For ten months, I lived and researched in Berlin, Germany, through a partnership with the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. Prior to my arrival in Berlin, I had already connected with my faculty mentors, so they knew to expect me and had an idea of what I had proposed as my research project.
The project I proposed was an ethnographic study to gauge the perceptions that students, families, teachers, and policy-makers had of access to higher education as a means for social mobility in Germany. Through partnering with twelve secondary schools around Berlin (schools of all types—Gymnasiums, Sekundarschulen, Gesamtschulen, etc.), I interviewed nearly 75 students between the ages of 15 and 18.
Each day brought its own adventures. One day I might've been in the 12th grade classroom of a top grammar school in Berlin's affluent Reinickendorf neighborhood; another day I might've been in the 9th grade classroom of a low-income former Hauptschule (lowest school type) in the rougher areas of Berlin's Neukölln district. The Fulbright Program offered me full flexibility in conducting my own research with the support of two top professors at the HU.
Because the Fulbright Program gave me such freedom in conducting my research, I had to set a schedule for myself to ensure that all my interviews, transcriptions, analyses, and writing was completed on time. In addition, I worked with my professors to determine how best I would want to present my research findings, ultimately deciding to write a full report that could be shared with anyone interested in issues of educational access in Germany and elsewhere.
Language-wise, I entered my Fulbright year with three years of university-level German under my belt, so the six-week refresher course offered by the Fulbright Program helped me get back in the flow of thinking in German. By the end of the year (in large part, thanks to my many interviews with German students and teachers), I felt much more comfortable conversing in German in any given situation.
As a city, Berlin is one of the most affordable major cities in Europe. Not only is rent rather inexpensive (depending on where you look), quality food can also be easily found for low prices. Berlin is an exciting hub for young people, and there is always "something" going on, whether a big concert, art exhibit, diplomatic visits, etc.
Berlin also boasts a phenomenal public transportation system that is one of the best deals for any university student with a "Semesterticket." With this ticket, university students can ride any method of public transportation around Berlin's A, B, and C zones without paying anything extra. This includes the U-Bahn, the S-Bahn, trams, buses, and regional trains within the ABC zones.
Finally, as an American student, I also volunteered with the U.S. Embassy's Meet US educational outreach program, often speaking on topics related to life in America at schools all around Berlin and the state of Brandenburg. Ex-pats and American university students in Germany can sign up for the program through their nearest U.S. consulate or embassy to be part of the program.
Without a doubt, I would highly recommend the Fulbright Program for anyone who aspires to conduct research in another country (outside the U.S.) and has a passion for international and intercultural exchange.