FU-BEST Student: Toni Cerkez
As an International Relations and Sociology-Anthropology double-major at Lake Forest College, Toni Cerkez chose to participate in the FU-BEST program for its research, study, and German language opportunities. He is currently pursuing a master's degree at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary.
PLANNING AND PREPARATION
Why did you choose to study abroad in Germany? I was writing my thesis on the EU-Turkey relations and Germany seemed to be a perfect location to conduct such research. In addition, I took German language and culture classes while at Lake Forest College, and, being Bosnian-Herzegovinian, I feel very close culturally to the German-speaking world.
Why did you choose Freie Universität Berlin/FU-BEST and what did you study there? I chose FU-BEST because it seemed to be a perfect program for my studies. As an International Relations and Sociology-Anthropology double-major (focusing on EU and social theory), I found the courses offered amusing, entertaining, and compatible with my research interests. In addition, I really liked that FU-BEST is a European studies program and I wanted to experience studying in Europe on a new level (I had never studied in Europe at a university level before). Furthermore, Berlin is a big reason for why I chose FU-BEST- I always found the city mesmerizing but unknown and I wanted to explore it more.
How did you learn about study and research opportunities for international students at Freie Universität Berlin? My alma mater offers more than 200 study abroad programs. Before Berlin, I attended the one in Amman, Jordan, and then decided to go to Germany later in my undergraduate studies. I investigated the list of programs in Germany, with a focus on North Germany and when I saw FU-BEST’s offer, I immediately checked it as my favorite. Ashley Sinclair, my study abroad coordinator, was very helpful during my application-writing period and she also suggested that I should apply for the DAAD scholarship (which I’ve received while in Berlin).
LIFE IN BERLIN / IN GERMANY
How would you describe student life at Freie Universität Berlin? I don’t exactly know the student life at Freie Universität Berlin, but the student life at FU-BEST is intense and fast-paced, not in the least because we had to drive quite a lot to get to Lankwitz (I was actually fond of this), but because the program is very Europeanized, and it expects a lot of independence from its students. This is a very good thing, although I am aware that it does not suit everybody equally. However, even though we have the FU-BEST bubble and it can feel quite overwhelming sometimes, most of the students are upperclassmen and we all wanted to spend some time outside of the American FU-BEST bubble, so it was really encouraging to see everyone try a lot to connect to either their language partners or to students from other Freie Universität Berlin programs (although Lankwitz is pretty limiting when it comes to this).
What did you find most rewarding about your time in Germany? What did you find most challenging? What I found challenging was the European-style student life. In the US, the student life is very dense and evolves in a bubble, whereas in Europe it is much more independent and “adult”. However, after adjusting to it I found it hard to return to the US frame of mind- I guess I like feeling like an adult. I also managed to meet many different people outside of my program- I found this very rewarding. In addition, I loved our excursion week- it still remains one of the best times of my undergraduate career and the friends I made during that week are some of my Berlin favorites. Classes were not that challenging (although I learned so much) because I loved them, and I put in a lot of work. In addition, my professors were amazing and understanding with everything (my grandma died last October, while we were in Denmark, so I had to miss some classes and they were very collegiate about it).
What was, as you see it, your most “German” experience? Germany was not very culturally surprising to me, so I do not have a typical “German” experience. However, I do have a “Berlin” experience. One night, two of my friends and I went out after our Stammtisch (also one of the best things about FU-BEST). We went to a karaoke bar somewhere in the city. Dozens of people came, many races, genders, and sexual orientations, and sang, drank, and enjoyed themselves during the night. Berlin stands for liberty in today’s Europe and it was endearing to see all these different people enjoy as one. To me, this remains one of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had. I found this to be a typically “Berlin” experience because I never saw this anywhere else on my travels.
LIFE AFTER FU-BEST
How did studying abroad impact your academic and professional goals? Unbelievably so! It made me more connected to Europe and there I decided to do my grad school on the continent (right now I’m at CEU in Budapest doing my Master’s degree). With that in mind, FU-BEST also helped me with my German level which I intend on improving in the future. This is crucial as I am planning to work for the EU (or at least in that sphere) and knowing German helps a lot! Apart from that, FU-BEST was also crucial for my thesis-writing because I managed to interview professors there and other academics from Berlin, thus ultimately making my argument stronger and my thesis more conceptually relevant.
TIPS AND ADVICE
What advice do you have for prospective students considering studying abroad in Berlin/Germany? When it comes to FU-BEST, my advice would be to GO! However, go only if you’re ready for an intense experience. It is not an easy-breezy program and Berlin is not an easy-breezy place- they don’t call them “Berliner schnauzers” for nothing! However, if you are ready to put in work, time, and energy into it as many of us were, then you will thrive. Professors are very open, very frank, and genuinely fun, and the program coordinators/assistants are basically your friends. When it comes to Berlin/Germany in general, again- GO! It is a great place, a very safe place, and a place that contradicts generally the recent political developments. The democratic culture is vibrant, so you will see many protests and contra-protests, and you can learn so much about Europe’s history and politics simply by living there. To me, Germany is an experience I’ll never forget, and I hope to be back soon. In addition, Berlin is surprisingly cheap (very cheap!), and has a very alternative urban culture (it’s a mix of everything really, with the added Berlin sprit), so being there as a student is a rewarding experience in itself.