The Berlin Consortium for German Studies (BCGS), run by Columbia University at the Freie Universitaet Berlin, involves full immersion in the German language through language and subject courses, internship opportunities during vacation periods, and exposure to the cultural and political life of contemporary Germany and Europe. The program begins with a six-week intensive German Discourse and Culture course, taken during the orientation period. Students can take a wide variety of courses during the semester at Freie Universitaet, Humboldt Universitaet, Technische Universitaet Berlin, Universitaet Potsdam, the Universitaet der Kuenste Berlin, Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee, or Hochschule fuer Musik. Students have the chance to participate in excursions, clubs, and student life through BCGS.
Berlin is the capital and largest city in Germany. With a storied history, the city’s vibrant nightlife, exciting art scene, contemporary architecture, and myriad of cultural venues have contributed to Berlin's status as one of Europe's most cosmopolitan and sophisticated urban centers. Following the reunification of East and West Berlin in 1990, when the Berlin Wall fell, Berlin became a hub for creativity, transport, business, media, and tourism. The metropolis has a relatively low cost of living and is home to world-renowned universities, research institutes, sporting events, orchestras, museums, and personalities.
Did you know…?
The Freie Universitaet of Berlin was founded in 1948 by students and staff who were ostracized from Humboldt University because of their political views. The university is located in Dahlem, a beautiful area consisting of villas, parks, and wooded areas.
Berlin is nine times larger in area than Paris, with more than 6 million people calling the metropolitan region home.
The BCGS program is for College credit only.
Minimum GPA Requirement: 3.0 GPA
Language Prerequisite: Successful completion and at least a grade of “B” of at least 4 semesters of college-level German for academic year participants (or 5 semesters for spring participants) prior to departure.
Additional Course Pre-requisite(s): Successful completion of a language examination, administered by Columbia University.
Other Requirements: One academic and one language reference, submitted to the BCGS program.
Language of Instruction
A full course load at BCGS consists of the mandatory German Discourse and Culture course, as well as two to three additional classes per semester. Penn students must maintain a full course load while abroad and may only enroll in courses at the undergraduate level.
The BCGS homepage will have information on the specific academic calendar, but generally academic year participants start in early September, while spring semester participants start in early March. The program ends at the end of July. Due to conflicts between the US and German academic calendars, students cannot participate in only fall semester study abroad.
The Freie Universiaet hosts a course catalog for classes offered during the current semester. Penn students can enroll in bachelor’s level courses in most disciplines.
As on all Penn Abroad programs, grades are recorded on the Penn transcript and are calculated in the cumulative grade point average. The pass/fail option can be exercised according to the Penn on-campus policy of your home school. For more information on Penn Abroad’s academic policies, click here.
Students are required to take examinations, complete papers, and fulfill all other requirements of the German courses. Faculty at the FU, Humboldt and other Berlin universities grade BCGS students as they do their German counterparts. Transcripts will be forwarded from the BCGS academic director to Penn Abroad. Students should keep syllabi, bibliographies, notes, corrected papers, and examinations for submission to their home school. Note that transcripts may take 6 months or more to be sent to Penn.
Grades are reported to Penn on the German grading scale from the BCGS program and then converted to Penn grades according to the following grade equivalencies:
1.0 – 1.3
1.7 – 2.0
All Penn students are required to attend the orientation activities organized by BCGS prior to the start of each semester.
The BCGS program begins with a 6-week transition period that functions as a bridge between American and German life. During this time, students refine their language skills, adjust to living in Berlin, and begin to explore the city.
Formal Orientation: A two-day introduction to the city and the BCGS is held at a hostel in Berlin. Participants meet each other, their host families, and the BCGS staff, and learn more about the program, Berlin, and what to expect during their stay in Germany.
German Discourse and Culture: A six-week academic course that helps students assimilate to Berlin both linguistically and culturally. Taught specifically for BCGS students, the course hones language skills in preparation for enrolling in German university courses.
Living as a Guest in a German Household: A four-week homestay with a family in Berlin. This gives students the opportunity to practice their German with native speakers daily and provides insight into the local lifestyle.
More information on BCGS orientation activities can be found on the BCGS homepage.
In addition to the German Discourse and Culture course, students are permitted to take German courses at the Freie Universitaet during the semester.
Some academic year BCGS students participate in internships during the two-month break between semesters. Students who are motivated to apply their German in a professional setting and gain experience in a particular field can apply for an internship. The BCGS staff provides assistance in finding internships, but students must be proactive in pursuing and securing placement with their chosen organization. Past students have held internships with local government offices, banks, consulting firms, cultural centers, and political organizations. These positions are not for academic credit and are usually unpaid.
The program organizes a series of excursions and cultural activities in and around Berlin to orient students and provide a deeper understanding of Germany, such as musical and theatrical performances and a visit to Deutscher Bundestag, including a political discussion with a politician or administrative representative, attendance at a plenary session, and a tour of the dome. Each semester, students participate in three- or four-day study trips. Past destinations have included Cologne, Bonn, Hamburg, Nuremberg, Dresden, and Munich. During these trips, students participate in guided visits to places of historical or cultural interest, listen to program-exclusive lectures, and usually have an afternoon free to explore on their own.
Each student on the BCGS program is assigned a writing tutor who assists with essay preparation, cultural integration, and adjustment to life in Germany. Tutors and students meet once per week to discuss classes, review writing, prepare for upcoming lectures, and assist with any problems.
Penn students studying at BCGS have access to a wide range of student activities and associations. Freie Universität has several extracurricular clubs and activities, including an International Club which organizes multiple events throughout each semester. Past events include film screenings, trips to museums, tours of the city, and panelist discussions.
Participants must be willing to live under local conditions for students.
After staying two nights in a hostel during orientation, each student is placed with a German host family in Berlin. The month-long homestay is an invaluable opportunity for students, as it provides a window into the daily rhythms and customs of Berliners, and, because students are expected to speak German exclusively with their families, an excellent jump-start to the improvement of their language skills.
After the homestay, students move into FU-arranged dorms or they will have independently found an apartment share for the rest of their stay in Berlin. While apartment hunting can be challenging, most BCGS students choose to find their own shares because doing so provides another opportunity to improve their language skills, benefit from cultural exchange with their German roommates, and explore a different neighborhood.
Further information regarding accommodation can be found in the BCGS handbook, distributed to students admitted to the program, and on the BCGS website.
Cost and Finance
Penn Abroad Financial Policies
Students are charged Penn tuition and academic fees for all Penn Abroad programs. Additional expenses will typically include items such as housing, visas, and airfare. Please see the program budget sheets below for more information. For more on Penn Abroad’s financial policies, click here.
Financial Aid and Study Abroad
In most cases, financial aid applies to Penn-approved programs. Student Financial Services reviews program budget sheets each semester to determine how to appropriately adjust your aid package. For more information on how Financial Aid will work during your semester abroad, click here.
DAAD/German Academic Exchange Service Prizes and Scholarships: Prizes for stays of two to three months in Germany in conjunction with independent senior thesis research, language or other summer course at a German university, internship/practicum at a German institution or company. Scholarships for undergraduate semester or academic year abroad (four to ten months at a German university). Interested students should contact the appropriate Global Programs Manager in the Penn Abroad office.
For information on the Penn Abroad application process, click here.
To open an application or learn more about the program, please click here to schedule an appointment with a Penn Abroad Global Programs Manager.