Hi! I'm Jessica Smith. I did a year-long exchange studying architecture at the Technical University in Berlin. Berlin is a difficult city to leave behind. Living is cheap, the environment is valued, and there is so much history everywhere. It's super interesting! Not to mention the fact that there is SO MUCH going on. The city is like one big party and everyone's invited. Even that guy.

My girlfriend and I lived in what used to be a squat and what is now known as a social housing project. It was pretty much like living in a late night SBS movie. But without the subtitles to help us out. Every fortnight there was a house meeting where the 25 housemates would discuss matters of house maintenance and interpersonal issues. Our first meeting we had to stand up and introduce ourselves and request permission to stay. All in german! I had only done a 3 month language course before leaving Australia so I was not confident about our chances. But we managed to stumble through it and were accepted into the brethren of weirdos and misfits.
The house was beautiful and neglected and consisted of two 4-storey buildings around a central courtyard with a huge chestnut tree in the middle. Living with that many people (and that many strong characters) had its pros and cons, but overall it was really positive and such a quintessentially Berlin experience.

At first uni is very confusing! I found it basically impossible to obtain any kind of meaningful information about subjects before leaving Australia. They will put out a course catalogue (KVV; Kommentiertvorlesungsverzeichnis) for architecture just before semester starts. Then there will be an introduction day where all the design professors introduce their design studios. After this you have to sign up for classes. This is often a matter of being in two or three places at the same time to put your name on various lists. This may or may not result in you getting into the course! Don't stress though, there will always be options.

If you're planning to go on exchange, the first thing I would recommend is sign up for a language course. Even just getting some basics will give you a headstart when you arrive. Also, try and do the pre-semester intensive german course. I learnt more in those 3 weeks than I did for the rest of the semester.

The next thing I'd advise is, if you can, try and get a student visa before you leave Australia. It's a pain having to trudge out to the Alien Registration Office at 6:30 in the morning, sometimes more than once, to join a queue of other poor alien saps. Doubly so in the despairing depths of winter. However, a small dose of German bureaucracy can be a formative experience, much like getting your bike tyre stuck in a Berlin tram track. There's nothing like a bit of pain to really know you're alive!

Lastly, travel as much as you can. Flights are cheap, or ride-sharing is really well organised in Germany (http://www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de) - like everything else - and sometimes you can find cheap train deals.

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