Bachelor's Student: Joanna Pope
In addition to trying to speak as much as possible in class, I’d actually encourage students to resist the temptation to write down or mentally prepare their comments before sharing them with the class. This actually makes you more nervous, not less! The best thing to do is just start talking and trust that the words will come—your brain will do the rest.
Meet Joanna Pope, a Bachelor’s student at Freie Universität Berlin currently interning at the German University Alliance office in New York. Originally from Australia, Joanna moved to Berlin to study literature and art history and to improve her German language skills.
How did you come to study in Berlin?
I’m half-German, half-Australian. I didn’t grow up bilingual, but I did study German for several years in high school. I had a great German teacher from Munich, and when I was fifteen she took our class on a trip to Germany, where we spent some time in Berlin, as well as doing a homestay and attending local high schools in Münster and Bonn. From that point on I knew that I wanted to live in Germany. I moved over to Berlin some months after graduating from high school and spent a year working as a copywriter for a startup and building up my language skills before applying for German undergraduate programs.
What was it like to study in German? Do you have any tips for students thinking about taking classes taking place in German during exchange or study abroad?
Rather than huge lectures, most of the classes in my faculty (the Peter Szondi Institute for comparative literature) were seminars with less than 30 students. I found this pretty nerve-wracking at first, but eventually felt really comfortable contributing to discussions, at which point my German skills improved a lot because I was actively practising every week. I got a lot more comfortable with making mistakes in my speaking, which meant that I learnt a lot more than if I’d just been doing readings and passively listening to my professors speak. I actually prefer having seminar discussions in German now—you can express yourself with so much more precision than you can in English just because of the way German sentences work.
In addition to trying to speak as much as possible in class, I’d actually encourage students to resist the temptation to write down or mentally prepare their comments before sharing them with the class. This actually makes you more nervous, not less! The best thing to do is just start talking and trust that the words will come—your brain will do the rest. If it’s still difficult to convince yourself to speak up in class, you can also think of yourself as doing a favor to your shyer German classmates. If they see that a non-native speaker is brave enough to contribute to the discussion, chances are they’ll feel braver too.
What do you think you’ll miss the most about studying in Berlin?
A lot of small things—the 70 cent filter coffee at the Mensa, the huge campus libraries and all the trees in Dahlem, even my 45 minute ride on the Ringbahn to campus. Studying in Berlin is also very special because of the people there. A lot of my classmates were working on artistic projects alongside their coursework—writing fiction and plays, making music, painting, dancing—or else working in publishing, galleries museums or creative agencies. It made for a lot of really interesting conversations.