and my fellows to better explore those things that interested us.
Alongside intensive German language courses, FU-BEST students enroll in several academic “subject courses,” taught in English (a few, open to those with advanced language skills, are offered in German). Almost all focus on the history, culture, and society of Berlin, Germany, or Europe. Each course provides an accessible overview of the topic in question, and for more advanced or particularly curious students, the superb instructors—friendly, accessible, experts in their fields—are an excellent resource. Assigned coursework is manageable enough that program participants are left relatively free to explore on their own particular topics they find interesting. For example, with an enormous amount of help from my history instructor, I was able to begin researching my senior thesis topic while studying in Berlin, making use of the city’s first-rate libraries.
Of course, the incentives to study abroad in Europe are not merely academic. FU-BEST students have plenty of opportunities to soak up local culture. Through the program, we were offered museum and transit passes as well as tickets to a range concerts, opera and ballet performances, and sporting events. I strolled the grounds of Frederick the Great’s palace in Potsdam, saw performances of Dvorak’s New World symphony and Wagner’s Tannhauser, and visited the great Museum Island three times; the costs were covered by my program fees. The friendly staff, who are so good and helping students to work through the problems of everyday life in a foreign country, are also happy to recommend sites and events to investigate, and the program itself organizes city expeditions. Particularly enjoyable are the language class field trips, which included fine guided tours—in German!—of museums and other local points of interest like the Reichstag. Students are also taken on one-week, long-distance excursions to other cities in Europe; I was able to visit Frankfurt, Europe’s financial capital, and Prague, a city of fairy-tale-like beauty. And in addition to all of this structured sightseeing, there is still plenty of time for independent weekend travel.
Berlin is an extraordinarily diverse city, a city which represents, in the mind of every individual, something different. For me, a history student, it was a city of politics and international diplomacy, the capital of Frederick the Great and of Bismarck (not to mention some less savory historical actors)—an utterly fascinating place to study my favorite subject. But for others, it was a different place: a city of modern culture, of music, of art and architecture. Berlin is so large, so grand, that anyone can find there a degree of intellectual satisfaction. I certainly did, and without question, FU-BEST helped me find it.