The semester ends, so their days in Berlin end, too.
by Duygu Bräuer
Berlin is one of the most popular cities for international students. I met with three exchange students from Tokyo, Taipei und Copenhagen to talk about their exchange year in Berlin.
Koki is packing his suitcase und has a long “to-do list”: packing everything, sending some boxes home, cleaning his room at the halls of residence, giving away the rest of his food in the fridge, disassembling and packing his bike, saying good-bye to friends… These are a couple of things that he needs to take care of before leaving Berlin. Koki will return to Tokyo where he studies.
Berlin offers some of best universities of Europe with free tuition and is becoming appealing to students from all over the world for its multicultural city life, diverse cultural offerings, affordable prices (compared to other European cities), and expanding start-up scene. Berlin is so attractive for international students because it is fun, cheap, and easy to live in. In 2017, the 30th anniversary of the Erasmus programme, DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst – German Academic Exchange Service) published a report confirming that Berlin has the highest percentage of international students in Germany. Most universities in Berlin offer exchange programmes, such as Erasmus, Erasmus+, Swiss-European Mobility Programme or direct exchange programmes between two universities.
Lena came to Berlin through the Erasmus+ exchange programme. She has spent two semesters at Freie Universität Berlin. She studies International Relations in Taipei. Koki came to Berlin as an exchange student studying German and Political Science in Tokyo. The direct exchange programme between his university and Freie Universität Berlin made it possible for him to study in Berlin for two semesters. He was one of three successful students who were picked by his university to benefit from this programme. Lena and Koki took some courses and excursions together, which were provided by the university in order to give key aspects of German history, culture, and society. They had the opportunity to attend German courses to improve their German language skills. Jacob also attended the German course with them. He is one of many Erasmus students in Berlin. He is currently enrolled for a master degree in Comparative Literature at Copenhagen University.
All of them enjoyed Berlin very much during their one year stay. Koki defines Berlin as a green city, a quality that Tokyo lacks. Jacob likes Berlin because of its multicultural and international atmosphere, so does Koki. People in Berlin are diverse and open-minded towards foreigners, which Koki appreciates very much. Lena and Jacob felt well entertained by the different cultural events, galleries and museums in Berlin. Koki bought a bicycle in Berlin, which he will take back to Tokyo. He was very pleased about cycling on the bicycle lanes and through the nature surrounding Berlin. Eating rice is essential for him, so he was very happy when he found 5-kilos packages of real Japanese rice in Berlin’s Asian supermarkets. This was an unexpected luxury for him.
What Lena and Koki find uncool about Berlin is the dirt and trash all over the city: on the streets, inside the S-Bahn, in U-Bahn stations. At every corner, they could see an empty beer bottle or cigarette stubs. Jacob agreed on this by pointing out that Copenhagen is much cleaner than Berlin. The public transportation does not operate so well, which annoyed Koki a lot. Well, Japan has one of the best transportation systems in the world, so I got his point. Jacob finds some buildings in Berlin unaesthetic, but he is so kind by adding that the residents are trying to make it nicer in their own ways. Jacob does not like “Berliner Schnauze” (the dialect of Berliners), which makes is hard for him to communicate in German.
All three were familiar with the Mensa, but unfamiliar with the other services and events of studierendenWERK BERLIN, which they found a pity. They found their accommodation through their university or networks of friends. Koki found studierendenWERK’s InfoPoint very helpful when he was new in the city. He ate a lot at the canteen, which he finds very affordable for students, although not all the dishes suit his taste. At his university in Tokyo, there are also student canteens, which are more expensive compared to the prices in Berlin. They offer only one dish per day plus side dishes for lunch. Lena mentions that every university in Taiwan runs their own halls of residence, which differs from Germany. The student canteens in Taiwan provide lunches like a food court and they are open longer than the Mensa in Berlin.
Koki, Lena and Jacob learned a lot in Berlin, got to know new people, enjoyed a different city and culture, improved their German language skills, and studied at one of the best universities in Berlin. They experienced a lot during this one year. The semester has just ended, so their days in Berlin will end, too. They are returning to their homes, their countries, their friends and families. On the one hand they are happy, but on the other hand they are sad to say goodbye to their friends in Berlin and this colorful city. Although they were supposed to just enjoy their last summer days in Berlin, they were all quite busy writing their seminar papers and then packing.
PS: studierendenWERK BERLIN offers a lot of events and activities for international students. For more information check out the event calendar of the department of Cultural & International Affairs.