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A year in Germany at Double Degree Programme: "Test yourself"

We spent about 10 months in Germany, the first two semesters of the Double Degree Master's Program of the Higher School of Economics and the Technische Universität Berlin (TUB). We would like to tell you about the program and about our first year in Berlin in particular.  Our education is dedicated to innovation studies. We learn to conduct research of the infrastructure of innovation, economic policy and business support measures, technology development, technology management in large and small companies and high-tech entrepreneurship. The program in Berlin is called Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship, the program in Moscow is Governance of Science, Technology and Innovation. The programs of partner universities successfully complement each other, but there are more reasons to choose the Double Degree apart from coordinating study plans.

1. Living in Europe

Germany is the calling card of Europe. If you want to understand how it feels to live in the heart of the Old World, explore the century-old local family businesses, meet several generations of perpetual students, stumble upon senior citizens in restaurants and experience winters without felt boots and a few pairs of wool socks, you can’t find a better place. One can write a whole master thesis about the system of waste sorting in Germany, but it will be easier to just watch this video from Deutsche Welle. Germany is not a different planet, but there will be a lot of new impressions. A year will be just enough to get used to it all and start to properly look around.

Berlin is a city of immigrants, cosmopolitans and endless mail. There is a truly German amount of bureaucracy, but the vast majority of people regularly complain about its abundance in English, Turkish and Russian. The city has an almost perfect public transport system: the subway catches you from commuter trains, the buses stop right at the stations and the bike lanes follow you everywhere. The intervals in the subway, however, are two to three times longer compared to those we are used to in Moscow. Locals also really make an effort to protect the environment: you can often choose a paper bag instead of a plastic one or buy farmers’ products instead of mass-produced stuff.

Our program at TUB does not provide a dormitory. It can be tricky to find a place to live for an international student here, and still an increasing number of young adults come to Berlin every year. Currently there are more than 130,000 foreign students, this is roughly 5% of the city's population. The search for your future apartment should begin in Russia, even if you do not have any matriculation documents yet. If you are a foreigner who is coming only for a year, the search will be even longer and more difficult:

●    Realtors will not bother for such a short time rent;

●    Owners, other things being equal, will always prefer those who speak fluent German and are employed.

 

On the other hand, nothing is impossible. We were very lucky, since we managed to find a large apartment with three separate bedrooms. It was also possible to find a room for each of us in different places, but we were convinced that it would be wiser to stick together. It took us about three months to go through all the formalities and settle down. It is possible to shorten the process if you prepare beforehand.

A student visa to Germany erases all European borders. We traveled by bus, on airplanes, chipped in with our local acquaintances who had a driving license and rented a car. We visited almost a dozen countries between the three of us, from Portugal to Hungary. We also traveled across Germany, even reached Rügen, the largest island in Germany and its capital of beach recreation.

In the second semester we took an elective course called International Entrepreneurship. It involves a trip to Poland for four days: two days in Warsaw, and two in Krakow. The trip is almost entirely sponsored by the German DAAD Foundation and the Polish government, we only paid 50 euros per person for organizational expenses (excluding personal expenses during the trip). The initiator of the trip is the course leader Professor Matthias Mrozewski, he is wearing a blue polo with shorts in the photo below. He is a Polish German and really wanted to show us how modern high-tech businesses work in Poland.

We were mostly on a tight schedule of lectures and workshops but had some spare time to go sightseeing. In Warsaw we visited Google Campus and got introduced to some of the residents, for example, to the founder of the local fashion-aggregator Showroom. In Krakow we visited the Economic University. There we discussed the national specificities of doing business, international interaction and different ways to recognize and evaluate business ideas abroad.

 

2. Understanding how science works abroad

 

The master's degree is incommensurably closer to practical aspects than the bachelor's degree, especially abroad. The scope of your study projects and research increases by several orders of magnitude. If you have never been engaged in full-fledged scientific work in teams of several people before, you will experience a qualitative leap after a year in TUB.

You will have to read a lot of foreign academic literature and learn to distinguish between decent and controversial research. You will learn to develop research models independently, prepare presentations and reports, talk about what you managed to confirm or disprove.

Among the most fun and unscientific of our projects is the business plan for launching  insoles with power banks on the German market. The insoles can process the energy of your pressure into electricity and store it in a small power bank. This is a real technology, which is unfortunately not particularly cost-effective yet.


 

The winter semester lasts from October to March, the summer semester — from April to September. In addition to the exams, there is a midterm during some of the courses, a mini-exam after the first half of the semester. Attendance is not usually recorded and does not affect the assessment, except for some lectures which are compulsory to attend. There are semester-long scientific (sometimes not really scientific, rather business-oriented) projects in every course, so you will have to manage different workflows running alongside your main exam preparation. You will almost never be really pushed — you have to be responsible for your work and attendance yourself. 

