Kathy spent her spring semester in Weimar, Germany, studying at Bauhaus University.
Kathy spent her spring semester in Weimar, Germany, studying at Bauhaus University.
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Studying abroad in Germany wasn't a super popular choice for last year's juniors; the call of Florence, Italy, captured many of their imaginations. But for furniture design major Kathy Huang, finding that a school in Weimar, Germany, offered courses in line with her interests and major sealed the deal for her.

I got to talk with Kathy about her incredible experience studying at the Bauhaus in Germany, from her extensive travels to her awesome new friendships, and how she tackled language barriers and navigating a different culture.

 

Why did you decide to go to Germany?

I knew I wanted to study abroad, and when I went to go talk to the study abroad advisor Britt, she suggested that I apply for the Bauhaus in Germany because that was the only program that had anything to do with 3D, furniture, or sculpture. So that was the one I applied for! It was crazy, because I was the only one who applied for it. I think most everyone applied to go to Florence, and if they didn’t get accepted there they got dispersed to other places, which was nice. I wasn’t really picky; being accepted to any school would have been a wonderful experience. I just wanted to go abroad! I wanted to experience how different cultures are, and especially how different schools teach.

What are the differences between how Bauhaus and MCAD teach?

At Bauhaus it was very independent. You have classes where the professors will tell you what you need to get done, and other classes where sometimes the professor won’t even be there for a couple weeks. Like, my professor was gone for three weeks—here at MCAD we would get a substitute in that case, but over there we didn’t have anything to do. MCAD is very structured with how they do their teaching curriculum, laying out every week with what we’re going to be doing and what we need to get done. In Germany, when we didn’t have a professor for three weeks I was like, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.” That’s rough to get used to, but it's a good way to learn self-discipline and how to keep yourself in check to make sure you finish by deadlines.

Photo taken in front of the Bauhaus Dessau Building. 


What classes did you take?

I had three studio courses and a German language course. You take a three-week intensive German language course your first month, and then the semester officially starts in April (it’s their summer semester). I had three courses: fachmodule, a science module, and a project module which is mainly what you’re interested in studying. Since the Bauhaus didn't have furniture design as a major, I was placed under the product design major. My project course was about sustainable design and I figured out a way to work on furniture under that umbrella. A lot of other people in the class were doing very different and creative things as well. 

My science module, Eating Eye, was about food. It was a really weird class, but I had a lot of fun because a lot of my other friends were in the class with me. Exchange students are very limited in class choices because most are taught in German. There were only two science choices for those of us not fluent in German, and the other option was about infographics. Personally, talking about food seemed like a lot more fun, plus at the end of the semester we held a potluck and everyone brought in food!

My fachmodule was a 3D printing class where we had to modify a 3D printer in any way we wanted to. I worked with a friend named Echo from the Pratt Institute in New York, and we made a chocolate printer. Some other people in the class made a program played music as the printer head moved around, it was really cool. The downside to this class was that it was taught in German. Echo and I went the first three weeks not knowing what was going on. I had to keep asking our professor to please summarize in English, because luckily he spoke English very well. 

My project module was probably the hardest thing to do, it was the one with the most credits.

How many credits was it?

18 credits. But Bauhaus credits are a little different, so converted to MCAD’s system it ended up being 9 credits for me here. Which is a lot for one class!

Kathy's final project and presentation for her project course at Bauhaus 


For your project course, where did you get your inspiration?

My main inspiration for it, because I wanted to do furniture and it had to have something to do with sustainable design, was from my mom. She gets shipments on wood pallets, and I was thinking because I see her get rid of so many pallets almost every other week, and normally the pallets don’t get reused, that I could use those. That was my first inspiration, and then I expanded on that and had to figure out how to incorporate the Euro pallets which are designed differently.

How many times did your classes meet?

It was just once a week, just like MCAD. Sometimes you could have classes where you’d meet more than once, but mine were all just once a week. If you’re not meeting with a professor in person, sometimes in my project class we did Skype consultations with our professor just to check up and see how we’re doing on our projects and stuff.

Where did you live while you were abroad?

Bauhaus University is in Weimar, Germany. Weimar is three hours south of Berlin, or three hours north of Munich, so right in the middle. It’s a very very small town. I applied to the university’s student housing and I got placed in a dorm, which was really far from campus, but I was happy to get a place because I remember reading an email saying some people didn’t get a place through the university and had to stay in hostels until they were able to find accommodations (which they did by the time the semester started in April). I lived way up high on the top of a hill, so I had to do this crazy walk every day to get to campus until I got a bike. Getting a bike was the best thing ever! It was so much faster. I’m used to driving everywhere while in Minnesota, but I didn’t have a car in Germany, so I biked. And I had really cool friends that I went on bike trips with and stuff like that.

