Week 1: The program, the people and the living situation

Every time I fly across the Atlantic, it reminds me how much I hate it. (Photos for this post to be posted on http://www.alisonphotoland.wordpress.com due to this blog already having too much media and WordPress wanting me to pay more space)

This time I took some melatonin to help with jet lag, which was to some extent a good idea, but not very well executed as I wound up sleeping through the meal time on the flight and waking up during the artificial “night” time. The four-hour layover in Frankfurt kind of sucked, too, but I met a group of American high school students doing the same exchange program I had done in 2009 who were also waiting for their flight there, so that was pretty cool! GAPPers of the world unite.

Mischo, the darling, met me at the airport and rode with me on the 2-hour bus ride to my new home, Studentendorf Schlachtensee.

Studentendorf Schlachtensee is not just a dorm, it is (as the name implies) a tiny village, complete with apartment buildings, grocery stores, ping pong tables, bike rentals, a fitness center, and even a club. Sounds awesome? Now consider the fact that it was the first dorm built in Berlin EVER and has some sort of national monument protection on it, which I interpret as meaning it has never been renovated and most of the buildings are 60 years old.

My room is tiny – literally, a little bed, desk and closet. There is one shared kitchen on each floor and one shared bathroom. The bathroom has one toilet, and two showers, which I seem to be sharing with a dozen-odd men. Really wishing I hadn’t left my bathrobe at home about now.

The location is in Schlachtensee, which is a bit farther from the city center than Zehlendorf. It’s a beautiful area with lots of birds chirping, green trees, and two large lakes within walking distance (Krumme Lanke and Schlachtensee). Which is wonderful, but if I had wanted to live out in nature, I would have stayed in Enumclaw. It is a 15-minute bus ride from the dorm to the nearest subway station, and from there a 15-minute ride to the university we are studying at. (That’s not including waiting time, either, which can be as long as 20 minutes).

Mischo’s apartment is only one station away from the university – a 5-minute train ride – and he has his own bathroom, shower and kitchenette. Needless to say, I’m trying to spend as little time in Schlachtensee as possible. The worst part? Mischo’s rent is the same as mine (260 euro/mo.). But there’s a two-month waiting list for his dorm, otherwise I’d move out right now. Still, I talked to the office and made an agreement with them so I can move out at the end of the month. So now I’m replying to tons of ads on Cragslist and WG Gesucht to look for a new place.

Although the living situation isn’t ideal, the program so far seems awesome. Each week has a different theme. They go as follows:

Week 1 – German politics and society (we learned about political, social, and economic systems)Week 2 – Traveling through Germany. Wolfsburg, Magdeburg, Dessau, Leipzig. (I’m also going to Heidelberg the next weekend to visit friends, so add that to the list)
Week 3 – The history of Germany
Week 4 – Journalism in Germany
Week 5 – Europe: Integration and migration (I’m really excited for this one… I’m fascinated by issues of migration/integration/racism in Europe)
Week 6 – Culture and education in Germany

After that, we will be placed in an internship. The program coordinators will pick a publication they think we are well-suited to. If you’re familiar with German media, the list of organizations they have connections with is on the FU’s website.

The program consists of a 3-hour lecture Monday-Wednesday mornings followed directly by a short journalistic exercise in which we write a short news brief about something we have just learned, then various excursions in the afternoons and evenings. Thursdays students present research we’ve done about the topic of the week (everyone presents once during the 6 weeks, sometimes in small groups) and we have a discussion. This past week we talked about journalistic ethics in the U.S. as compared to Germany and Russia (there’s a parallel program with students from the former Soviet Union and we do some of the activities together – it’s FASCINATING to get their perspectives as well). The discussions are some of my favorite parts. Fridays we have more journalistic practice. I’m not sure exactly what they’ll all look like, but this past Friday for instance we practiced condensing longer articles into shorter news briefs and discussed some stylistic things in news writing.

Our group consists of 11 students, and there are 9 students in the parallel program. (We tend to call them “the Russians” even though some are from Ukraine, Georgia, Poland, etc.) Our group consists of students from all over the U.S. The average German language ability of our group is significantly higher than at IES, though there’s still quite some variation. I think I fall somewhere in the middle as far as “sprachkenntnis” (language ability) goes. Everyone is studying some form of journalism or has some journalistic experience, and many are also interested in political science. I have learned everyone’s names by now, but I haven’t made any super close friends yet.

Tomorrow we leave for our tour of Germany! I probably won’t have time to post for another week or two, but you can expect lots of photos when I do.

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