Maja Denisova knew early on that she wanted to expand her horizons both figuratively and literally through study abroad. At an information session during her first semester, fellow psychology bachelor's students shared their experiences, and something clicked for Maja. During her bachelor's studies at Frei Universität Berlin, she studied in Budapest and during her master's studies in Human Factors at Technische Universität Berlin she planned to go to Israel. So far so good. When she finally applied for a semester abroad in Tel Aviv in fall 2019, she couldn't yet know that her plans, like those of so many other students, would be halted by the global coronavirus pandemic.
"My tip for students who currently want to go abroad? Make sure you have a lot of patience! And remain calm. It is incredibly difficult to predict anything in advance as the situation changes rapidly," says Maja, who originally planned to spend her third master's semester abroad. One year later than planned she could finally pack her bags and start her studies at Tel Aviv University in September 2021. The international offices in Tel Aviv and Berlin were extremely helpful during this process. Tel Aviv regularly sent updates about changes the Israeli health system was making. And in Berlin, her application was re-accepted a year later with only a few changes. Why Israel or rather, why Tel Aviv? Maja's subject of study was one reason. "Israel is known for its high-density of start-ups, particularly in high-tech. It offered the perfect combination of my subject interests and my dream of living in a city by the sea."
Upon arriving in Tel Aviv, Maja had to quarantine for seven days. However, she had company. She had traveled together with a fellow student she was then able to quarantine with, making the week feel much shorter. "I would recommend asking who else from your university is going to the same city and talking with those students. Difficult situations, such as a missing apartment key, feel much less challenging when you're not alone," explains Maja. A tip which certainly applies not only to the pandemic.
Maja is also sharing her experiences during the semester on a blog as a correspondent for the "studieren weltweit – ERLEBE ES!" campaign of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). The campaign creates a sense of community among the many correspondents around the world and brings their experiences to life for outsiders through pictures, experience reports, and videos. The correspondents also often offer real-time impressions on their own social media profiles.
Studying online despite being abroad would not have been an option for Maja even though many students feel differently. She was lucky though. Nearly the entire winter semester at Tel Aviv University was held in person. Only during the last few weeks were her classes moved online due to increasing incidence numbers. "Overall, the in-person semester worked well. I always presented my Green Pass before entering university buildings. This is similar to the EU-COV-Pass and confirms that I am fully vaccinated. In most of our classes we were also required to wear a mask," she says, adding that some of the courses were also held in hybrid format for all the international students who could not enter the country.
Wearing a mask indoors and the vaccination checks both provided Maja with a sense of safety. There are and remain, however, restrictions to travel, a necessary component of any study abroad. For instance, the border to Jordan is still closed. Nevertheless, Maja emphasizes, "At no other point in my life will it be so easy to meet so many amazing people from different countries in such a short period of time. You experience a country's culture differently than when simply traveling." Last but least, Tel Aviv fulfilled its promise: sea, walks on the boardwalk, and spectacular sunsets.
In the beginning, Maja's aim when selecting her courses was to take as wide a variety of subjects in the interdisciplinary liberal arts program as possible to gain new perspectives she could apply to her degree program in Human Factors. In addition to her studies, she focused on learning about the local culture and improving her Hebrew skills. Studying at Tel Aviv University differs in several ways from that in Germany. Maja was positively surprised by how professors were interested in students' opinions. Courses were manageable with roughly 30 students and even lectures felt more like seminars. Smaller class sizes also meant that lessons felt more intimate but also more like school. Attendance was required and recorded. And just as in school, she received a grade for her participation in class. "Another thing that was new for me was addressing most of the professors by their first name." A stark difference to German universities.
What are the next steps for Maja? After the examination period in January, she will complete an internship at Tel Aviv University, financed by a PROMOS scholarship awarded by the TU Berlin Career Service. Under Professor Joachim Meyer at the Department of Industrial Engineering she will be learning more about modeling human decision-making behavior in human-technology interaction. Maja hopes to be able to apply the theory she has learned during her studies to her research and use the time to possibly even decide whether she wants to remain in research. As it turns out, study abroad may not only offer new experiences but also new professional prospects.
Every semester, the “studieren weltweit – ERLEBE ES!” campaign offered by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) trains students going abroad to provide interesting and exciting reports on their experiences on Instagram, YouTube, or Twitter. Over 20 TU Berlin students have already reported as “correspondents” from countries such as Brazil, China, and Great Britain, and shared colorful and diverse impressions of their stay abroad using photos and videos.
WHAT do you want to do abroad?
With so many options, this question is an important starting point. Example:
WHERE should you go?
There are exchange programs both for Europe (ERASMUS+) and overseas. Each has their own application procedure and deadline.
WHICH language are classes taught in? English or the local language? Do you need to freshen up on your language skills before traveling or include a language certificate with your application?
You should clarify these questions in good time to ensure your language skills are sufficient by the time of departure.
WHEN do you need to apply?
A good rule of thumb: The farther you want to travel, the earlier the application deadline.
HOW MUCH does it cost and where can I find scholarships?
If you study through an exchange program, the tuition fees at the host university are waived. ERASMUS+ students receive a scholarship from the European Union (EU). Students studying at a partner university overseas receive a partial scholarship from TU Berlin. Free movers and students writing their final thesis abroad can apply for a PROMOS scholarship. Students can also apply for further scholarships, including BAföG for stays abroad.
WHO can answer my questions about studying abroad?
The Student Mobility team can assist you and answer any questions. Office hours are every Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30 to 12:30.
WHAT kind of internship do I want to do?
The Career Service also funds independently organized internships in Europe (with ERASMUS+) and overseas (with PROMOS) and advises on other scholarship programs (e.g. Russland in der Praxis, Deutsch-Schwedisches Talentprogramm or Vulcanus in Japan).
WHERE should you go?
Europe (ERASMUS+) and overseas opportunities have different application procedures. Keep this in mind when applying for a scholarship. Applications are accepted on an ongoing basis for ERASMUS+ and each quarter for an internship overseas.
WHICH language is spoken in the company/on site? English or the local language?
Proof of language skills is not required for ERASMUS+ but it is for PROMOS.
WHEN do I apply?
Please note: Internship placements are not allocated. Please allow sufficient time to find and apply for an internship. Upon request, the Career Service can help you with your search, such as by naming companies previous students have had positive experiences with.
HOW MUCH does it cost and where can I find scholarships?
All scholarships (ERASMUS+ and PROMOS) are partial scholarships. We recommend applying for BAföG for stays abroad (only open to students completing a mandatory internship). You are advised not to take on an unpaid internship.
WHO can answer my questions about internships abroad?
Student Mobility team in the Career Service: Katja Glaeske, Christiane Schmidt, Gabriele Zöllner
They can be reached by phone during regular office hours. The Career Service's general online office hours are on Wednesdays. You can find the link in the ISIS course "Praktikum im Ausland" (topics: administrative steps, visas, insurance, etc.).