Freie Universität Berlin
Through this program, students may choose to spend either a semester or full year in Berlin studying through Reed's partner university, the Freie Universität. Since this is a direct exchange, students will navigate the Freie Universeität without external aid, and cultural integration is largely independent. There is little campus housing, so most students share apartments in the city or find other private housing arrangements. In any case, the university can aid in the search for accommodations. The Freie Universität is decentralized, with its buildings and offices spread throughout Berlin, so students must be comfortable navigating the city to attend classes. For the general exchange, 2 years of college-level German or the equivalent is required. However, students without prior German experience are welcome to study through FU-BEST (Freie Universität Berlin European Studies), which provides intensive German language courses in addition to others taught in English. In order to help facilitate immersion and to foster connections between international and domestic students, the university offers access to their Internationaler club, which provides access to over 30 social and cultural events per semester.
The academic quality of my courses in Berlin was good, but not comparable with courses at Reed. Seminars, particularly at the introductory level tended to be very overcrowded and students were often unprepared. Professors seemed to want to be concerned with the students' education, but this was often difficult or impossible due to the high volume of participants in any given course. The housing I had through the university (a furnished apartment in Kruckenbergstrasse in Berlin's Mariendorf district) was perfectly adequate, if inconveniently located. The space was nice, but it was 15 minutes from the end station on the subway and the commute to the university was about 40 minutes. I would recommend that students going to Berlin seek their own housing either in WGs with German students that can be found on the internet (living with natives is an excellent way to improve one's German) or the international student dormitory on Theodor-Heuss-Platz has sweet rooms for reasonable prices and a lively international community. The food in the cafeteria was perfectly reasonable, if not very spicy, (i.e. kind of bland) but the salads were dependably fresh. Arrive EARLY! If you arrive several weeks before the beginning of the semester, you have time to go the Auslandsamt before hundreds of other international students start coming in and wanting to register as well. You also have time to take care of all the bureaucratic details, set up your living space and get a phone line before classes begin. This also leaves you lots of free time to explore the city and give yourself a bit of a personal orientation before everything else begins. Being in Berlin for a year made me realize how incredibly lucky I am to be at such a small, wealthy institution with so many people who care deeply about education. Honestly, Reedies don't know how good they have it. The 10-person discussion conference really is a very special thing that you don't find everywhere.
The academics were much less demanding than Reed academics. However, the professors were very knowledgeable and you could get a lot from the classes depending on how much you put in to them. I chose independent housing and lived with a friend in the city. I found this to be much better than the housing conditions offered through the program. I was able to continue living (transport, food, schedule, etc) as I have been in the States insofar as I could always choose what to eat, which area to live in, etc. I was also able to have a life outside of the study abroad program which was really important to me and helped me to immerse myself further in the city. Try to discover a life independent from the program. The program itself is very enclosed and if you stay within the social dynamics offered through the program you may end up experiencing a camp-like vacation with other Americans. Your time overseas will effect your future. In my time here I had the space to step back from the rigorous academics at Reed and think about what I want to do after Reed. It was nice to experience another lifestyle and realize how easy it is to make a life wherever you please. This experience helped me to look outside of / beyond Reed. It gave me a perspective from which I could imagine myself after Reed and allowed me to look at the ways in which my Reed education can contribute to a post-graduate life. I chose classes that complimented my Reed studies really nicely. It was nice to study some of the same topics abroad and to approach the same studies from a different lens.
-Anonymous '13 (FU-BEST review)