30 days in Frankfurt, Germany

Garbo at a souvenir shop in Frankfurt, Germany.

Garbo Zhu is a fourth-year Architectural Science student at Ryerson. She attended Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences in Germany as part of Frankfurt Studio 2019, a 30-day studio-based architecture and design program. We asked her all about experience during her short-term abroad opportunity.

“APPLY NOW! Frankfurt Studio is a perfect way of allowing students to have a taste of what studying abroad is like while not breaking the bank.”

Tell me about Frankfurt Studio 2019, and why you applied?

Ryerson has a decade long relationship with Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences in Germany. It is a well-known and well-received program that my peers and I are made aware of early on in our degree. Since the age of 14, I have been studying abroad here in Canada. As someone that is passionate about the diverse cultures that our world has to offer, an opportunity like this cannot be missed. The short duration of four weeks makes it more intriguing, as it provides the foreign experience within a more manageable time frame and is also comparably more affordable than a full semester exchange.  

Tell me a bit about the kind of work you were doing? 

In this 30-day studio program, we were assigned to revitalize the Frankfurt am Main (the city’s full name, which means “Frankfurt on the Main”) waterfront by design on a multi-programming complex on an abandoned asphalt factory site. The programming includes 35 live-work lofts, 35 social housing units, 15 shops, five offices, five cafes, and two restaurants. 

What was the first day in Germany like?

Right after we landed, we managed to find our way to the subway station within the airport terminal (big thanks to Google Maps). At that point, we still haven’t registered that we are in a foreign land since all our surrounding still looked semi-familiar, except for the additional German announcement. It was not until we got out of the subway station that it hit us: we are not in Toronto anymore. The day that we arrived in Frankfurt, it was one of the hottest days that the city has ever experienced. With our oversize suitcases, my friend/classmate and I were drenched in sweat while trying to locate our Air BnB. With little luck from Google Maps, we tried asking local residents for direction, but all information was lost in translation. We decided to trust our guts and eventually found our home in a tucked-away street next to a zoo. The lessons that we have learnt that day are firstly to ask for directions at the airport, the staff there are trained to answer all questions you have in English. Secondly, that distance in real life is a lot shorter than what it looks on Google Maps, the streets in Frankfurt are a lot more walk-able than the ones in Toronto. And finally, pack light!!

Tell me about your living situation?

We were required to find our own accommodation for the duration of the program. The class was split into smaller groups and each group found their own stay either through Airbnb or local hotels. My friend and I stayed together through the whole trip. The two of us rented a room through Airbnb and split the fees 50/50. My advice is to book early! If the place you are visiting is a popular tourist attraction, there are more options but the price would also be higher. If the place is not a popular destination, which is true in our case, the rent can be cheaper with the downside of fewer options. 

Living abroad can be expensive. To cut cost, we cooked on a daily basis. Luckily, there was a grocery store, called Rewe, across the street from where we were staying. This made cooking a lot easier. It became a daily ritual for us to try out local cuisine through cooking with new ingredients. Another affordable option is to eat at the school’s cafeteria. At Frankfurt University, one simple meal of pasta and salad only costs us about 2 euros (about $3 CAD)! The attractive price tag along with the variety of dishes quickly made the school cafe a favourite of ours.

I advise anyone that is visiting a city for an extended period of time to get a metro pass. In our case, we got a monthly pass that allows us to travel within the city for a fixed price. It is a great way to cut cost while encouraging us to explore the city via local public transit. 

Apart from the tourist attractions, we had the privilege to have a walk-through tour with our professor YT and some local German students. It is always a great idea to ask them for advice about places to visit. Some of my personal favourite destinations were the architecture museum, a food market called Kleinmarkthalle, and the campus of Goethe University Frankfurt. 

What was the last day like?

Our last week before the departure was extremely tiring and stressful. As previously mentioned, we were assigned to design a large-scale complex within one month, which is a quarter of the time that we were used to in school. Despite the lack of sleep, the whole group still went out for our final day accompanied by some local students and enjoyed our last night in Frankfurt. Goodbyes are never easy, but we know that we will be back again for the warmth and beauty that the city has to offer and for the friendship we accumulated. 

Outside of the Junges Museum Frankfurt, or Young Museum Frankfurt, in Frankfurt, Germany.

What would you say to other students who might be interested in Frankfurt Studio?

APPLY NOW! Frankfurt Studio is a perfect way of allowing students to have a taste of what studying abroad is like while not breaking the bank. Budget budget budget! Create a list of all possible spending in a spreadsheet, and don’t forget to include some “fun money”! Set up a phone plan with data before you have already arrived at the destination to avoid communication issues. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers, but also remember to travel in pairs or bigger groups to ensure safety while you are having fun :).

Talk about some personal barriers you might have had to overcome as part of this experience, and how you overcame them.

Having prior experience of studying abroad (from China to Canada), the concept of being in a different environment while in school is not foreign to me. It was challenging at first to try to navigate a city of which you don’t speak the language and are not familiar with. There have been numerous occasions that we took a wrong turn and ended up at the other side of town. It’s important to remember that you can always ask for help! The people we met were all extremely kind and helpful to us. One thing that I struggle with the most is the food. As you might have expected, a common German meal consists of potatoes and schnitzels. At the end of our journey, we ate out less and cook at home more, to put some fiber back at our system. Another thing that is worth mentioning is, even though the Asian population in Frankfurt is lower in comparison with Toronto, I did not experience any weird looks or slight discrimination from the locals. People were more interested in my culture, and showed great respect. 

What is your favourite memory from your time abroad?

Hands down, the German techno clubs. The local students brought us to one of the most popular clubs in town during one of our last nights. To my surprise, the crowd there was a lot more diverse, in terms of the age range, than any place I have been to in Toronto. In Frankfurt, you can see employees going out for a dance with their boss, while still dressed in their work clothes!

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