My IES classes were generally good and not too hard, but they required time-management. I found that there was a fair amount of “busy” work and a few too many tests and papers, but my classes in Freiburg were still easier than the classes I take at my home university.
IES does not allow laptops in class, so if you (like me) like to have your readings in class for reference, you’ll have to print everything. Instead of wasting paper, I ended up taking a lot of reading notes—tedious, but I eventually got used to it.
Overall, I learned a fair amount in my classes and enjoyed them, but I wouldn’t say that they were the highlight of my semester.
I visited 9 cities with IES, and had a great time on all of my trips. On most days, we had lectures in the morning (sometimes long and boring, but usually informative) and free time in the afternoon/evening.
If you want to make the most of your free time, you definitely need to do some research in advance. I spent a lot of time on my trips trying to figure out what to do/where to go, so I wish I had taken the time to do some advance planning.
Because I traveled so much with IES, I didn’t end up traveling too much on my own. Once I got back from my IES trips, I was pretty exhausted and preferred to spend my weekends in Freiburg. I also took some day trips around Germany, France and Switzerland (yes, you can go to France or Switzerland for brunch if you want to).
I absolutely loved Freiburg. It is a university town, so there are tons of young people around and lots of student-friendly places to eat/shop/hang out.
I lived in a flat with 5 other students in a building called Berliner Allee. The flat had 6 single rooms, 2 bathrooms and a shared kitchen. Every student had an assigned bathroom along with assigned kitchen shelves and space in the refrigerators. I was also entered into the flat “putzplan,” or cleaning plan, which rotates weekly.
My building was very well-located. I had 2 grocery stores, a bank, a coffee-shop, a pharmacy and a beautiful park within walking distance, and I was only about a 10 minute tram ride from downtown Freiburg. My building was also very close to another student housing complex.
Due to the German semester system, students in Freiburg tend to move in and out of apartments frequently. When I first moved into my flat, I had 2 flat-mates from Germany, one from Romania, one from France and one from Lithuania. Some of these flat-mates moved out within a few months and their rooms turned over, but I was lucky and ended up liking everyone I lived with.
Before arriving in Freiburg, I did not speak a word of German. This made my transition fairly challenging—I couldn’t read a menu, understand labels in the grocery store or pharmacy or ask basic questions in a store. My German class at IES taught me a fair amount (enough to understand the basics), but I didn’t become as comfortable with the language as I would have liked. German is not the focus of the EU program, and you can get around Freiburg with English. Expect to learn something, but you won’t be fluent in German by the end of the semester.
Meeting German Students:
I met a fair number of German students (flat-mates and others), and became quite close to them. In fact, I had closer connections to Germans than most of my friends from IES because I was more inclined to get out of the “American IES bubble.”
My German friends were wonderful, and they invited me to lots of different events. I went to a German acoustic-punk concert at a local bar—definitely not an event I would have found on my own—and to many dinners and picnics. My German friends enjoyed practicing their English with me, and they helped me a lot with my German. One friend helped me study for my German oral exam and my German flat-mates loved to answer my homework questions.
It is very easy to stick to other Americans in Freiburg, but it is worth it to make an effort to meet Germans. Flat-mates are a great place to start!
Would I Choose the IES EU Program Again?