Two years ago I went to Germany for the first time through a program called Studienforum Berlin. At the time I was attending Nazareth College of Rochester, and I was disenchanted with the school. With about half of the students commuting, and being located in a wealthy suburb outside of Rochester New York; my weekends were usually filled with video games, talking to dining hall staff, roaming the empty campus out of boredom, and snow. I applied to transfer to the The University of Massachusetts the next academic year and I received deferred enrollment, which meant I would have to spend another semester at Nazareth.
A friend of mine, a German Literature major, suggested that if I was bored at the school I should consider going abroad. He said that the school's German program was really good, and the classes would count for my general education requirements. He set up the appointment for me to meet with the German Professor at Nazareth, and I signed my name on the dotted line the day we met to speak about the program. What I was getting - for the same price of tuition that Nazareth charged (sans Nazareth's room and board, i.e. a lot of money) , was four classes, an internship, and a stay with a host family in Berlin. I was also given a form to fill out as to preferences as to what I was looking for in terms of living. There was also a handwritten essay I needed to turn in along with some other additional paperwork.
I selected to take German history, German literature and an European business course, on top of a German language course which ran for the first month. These classes are taught in English (outside of the language course, of course). After that the three courses would start, and then for the final month we would be attending our internships. The professors for the classes were fantastic. The language courses were taught by the teachers hired by the language school. However, the professors for the other classes were supplied by Studienforum. I would go as far to say that the professors were overqualified. One of my favorite classes I ever took was 20th Century German Theater, Literature and Caberet. The professor had taught at Smith College, Wellesley, and had edited an academic journal on East German culture and society for a number of years.
During the program our group traveled to Erfurt, Weimar (also Buchenwald), Dresden, Prauge, and Fankfurt Oder (to walk into Poland). All of the travel coasts were covered by the price of the program. Over time I did feel like the traveling was a little much, and that I did not have as much free time in Berlin as I wanted. Although I did get out - see: yesterday's post. Sometimes I was so exhausted that I just needed a free day to rest. However looking back I am thankful that I got to see so much of Germany while I was there. Compared to the program that I am currently in, there are no excursions built into the program. Last week for example I paid extra money to go to the Black Forest. The excursion was actually the group of students being chartered around to different tourist destinations on a bus. You should have seen how upset I was when they woke me up to see the world's largest cuckoo clock.
For my internship I was placed in an English speaking school, with the tech guy. Originally I was supposed to work in a production room, but the they said said that my language skill at the time was not competent enough. When I transferred to UMASS, I was informed that they have a policy of not counting transfer credits from internships. Oh well, neither of these things are the program's fault. Other places students were placed elsewhere based on their majors or interests; and included a museum, the Bundestag, and classrooms.
When we did have free time there was naturally a lot to do just because we were in Berlin. I got to see a ton of shows, films, plays, museums, and performances. Also many of these things were at a discount price because I was a student. Often times we went to performances and museums for the history and literature classes. I am sure the same was true for the music course. The program also had a German person who was a little older than us come along with us on excursions, and would go out with us. Had she not been around, I am certain one of us would have died.
My only complaint about the program would be the lack of language immersion. Yes, you are with a host family, but in all your classes you are with the other Americans in your group. This is also true for the excursions, which take up a considerate amount of time. As a result you probably are not speaking a lot of German. On the other hand, this is something I like about the program I am in now, I am essentially on my own. It's scary, but scary fun; you know the kind of scary fun where if you don't have enough money in your German bank account by a certain time you could lose your housing! Actually something similar to that almost happened to me the last time too...
I am aware of students from other schools other than Nazareth going to Germany through Studienforum Berlin. I also know they offer programs at other times of the year, although I know nothing more than what is listed on their website. If you are interested in either program, you can e-mail them through the site, although the program I was in was during the fall semester, so you may have to wait a year. I would highly suggest the program, for all the reasons mentioned above. Although immersion was sort-of a problem you can always just distance yourself from "the group"; and unlike me, if you've taken German language courses before you go, you probably wont get placed into a school (unless you want to be).
I don't want to review the program I currently with now because I have only been here for two to three weeks, and well... I am currently with them, so right now I can't make a judgement call on it. Maybe in another two years.
Once again, here's the link - http://www.studienforum-berlin.de/index.html