Choosing to study abroad on the European Union program with IES Abroad was the best study abroad program I could've picked. I have few complaints about the program, and the experience far exceeded every expectation I had- and I don't seem to be alone in this regard. Almost every student on my program shared such a positive experience, and we all long to go back and do it all over again.
Situated in Freiburg, Germany, the European Union semester program takes advantage of everything this quaint little German town has to offer. Students are housed in dormitories or apartments with other University of Freiburg students (mostly German, but some international and some Americans on other study abroad programs) so that you see the typical student life in Freiburg. It also provides the opportunity to practice your German language skills with your flatmates, as German is a required course with the program. Depending on where you live, the dorms are a short walk or tram ride to the city center, and each dorm has a student bar.
The city of Freiburg itself is very young and student friendly, with cheap prices, great restaurants, and a bustling nightlife. Typical student activities included going to the Münster markets for lunch for a bratwurst, going on runs in many of Freiburg's parks and lakes, talking for hours at beer gardens, hiking up the Schlossburg with a gorgeous view of the city, and frequenting regular cafes, bars, and clubs. It lives up to its name as the "greenest city in Germany"; the city is very eco-friendly, most food is organic, and clean. It also lives up to its other title as the sunniest city in Germany; the cold and snow at the beginning of the spring semester only lasted around March and the city came alive with outdoor cafes, beergardens, and trips to the park. To top if off, I always felt safe in the city, even in the middle of the night. It is easy to travel from Freiburg, too- the Kaiserstuhl neighboring area offers many hikes and wineries, the Black Forest is fun to explore and has great skiing in the winter months, and it is only a short train ride from large German cities and the Basel and Frankfurt airports for easy weekend trips. After returning from the many field study trips, Freiburg quickly felt like "home."
The academics at the European Union program are very interesting and subject specific. All my classes were European focused, including one on the history of Europe, migration patterns, and regions that exist within Europe, in addition to the required EU Seminar and German language course. This program does not require prerequisite knowledge of the European Union itself, as the Seminar course ranges from beginner to intermediate EU studies based on each student's prior knowledge or experience with European studies, so that every student eventually has the same level of basic understanding of the EU institutions. Our accumulated experience was rounded out with the Model EU capstone project at the end of the semester, where students prepared the whole semester representing a member country in various council topics. It was a lot of work, but every student was still talking about the Ukraine crisis, EU border control and immigration, or corporate tax avoidance until the day we flew home.
The selling point of the program are the field studies unique to the program. In one semester, we visited 9 countries and 10 cities- more travel than I could've hoped to do on my own. The administration is very transparent and clear about the program trips, and students didn't have to worry about logistical planning for any of the trips- IES found accommodation, city tours, transportation passes, travel to and from city to city, and meetings and events, on an organized schedule given to us at the beginning of the trip. On every trip, students went to meetings at institutions, think tanks, or other organizations. Students were split into three groups based on your school major and interests, and attended subject specific meetings in each city (for example, I am an International Affairs major and was in a group that focused on international politics and foreign policy; our meetings included going to the French Foreign Ministry in Paris, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, and meeting with experts in Prague on the Czech Republic's government transition from communism to democracy). It is the perfect combination of classroom experience and real world experience- and provides students with an unparalleled understanding of the EU institutions and a richer travel experience than if I had organized travel on my own.
My study abroad experience was extended with an internship at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. This internship program is offered through the IES program, and I interviewed with staff members in Freiburg after submitting a written application. Seven students including myself had the opportunity to intern with a parliamentary member at the European Parliament for the month of June, and we took a complimentary course during May on cross-cultural communication and working in foreign environments. The internship program was a fantastic experience, and provided me with valuable work skills, an increased understanding of EU institutions and policy-making, and forced me to examine my own culture and how I present myself in foreign environments- all while exploring a new home in Brussels. I highly recommend applying to the internship program, which is also offered in Freiburg if students would like to intern at other organizations.
All in all, I couldn't imagine studying abroad with a different program. For me, this program had everything I was looking for- a program focused solely on European matters, a way to practice my German language, and a chance to cross off many places on my travel bucket list- and I was lucky to meet some of my new best friends in the process. Although it is subject specific and may deter from "traditional" study abroad experiences, you only need an interest in travel and trying new things to enjoy this program. In conversations with other students from my home university who studied abroad, I seem to have had the most enriching experience. No other program provides you with hands-on learning, a hybrid of classroom and real world experience, and extensive travel quite like the European Union program with IES.