Did you travel while you were studying abroad?

Oh my gosh, yes! Almost every other weekend I was in a different city, and sometimes it was just a day trip. Students could pay a semester contribution of around €160 to get a ThüringenCard (TC) for buses and trains, and it works as a library card too. The TC is good for travel around the state of Thuringia, where Weimar is. So I did day trips to Eisenach, Erfurt, Jena, and Gotha, because those are all in Thuringia. Then, taking the train out further I did day trips to Leipzig and Dresden. The Dresden excursion was with my class, so that was cool. We got to see the Volkswagen museum there! Then I did weekend trips to Berlin and Prague, and I did other trips to Cologne and Dusseldorf, Essen, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, and Dessau to see the other Bauhaus University building, which was really cool. I also took a trip to Brno in the Czech Republic. But mostly I stayed in Germany the whole time! I did go to Groningen, the Netherlands, because my professor's studio is there. We went on a weekend trip there and it was really cool to see his workshop. From Groningen we went to Amsterdam and stayed there just for the day, and then took the bus back to Weimar.

They have something called the Flixbus that you can use to travel all throughout Europe and it's really cheap. The only bad thing is it takes way longer than a train. I also went to France—Paris and Lyon—that’s where I ended my trip with my sister, before finally coming back to the United States. I traveled around A LOT, which was really nice. I actually wasn’t expecting to travel while I was abroad, but when you’re there, it’s so much easier to travel within Europe, it just makes sense. And I wanted to travel most of Germany while I was there, so that if I go back I can explore other countries.


Kathy and friends from Weimar recreate an old image taken on the back porch of the Bauhaus Dessau Building


Now that you’ve traveled so much of Germany, do you see yourself going back? 

I would definitely go back, my favorite city is probably Hamburg. It was really really nice, there were a lot of lakes and rivers, and it’s up north so the weather was great. I’d love to go back to Berlin too, because there were a lot of museums I wanted to see, and one weekend wasn’t enough to see them all.

Did anything that you saw in Germany inspire the work you’re doing now?

Surprisingly there weren’t a lot of museums in Germany for anything furniture design related. There were a lot of production design things, and you’d think that after the Bauhaus period that there’d be more furniture stuff but I didn’t see a lot. But for me to get inspiration, there were a lot of furniture shops and whenever I saw one I would go in and look around, and if they had a catalog I would take it home. I brought a lot of furniture store catalogs back with me. Maybe I’ll find a design that isn’t used here in the States and bring it from Germany to here in my work! 

Was there anything that you did that you would not do again?

When you travel, of course you want to check out different pubs, clubs, bars in whatever city you’re in. On our trip to Berlin, we stood in line, in the cold, for almost two hours for a club. We had to pay an €8 cover to get it, and inside it was super crowded. Europeans really love techno music, while I am not a fan of techno. But I was there with my friends and I was like, “of course I’m gonna go out and have a good time and experience this with them.” They were all enjoying it, and I really was not. I’m pretty short, and was getting pushed around a bit by wild dancers, so I said to my friends, “I’m gonna go sit.” One other friend joined me, and we both ended up falling asleep! Which was really bad—you should not fall asleep in a club! A while later, we got woken up by our friends—they had almost left because they couldn’t find us and they thought we had left already, but they found us thankfully. By the time we got out, it was daylight outside, it was 7:00 a.m. I was like, “we are not walking back, we are taking the taxi, we are taking a taxi back to our hostel!” I would definitely not do that again.


 

Do you have any funny stories from your time in Germany?

Oh, I always fell off my bike. Always. Germany is super safe for bikers. When you go to a different city you can rent a bike there, it’s super great for that. But for some reason, I would always fall off. I was biking and I was holding a bag, and the bag got caught in the wheel so I flipped forward. That was one time. Another time, I was biking in the city next to Weimar called Erfurt, and the guys I was with were biking so fast. We were crossing the railroad tracks for some trams and my front wheel got stuck, so I flipped forward again. My friends didn’t realize I had fallen off because they were going so fast, and I was just sitting there, like, “What am I going to do now?” I got up and moved out of the road, and then a bunch of people came up to me, speaking German (and this was in April so I still didn’t know German that well), and I just kept saying, “No, I’m okay I’m okay.” I could understand them sort of, but they were talking so fast that I couldn’t respond to them in German. I eventually got back on my bike and caught up to my friends who were all like “What happened?” and I had to say I fell off my bike, again

How well could you end up speaking German?

