Written by Simone Robert
Surprise! It’s Simone, writing about my exchange experience! As you may know from my starring-feature on the Design Students Association Instagram account (please like and subscribe thx), I spent the winter semester of my third year completing a semester abroad at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany. Talking about this is probably getting old for all of you, seeing as basically all my sentences now start with, “well, when I was in Germany” — I promise I’ll shut up about it soon! If you’ve got questions though, check out my answers below, and make sure to come to the exchange information session this Friday night, held at 5:30pm in the MDes studio!
Before I shut up, though, I’m here to answer your FAQs, so listen up! If you’re a first- or second-year design student considering applying for exchange, this one is for YOU!
Do you know German? How did the language barrier affect your exchange experience?
Mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut. That’s “my German is not so good” for the uninitiated. If you study at the Bauhaus, your semester won’t begin until April, but you’ll arrive at the beginning of March to complete a month-long German intensive course. This course was imperative to making sure I could actually complete some grocery shopping without looking like a complete and total fool, but it doesn’t make you fluent by any means. While I definitely found it possible to “get by” on my limited German proficiency, I probably would have found everything a little bit easier if I had learned some German before physically arriving in Germany!
As well, the Bauhaus isn’t strictly an entirely English-speaking institution. Every single student you meet will be able to speak some English, and most will be entirely fluent (thank you, bilingual German education system). Most professors will be totally willing to accommodate your language preferences in assignments and critiques, but they won’t all instruct the entire course in English. I just got lucky and found classes which were taught entirely in English — thank goodness!
What were some of the challenges that you found studying abroad?
The language barrier? Just kidding (that goes without saying). The classes are so unstructured there compared to here that you have to be super on-the-ball when it came to finishing your projects. There were no profs trying to make sure that you specifically completed this or that each week, so it was all up to me to make sure that I finished my projects in time for the final week of class. Overall, this was an awesome exercise in time management, but definitely felt daunting at first.
Otherwise, the time difference from Weimar to Toronto definitely was challenging at first. Weimar was six hours ahead, which meant that if my sister didn’t get home from work until 7:00 PM, it was two in the morning for me! I obviously wanted to FaceTime friends and family while being away for the semester, so finding ways to get around the time difference was a big challenge to work around (though entirely manageable).
How did going on exchange affect your standing in YSDN? Are you going to graduate on time?!
Yes and no! Basically, because I was away in the winter semester of third year, I missed out on taking Design Placement (a mandatory internship class). Instead, I’ll be taking that class in the winter semester of my fourth year. Basically, while I will finish my classes in April like the rest of my classmates, I won’t actually have my graduation ceremony until October (after I’ve completed my internship this summer). Otherwise, I’m on track to graduate just fine.
As a side note, you can go on exchange for a full year instead of just six months. I can’t speak to how graduation would work in that case, so talk to Angela Norwood or Beth Alaska about this!
Where did you live when you were in Weimar?
I applied to live in student housing for the duration of my semester abroad. I was warned that I would only hear back in February, when my actual flight was February 25th (!!!!). I did hear back and get accepted to live in student housing but only starting in April, which meant I had to find somewhere to live in March, fast. I ended up subletting a room from a nice international student from Columbia for the month of March, then moving into student housing for the rest of my time in Weimar. Both were actually great experiences, so I’d recommend them equally!
How did it enhance your learning? What did it give you that you wouldn’t have otherwise learned here? What sort of courses did you take?
While YSDN does have a strong focus on research and conceptual thinking skills, we have a pretty applied program. You take a course called Editorial Design, and naturally, you end up making a magazine. Meanwhile, in Germany, the classes are all based around concepts.
I took a class called Digital Typography: Private Conversations, in which we examined how technology and modern digital phenomenons impact the private conversations and relationships in our lives. I ended up exploring artificial intelligence and intimacy and designed a line of three digital wearable products with an accompanying app. Meanwhile, I have classmates that created books, films, websites, exploring entirely different ideas altogether. How different from YSDN is that?!
I also took a class called Der Blumenstrauss, which is German for “flower bouquet.” We had to bring a weird bouquet (made out of anything) to the first class based on a riddle. From there, we ended up creating an experimental typeface, advertisement, and product. I ended up finishing the semester with a hand-made Ouija board — not something I would have ever made in YSDN, that’s for sure. I think working through these super experimental and conceptual processes of making was the best thing I took from my experience at the Bauhaus, and so far I’ve found them super useful for my work back in YSDN!
Is the Bauhaus the best option of the schools available?
I’m not sure what the options are now, but when I applied, you could just choose from three schools: two in Germany and one in Australia. I think the name “BAUHAUS” definitely drew me to the school — how could I resist going to the most trailblazing design school in history?! I also loved the idea of spending time in Europe and being able to easily travel to other countries for a minimal cost. Finally, I also had a friend who spent a whole year studying at the Bauhaus, and she certainly swayed me in my decision after speaking so highly of her experience. I’m super happy with the choice I made, but have also heard amazing things about the other schools, and would recommend looking into all the options equally!
What is the application process like?
I’m going to leave you here and tell you that you’ve got to come to the Exchange Information Session this Friday night to find out ! I can only speak to my experience in applying two years ago, and it could have changed considerably now in 2016. Come to the information night this Friday and ask York International representatives yourself about the process to get the most reliable information. I’ll also be there hanging out to answer any additional questions you have. Looking forward to seeing you there!