How I got to Bremen, Germany

Over the last month several of my fellow MCDM students and friends have asked “what are you doing in Germany?” Well now that I’m all settled down and blazing across the country on the train whenever possible, I’ve finally found the time to fill everyone in and hopefully offer some inspiration and insight into how you might be able to chase your dreams as I am doing here.

I’ve been interested in studying in Germany for several years. Some of this interest comes from my mom’s side of the family who were born here and the rest comes from the amazing German ingenuity that thrives because of the culture and large amounts of research funding.

While past endeavors to study here have failed for various reasons, I decided again in April to make another go of it. I began searching for digital media programs that had classes in wearable computing and augmented reality. One of the first Google search results was Uni Bremen’s Digital Media Master of Science program. Although the site looked like it hadn’t been updated in over a decade, the course content was exactly what I was looking for. Best of all, the classes I was interested in were taught in English and acceptance into the program meant that tuition would be payed in full by the German government.

I thought about it for a day or two while I scoured the net for similar programs, but decided I had to at least apply. Because UW has no formal agreement with Uni Bremen, I had to apply as a free-mover student which required several letters of recommendation, an official transcript, a basket full of luck and a summer of waiting. When August rolled around I became discouraged due to not receiving anything, not even a confirmation of my application or a response to several email inquiries.

August 28th was the day. I did my daily ritual of day dreaming on my way to the mailbox and there it was, my acceptance letter! As my neighbors watched in astonishment, I did my happy dance in the driveway and immediately began planning my escape from my nine to five (which at the time was more like a nine to nine).

It truly was glorious, but also overwhelming. I had no place to live, knew absolutely no one and had only four weeks before I needed to be in Bremen to get the ball rolling for class registration. I knew a few German words I learned in high school and from my mom, but otherwise I was clueless.

Fortunately American citizens don’t need a visa, most people in Germany speak at least a little English and I had an unlocked handy (smartphone) that would be my travel companion for the next four months. I also had several small clients that were willing to let me work from anywhere with internet access. I would survive in hostels until I found something permanent.

After discussing the opportunity with my adviser at school and coming to a preliminary agreement on my independent study credits, I hopped on my flight, and then a train to the unknown.

When I finally arrived in Bremen, a city of 550K in northern Germany, I found a small piece of Seattle waiting for me at the train station – a Starbucks with what might be the fastest wifi in town.

After a night at the hostel and a Caramel Macchiato made by a beautiful German girl, I ventured over to the uni to get started on enrollment and encountered my first dose of the strict laws that keep Germany ticking like a hand made cuckoo clock. While I had purchased a transit ticket, I had failed to stamp it on the tram; an offense worthy of a 40€ ticket from the transit controller. Oddly enough, this was the best thing that possibly could have happened to me.

While attempting to use the few German words I knew, two students sitting nearby noticed something was wrong and that while I had failed to stamp the ticket, I should have been given a break because of the enrollment paper I held in my hand that entitled me to a semester transit ticket. While they were unable to persuade the controller that I was just a poor soul with no insight into the workings of German transit system, one of them turned out to be a fellow Master of Digital Media student and both were my new best friends.

As we got off the tram at Uni Bremen I quickly realized I had met exactly the right people at the right time. The two international students proceeded to show me where all of the offices I needed were and saved me from typing thousands of words into the Google translator app on my handy. It took a few days before I could get everything done due to the strange office hours held by the administrators, but by the end of the next week I had a German bank account, health insurance, a residence permit, a semester transit ticket and a login for the universities online registration system. I’d like to think I would have been able to do this on my own, but my new friends saved me an incredible amount of time and frustration.

I was now an official student, but as a free-mover student at Uni Bremen you’re normally required to find your own accommodations. I was quickly growing tired of moving between hostels and emailing everyone with a room posted for rent online. I was meeting other students at the hostels who were also looking for a vacant room and had begun to realize it wasn’t going to be near as easy as I expected. With thousands of new students in town and few new housing developments, those with a vacant room were getting dozens of calls and emails everyday and often didn’t respond.

After explaining my situation to my counselor and questioning whether I would have to find something in a neighboring city, they decided to double check their accommodation lists intended for students from partner universities to see if something might still be available. The next day I got an offer for a house with three other international students and I immediately replied that I would accept.

I had finally done it, I was enrolled and had a place to live. I still needed to decide exactly which classes to take, but that would be easy and it could wait – it was time for a desperately needed vacation!

While it hasn’t been easy (or cheap), having the opportunity to live, travel and study here is priceless. Everyday I learn about something new and get ideas for things I can do when I get home. As classes begin, I’m getting even more excited about the technologies I’m being exposed to and realizing how lucky I am to be here.

All of this grew from wanting to study abroad and a simple Google search (“All praise to the Google” – found on a bulletin board in the digital media department at Uni Bremen!). My new reality was only a dream made possible by the internet and jumping through a lot of hoops. As I’ve said, I’m lucky, but I would encourage anyone who reads this to use the tools available to them to chase their dreams.

Feel free to check out my euro trip page for a map, pictures and videos of the places I’ve visited this last month.

Stay tuned for more updates from the motherland!

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