I can order my food in German, so I could understand if they were asking me if I wanted a big size or a small size, or if they asked if I wanted it spicy or not spicy. I can read the menu, I know all the food vocabulary.

My first German class was really easy because we had it every day for three hours, so I learned really fast from that. But the second course was harder because it was just once a week. But no one in Germany made fun of me or wasn’t nice to me because I couldn’t speak their language well. I was putting effort into learning their language, and that was enough.

Probably the hardest thing was my first month there when I didn’t know any German. If a shop worker didn’t know English, sometimes they just didn't want to help me. I had some friends who were really fluent in German, so when I went out shopping I would message them a picture and ask, “Hey, is this body wash? Am I buying the right thing?” And other times if I had good enough cell service I would use google translate to ask the people there what I needed. And when I went to the wood shop at the university, they didn't speak any English either, and I would just show them a picture of the tool I needed and they would be able to grab it for me. That’s how I communicated when I was abroad!

Did you have a data plan for your phone overseas?

I did, I have T-Mobile, and they do have towers in Germany so I was able to still message and stuff as long as I had a little bit of wifi, which was really nice. After the first week, I was trying to get a German plan, but I couldn’t because my phone was region locked. I just had my sister in the States set up an international plan for me through T-Mobile and I was still able to use data and the internet and was able to call people.

Goth Prom themed party


Did you make any friends? What were they like?

My friends were super cool. The first group event that we did with all the exchange students was a pub crawl. So, with all of us from different countries, we met each other and we went from one bar to the next bar together. So that was really cool. That was when I first met people, because the first weekend I was there I stayed in a hostel so I didn’t get to meet my roommates or anything before that. When I got there, the first person I met was also from the United States, her name was Jade and she studies at the Pratt Institute. We kinda just clicked right away and it was really cool. Then at the first bar, we just went around and talked to everybody and found out where everyone was from and what they were studying.

Candid photo in front of the Bauhaus Dessau Building with Jade on the Right and Mary-Kate in the Middle

Jade was the only person I was really good friends with until later on, and then I became really good friends with this girl named Mary-Kate, who was also from the United States. And we always hung out with everybody that first month. We had a Facebook group and we’d use it to say if we were going someplace to eat, or going to the park, and everyone would show up and hang out together. We did BBQs together and stuff like that. After a month and a half in I got super close with this group of guys, and I just call them my older brothers. It was really nice to hang out with people who weren’t from the States, and they would always ask me for help with English. And I cooked a lot. I cooked a lot for all of my friends which was really fun. We had cooking events too, we had an “American dinner” where we had all of the exchange students show up and we showed them what the food was. I also had one friend who was Thai, and I’m Lao—so our traditional foods are kind of similar—so we did a Thai/Lao food night. It was really cool because it was nice to have food that was familiar. I mainly got into cooking a lot because I hated the cafeteria food at the university, it was so bad. It was really cheap, so it was great for people who were trying to save money, but I think it was worth it for me to spend my time cooking and eating better food than eating at the cafeteria.

Kathy loved cooking in Germany and often shared meals with her friends


What was it like shopping for food in Germany?

It was pretty easy, but the only thing was all of the supermarkets in Germany close on Sundays. So if you needed something you’d have to plan ahead and go shopping on Friday or Saturday, and if you go on Saturday there’s no way you’d get what you wanted, because everyone else was shopping too and everything would be picked over. That was hard, but once I got used to it it was easy to plan ahead and be prepared.

Is there anything else that you did that you’d like to share?

Studying abroad was the first time I had stayed with people other than my family, and being out of Minnesota definitely made me appreciate my family more, not being with them all of the time. I’m also moving out this semester so it helped me see what life would be like for me living with roommates.

Do you have any advice for people who are going to study abroad in Germany?

Number one: learn the language before you go! Download an app to learn, so you can teach yourself a little bit. Because your first weekend in Germany, you’re going to go to a restaurant and you’ll think, “I don't know what this is.” But you will have to order it anyway, and then you will find out it’s something you would never eat normally. Although, that is a nice way to experience new foods too. Oh, and number two would be to budget yourself. Budgeting takes you a long way!

I wish I could go back. It was so much fun. What made it fun was the people I met there. My best advice would be to be open to meeting new people, and to the culture, and everything will be okay. I just remember the week before I left I was so nervous. I was worrying that I wouldn’t make friends, and that nobody would like me, and I’m too weird, but I didn’t need to worry. The people I met in the exchange program were the most genuine, nicest people that I’ve ever met.