Jake Ward is from the United Kingdom. He has lived in the United States since age 16. Jake is majoring in Political Economy and Economics and minoring in German and Math.Interviewed on - 25 September 2017
I moved from the UK to the US at age 16, and really learnt then what a huge impact living and/or studying in a new country can have on you. I wanted to repeat this kind of experience, except in a different way, so I started looking into studying abroad. I also wanted to use the experience to further my language ability, so Germany was the natural option.
IES offered the only Berlin programmes pre-approved by my university, which made the decision easier. However, I chose between the various IES programmes in Berlin by picking out one with a language intensive component and courses that interested me.
I completely fell in love with Berlin as a place. It is so different to the rest of Germany, but also so different to any other major city I've spent time in. It's hard to choose just one thing, but I would have to say the parks and green spaces in the city. There are so many for a western European capital city, and it's amazing being able to find peace and quiet so close to the hustle and bustle. Parks are a place to relax, to exercise, but also to have fun and hang out with friends, and I spent a lot of time last semester doing all of that.
So many times, I found myself looking around and wondering how a situation happened, and feeling so grateful that it did. One time, I was in the sweaty basement of an event space in a crowd listening to Arabic/German rap followed by traditional Syrian music. Another, I went straight from a morning class to the beach at Wannsee, to spend a sunny afternoon there. Even just simple moments, spent walking through parks with friends, or gazing at the Reichstag on my way to class, will stay with me for a long time.
The IES staff were very kind and supportive with all issues I had. I had to go to the doctor a couple of times at the beginning of the semester, and working out paying all the bills was a long ordeal, but the IES people were extremely helpful in calling places and making sure I would get my money refunded to me through the insurance.
I wish I would have worked out a way to stay longer!
My typical day would begin with class around 10, so after breakfast I would jump on the train (did I mention how the Berlin public transport system is the best ever?) and take my ~30 minute commute (<20 minutes on a good day) into Mitte. I took half my classes in IES and half at Humboldt, so it was variable where exactly I was headed, but all of that stuff is in roughly the same area. Some days I had classes in the morning and afternoon, and would bring food with me (or buy myself some 3 euro falafel if I was trying to treat myself). If I didn't have afternoon class, I would do some work in IES or in a coffee shop, or spend time hanging out with people and exploring the city! Some of my favourite afternoons were spent in one of the amazing museums in Berlin, or just relaxing in a park with a Pils (beer). The IES students would often meet in a bar in the evenings to hang out. The bars chosen were sometimes close to where I lived, in Prenzlauer-Berg, or further away (but again, amazing public transport, so it was always easy enough). On a weeknight, we would typically wrap things up before the trains stop running around midnight, but on weekends that was also variable.
I've talked a lot of this already, but an ideal afternoon was usually spent exploring a new area of the city a little, before picking up a beer and relaxing in a park. I also really enjoyed checking out the cool historical sites/museums/memorials in the city, and learnt a lot just from walking around and paying attention. A few times we went to swim in one of the lakes in the surrounding area, which was really great.
I lived with a host mum (and her dog!) in a fairly small, but comfortable, apartment in Prenzlauer-Berg. My host mum was really lovely and relaxed, and we bonded a lot over the course of the semester. The location where I lived was pretty great-- the nearest train station was on the Ring-Bahn, which is the circular line that goes all the way round the city, meaning it was pretty simple to get to any other line/area of the city. I was also right around the corner from the Mauerpark, which is a great place to hang out, especially on Sundays when there's a full flea market there.
Never pay more than 75 cents for a Sternburg, and never pay more than 4 euro for a falafel im Brot.
I basically spend every minute wishing I was in Berlin. Just kidding. Kind of. My friends are already sick of hearing me talk it, but thankfully there's a bunch of great people who were on my programme who also understand. My perspective on Germany is so much better, and I was watching intently this last weekend when the elections took place. Part of my thesis is on the far-right populist party which just won seats for the first time, so my study abroad experience has had a pretty direct impact on my academic life. And more broadly, it's inspired me to keep working on my German and seek out great experiences.
I would definitely recommend my programme, because it was an awesome way to study in Berlin with everything in German, but with support there, because that's not an easy thing to do. The programme can work for those with people of German experience, and those with not so much, and it was cool to see all of those people together. Also, Berlin is great. Did I mention that?