3. Meeting foreign students

The most valuable attainment that you get while studying abroad is actually the people you meet and the academic knowledge comes second. You will constantly work in teams and communicate with the TUB students both during studies and your free time. Be prepared that the majority of people will be slightly older than you: someone took a gap year (or several) between different levels of education, someone worked for several years and decided to continue learning, someone became interested in the program, already having a master's degree in a different field.

Europe probably has the strongest community of international students, and Berlin has the strongest student community in Germany. Basic German will be a huge plus, but it does not play a decisive role, since the main language at our program is English, and there were 1.5 times more foreigners at the program in Berlin than Germans. You learn as much about the local culture as you do about a dozen of others. We constantly discussed politics, international relations, food, national drinking habits and family values. Paradoxically, in a city where a third of the buildings are from the Soviet times, young people know almost nothing about modern Russians. Truth be told, we know even less about them.

Coursemates keep in touch via messengers, through our Facebook group and LinkedIn profiles. We also receive newsletters from the TUB alumni community. For the second year some of the students from TUB came to study at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow and at Polytechnic University in St. Petersburg. We meet on a regular basis and work together during the studies. They write their theses with academic supervisors from the Higher School of Economics and graduate with us. This enables a proper cultural exchange: last year they decided where we should go on Friday, now it’s our turn.


 

4. Testing yourself

Studying abroad on a new program devoted to modern technologies, innovative business and economic policies is a huge leap out of the comfort zone. The program in Berlin was quite recently launched as well as Governance of STI at HSE. Everything from parties with coursemates to written examinations is in a foreign language. There will be a minimum of three full academic days per week starting at eight in the morning.

You need to seek for an apartment yourself, remember to comply with all the formalities, try your luck at the neverending line to Berghain at least a couple of times. You’ll have plenty of things to do, you will be on your own, your friends and families left behind at least for some time. Regardless of your goals for the trip, Berlin won’t disappoint. During the year, you can drastically improve your emotional intelligence, accumulate an outstanding bundle of intercultural communication, get introduced to technology management, learn to conduct entrepreneurship research, understand how new technologies spread, diffuse and get monetized.

 

Quotes

 

Vlada Brilliantova

 

The greatest impression after my year in Berlin is the understanding that all efforts were not for nothing. The master's degree at the Technical University was a confirmation that four years of sleepless nights over foreign languages and research in HSE did pay off.

Berlin for me will always be the place where I’ve first built my own way of life and traveled hands free à la European students. Favorite places in the city are the park Tiergarten in the summer and the New Year's fair on Zoo in the winter. I will remember them for a long time, delightedly going over several thousand pictures brought from Berlin.

I was very glad to make friends with the guys from different countries, and I chat with many of them almost every day, some invite me to visit. But there are two people who made this year that cool – these are my neighbors Alex and Nazerke. From the very first day in Berlin, we joined our forces for life, educational projects, travel and socialization.

I want to mention Prof. Robin Kleer – a professor from TUB. I  took two of his courses, both were extremely exciting, interactive and practical-oriented. If you want to work in a team of students with a various backgrounds, learn to understand technologies that the world has not really heard of yet, and discuss them with representatives of the largest German technology companies, you just need to sign up for Prof. Kleer’s courses.

You should try to live in Berlin at least because this is the city where you can find any of the world’s cuisines. I'm obsessed with Vietnamese cuisine, and, frankly, I have not tried yet Vietnamese dishes that taste better than the ones in the restaurant near our place (even in Vietnam!).

 

 Nazerke Rakimgaliyeva

 

Joining the double degree program was one of the most spontaneous but best decisions of my life. Living and studying in Berlin changed me. I became more open and independent.

Despite the fact that studying at TUB was challenging for me, I am proud to say that I had learned a lot, improved my English and German and grown as a person. This is the kind of experience I recommend to those students who want to to step out of their comfort zone.

 

Alexey Chekalin

 

Berlin is the most convenient place to live as a student. After the fall of the wall, the city was born anew, so all the inhabitants of Berlin are either very young, or at least very young at heart.

Among my main impressions is the local passion for waste sorting, renewable energy and organic products. I even decided I need to be more responsible about the way I use the planet’s resources. So far, I’m not good at it, but after a year in Berlin at least I know what ‘good’ should look like.

For the first time in my life I took part in scientific research that turned out not too embarrassing to show, and participated in study projects, the results of which can be put in a resume or at least discussed during a job interview. TUB is a great place to study if you are proactive and motivated. I would also like to support Vlada’s recommendation regarding the courses of Prof. Robin Kleer.

My favorite place in Berlin is Fridenau, the smallest and most populous district in the city. We rented an apartment nearby and spent a lot of time in that neighborhood. It’s in the western part of the city, is almost unaffected by the war and used to be in the American sector during the division. The main dish in Berlin is undoubtedly curry. Indian, Vietnamese or with a burnt sausage — it's up to you.

Berlin is always happy to see new students. All information on the Double Degree program with TUB is available on our website.