Studentenwerk Berlin

studentenwerk_berlin

I will dedicate this blog to educating my readers about the Studentenwerk Berlin (in German, Studentenwerk can be translated into something like “student services”). This is a large organization that operates with all the major universities in Berlin, such as the Humboldt University, the Free University and the Technical University.

The Studentenwerk Berlin provides different services to all its students. They cover student health insurance. They offer psychological counseling for students who need help. Those students seeking accommodation can apply specifically for a student dorm. Assistance is provided for students with children or those who have learning or working barriers. The Studentenwerk can help students find jobs, serving as a link between possible employers and students. There is also help for those international students who are dealing with language barriers.

It was actually through the Studentenwerk that I was able to secure my accommodations during the duration of my studies. When I applied for this exchange, I received messages from them asking if I would like to stay in a student hall of residence. I did not want the extra trouble and stress of trying to find my own apartment before arriving here so I let them do it for me. The accommodations within the Studentenwerk are mostly old buildings which were renovated into student dorms and most of the students who occupy them are international students from all over the world. There are about a dozen and they can be found spread throughout the city. There are different styles of flats, such as a WG (WG or Wohngemeinschaft in German means “flat share” in English) and single room apartments.

I live in a student WG with two other students. We have become good friends and I like it this way, as it enables me to have daily contact with fellow students. Nasr, one of my roommates, comes from Yemen and we communicate in German. Georgy is the other and he is an Australian native. We hang out quite often together and sometimes cook together. We live in a former East German-style apartment building. It is bare bones, but it serves its purpose and I could not be happier with my situation. There is a bathroom, a common kitchen, and we each have our own bedrooms. We have a student pub in the basement which is opened on the weekends and there is even a small gym which I frequently visit. It is not in the middle of the city, but for what I am paying (190 Euros per month) in comparison to other students I know, what I have is great.

Nasr and I eating Arabic food

Nasr and I eating Arabic food

Georgy and I enjoying Arabic food too

Georgy and I enjoying Arabic food too

Another service that the Studentenwerk Berlin operates is the Mensa (German word for university cafeteria). There are Mensas located all over the city close to the universities. A Mensa is provided to serve extremely cheap meals and snacks to all students and staff members. The food is pretty good and I can fill myself to the max with only 3 Euros. Little kiosks and mini-cafes are also located around campus and in some libraries for example where small foods and drinks can be purchased. Everything is paid electronically through a Mensa Card. It is kind of like the T-Card that we use back home. Students must load money onto their card at certain machines and then they can pay for their goods. Library services such as photocopying and printing are used with the Mensa Card as well, so it is very convenient.

My Mensa Card

My Mensa Card

Well, I have been checking the weather back home in Toronto and it looks quite cold lately. We finally had snow fall here and the temperature has dropped a bit, but I can’t complain. Wish me luck for the next two weeks- I got essays, presentations and tests that I need to write before the end of the first semester!

Prost!

One of the workout rooms that we have in the basement

One of the workout rooms that we have in the basement

Simple, but does the job

Simple, but it does the job

 

Fitness Abroad

Fitness is a big part of my life. Not only does it keep me in shape, but I feel great and my mind is a lot sharper (and I need all the help I can get in that department!). Staying fit was one of my biggest concerns about travelling around Europe. Keeping up with the gym and eating healthy isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do while you’re living out of a backpack.

Throughout my travels, however, I’ve picked up a few tips on how to maintain a (pretty much) healthy lifestyle, while still enjoying all that a culture has to offer. And I can attest that at the end of my three-week travels, I felt great, and didn’t have a gut… So there’s always that!

Italy - swimming is definitely a fun way to stay fit!

Swimming in Italy is definitely a fun way to stay fit.

Tip #1 – Make the time

The best thing about backpacking, fitness-wise, is that you’re walking all the time – so it’s nice to think of it as cancelling out a lot of the extravagant eating you’ll be doing while “sampling” a new culture. That’s why when I had downtime I tried to find good toning and strengthening exercises to keep my body from getting too soft.

It really isn’t hard during the afternoons or evenings that you have a few hours to yourself to fit in a quick workout in order to keep your body energized. Searching up a 10/20-minute ab workout on my phone via wifi, then heading back to my hostel room and throwing in a quick workout before I got showered and changed for the night’s activities was an easy way to keep up with some of my usual fitness activities.

Tip #2 – Find a gym

For the exercises/workouts that require equipment, you can’t exactly do these in your room… And I wasn’t really feeling carrying around a couple of weights in my backpack.

Many gyms offer a one-day pass to check out the facilities, and travelling is the perfect time to take advantage of that. It’s a great way to get access to equipment you obviously wouldn’t while on the go, and ultimately keep your muscles and tone from totally disappearing.

During these gym days, I stayed away from cardio – I’d been getting more than enough walking in through my backpacking adventures. So the gym days were mainly aimed at weight lifting, and using the machines to strengthen up and tone.

Tip #3 – Eat healthy

Apparently salads don't always have to be boring

Salads don’t always have to be boring!

 

My main concern with eating healthy during my travels was not what I ordered while I was at a restaurant. One of the best parts of travelling is the cuisine – it’s exciting to sample all of the cultural delicacies each country has to offer… You only live once, right?

It was during my before mentioned “down time”, the times I was walking/traveling or resting up in my hostel or grabbing a bite before a night out, that I made sure to choose the healthiest foods I could.

I focused mainly on whole foods during these times – fruits, vegetables, even those pre-made salads you find in grocery stores. Quick, easy to grab-and-go, and inexpensive. It’s important to also grab a source of protein to keep you energized for your long travels. Nuts, trail mix, and even little bags of cheese were saviours for me – once again, very easy to grab on the go.

In the end, it’s not about sacrificing the enjoyment of a new culture in order to stay healthy, but rather just including healthy choices within your travels whenever you can.

Having said that, if given a choice between a boring salad and an exciting exotic dessert – choose the dessert. You can always work it off when you get back home! 😉

French macaroons - you don't always have to think fitness!

French macaroons – now how can you say no to that?!

Obviously this is not a step-by-step guide, but just a few smart choices to keep in mind. Of course, it’s important to not overdo it! But just keep these tips in mind and, trust me, you’ll feel all the better for it.

 

Safe (and healthy) travels!

Patrick