American studying German and Arabic in Berlin
July 15, 2012 12:45 PM   Subscribe

What would it be like for an American to live in a neighborhood of Berlin like Neukölin and attempt to study Arabic and German at the same time?

I am currently a Junior at Portland State University double-majoring in Arabic and Middle East Studies. I am studying colloquial Levantine Arabic in Jerusalem this summer and am then studying both Fusha and Egyptian Arabic in Cairo this fall.

While in Jerusalem I have found myself with mainly German friends, and my German has improved remarkably better in only 2 weeks (I lived in Vienna as a child for three years and was supposedly 'fluent' at one point). I really enjoy learning Arabic and have invested my education in it, but I would love to become fluent in German and to live in Europe again. Therefore the idea suggested by my German friends is to live in Berlin (with it's large population of Arab immigrants) and study both, which outwardly is as attractive an idea as I've ever heard. Wikipedia says there are about 40,000 Arabs in Berlin from countries that speak the Levantine dialect (with variation, of course). I imagine studying German and Modern Standard Arabic at a university and learning more colloquial in the neighborhood (if it's not offered at a university).

What would some options be for an American with a bachelors degree (in 2014) to continue studying in Berlin? Experience studying two unrelated languages? What are some complications? Any price resources? Careers wherein knowing German, English and Arabic is good? Thoughts on being an American in Berlin in general?

Thank you for your help!
posted by Corduroy to Education (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Berlin is an interesting and big city. It is cheap but also has basically no industry and few good paying jobs. You could apply for a PhD or masters degree program in one of Berlins Universities.
It has been a while since I attended a German University. You could enroll very cheap as a visiting student (Gasthoerer).
Arabic at FU Berlin
Some Professors may not mind if you just attend their classes.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:07 PM on July 15, 2012

I should mention I studied German (lazily) in high school and completed 2nd year German at the first college I attended, which was in 2009. I have not studied it since, but I believe (and my friends here tell me) my German would be very strong in 6 months and something approaching fluent in one year. I would be at least 24 before moving to Berlin could happen, probably more like 25.
posted by Corduroy at 1:08 PM on July 15, 2012

Also, for profit languages schools teaching German or Arabic won't cost a fortune.

Take cheap courses given by students:

I learned Portuguese with a language exchange Partner in Berlin (German vs. Portuguese).
posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:13 PM on July 15, 2012

I don't have any personal experience, but I used to study art history where the ability to at least translate German, if not speak it fluently, was required for several specializations. I know a couple of people who got scholarships to study German through DAAD

I also had a friend, from the same art history program who went to live in Germany (including Berlin for several years) because she met and fell in love with a German. Because she didn't feel comfortable living off of him, she taught English at a language school, which enabled her to take German classes for free, and make a bit of money. I'm not sure if it would have been enough to support herself if she wasn't living with her boyfriend though and this was 10+ years ago. She also ended up getting her PhD in Germany. I'm not sure if this is still true, but it used to be that pursuing a PhD in Germany was free (or close to), even without German citizenship, as long as you were fluent or fluent enough to handle the coursework.

I visited her in Berlin, when she was living there over 10 years ago and loved it. It's a great city.
posted by kaybdc at 1:20 PM on July 15, 2012

It is not a requirement for a PhD program in Germany to speak German or to write the thesis in German.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:26 PM on July 15, 2012

I do not know what your timeline is but you cannot be in Germany (this time includes time in any of the Schengen countries) for more than 3 months out of a 6 month period on an American passport without a reason to be in Germany. This reason will give you a residence permit. And this reason requires a sponsor - which could be a job or a university or fellowship or a married partner. And it is very very hard to do any business (open a bank account, get a cell phone, rent an apartment) without a letter from said sponsor with dates and a variety of stamps. This can be worked out once you get to Germany as you can enter and figure it out but the time goes fast.

However, Germany is really into spreading the joy of the German language. As a undergraduate or just finished undergraduate you may want to try a fellowship that includes language training. Fellowships to think about for during or post-bachelor work include: Fullbright, Alexander von Humbolt, The American Council on Germany, Gotleib-Daimler/DAAD, German Academic Exchange Service. You may also want to look at the Humbolt University of Berlin or other universities in Berlin. Your undergraduate program should have a department dedicated to helping you get more information and coach you through these application processes.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 1:30 PM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Investigate the possibility of getting a Fulbright in Germany. I have several friends from college who had Fulbrights, and they were not all geniuses - they were determined and focused, and had A Plan. (And good grades and recommendations, of course.)
posted by rtha at 1:42 PM on July 15, 2012

My sense of Neukölln is that it is more Turkish than Arabic, although I don't speak either language, because Berlin in general has a huge Turkish population. It's also not, a, well, fancy neighborhood. It hasn't been gentrified yet, and there are a lot of places that still feel fairly rough around the edges. And although it's not that hard to be an American in Berlin, particularly once you can speak some German, there's a fair amount of tension between Germans in Berlin and the immigrant populations from non-European countries, because--for various complicated reasons--the Turks, who are the largest immigrant group here, haven't integrated very well, and that causes problems. So I'm not so sure that you'd have an easy time just making friends with the Arab folks in your neighborhood. I like Berlin quite a lot, but it's not exactly the sort of city where people grin at you for no reason on the street.

You do also need a reason to stay here for more than 3 months. Options that have not yet been mentioned: you can come here on as a language-school student (the longest possible visa is one year), you can tell the German authorities that you're thinking about going to graduate school here (that often gives you two years to work something out, like, maybe actually going to graduate school), and you can get a freelancer visa and work teaching English at one of the many language schools. I think with all of those visas, it's easier to just arrive in the country without a visa and then apply for one within your three-month window.
posted by colfax at 1:56 PM on July 15, 2012

learning more colloquial in the neighborhood

I visited Vienna for the first time last year and I was struck by how timid and distant the muslims were. As an American, I'm accustomed to open salams and warm greetings upon meeting another muslim in public. In Vienna, people would look in both directions before whispering salams. The difference was startling. I was only there for a few days, Vienna isn't Berlin, etc etc but I mention it because it seems to me, like colfax said, it wouldn't be so easy to find people who want to just hang out and speak colloquial Arabic with an American.
posted by BinGregory at 8:34 PM on July 15, 2012

The overall idea--live in Berlin; settle into German while studying Arabic--sounds perfectly good. Berlin is a great city; it's also got quite a cluster of academic expertise on the Middle East, in universities (notably FU) and also research institutes of one kind and another: ZMO, BGSMCS (see below), and so on. Some of this is well-established, but I assume it's also been boosted since Berlin became the capital again.

If you're (very) serious about studying the Middle East, the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies, a fairly new and high-level doctoral training centre where ten of the fifteen places each year are funded fellowships (this is unusual in Europe). You'd probably want some sort of Master's-level qualification first, and they'd expect your Arabic to be good: by German standards, that is, not the altogether feebler ones we set our students in the anglosphere. German language training in fusha seems to be rigorous, not to say fearsome, though somewhat old-fashioned; amiyya probably less. These are my impressions based on interacting with a fair number of German grad students and academics.

You'd want to be careful about some of the details of your plan, though: after a decade of the 'war on terror', black sites, and extraordinary renditions, Arabs in Germany (as elsewhere in Europe) might have good reasons, as well as bad ones, to be suspicious of a nice young American who learned Arabic in Israel. This doesn't mean you would be unable to meet and make friends with Arabs in Berlin: just don't go walking round Neukölln making like the CIA's dumbest hire.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 1:43 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

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