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Tisch Student Cat Heinen on her time at NYU Berlin

Tisch Special Programs offers study abroad opportunities in eleven locations around the globe during the academic year, January Term, and in the summer. We recently caught up with two students who studied abroad with us last spring.

Cat Heinen, a Drama major, spent her semester training in Berlin through the Stanislavski, Brecht, and Beyond program. A rising senior, Cat describes her experience in Berlin and how it’s motivated her to explore other acting studios and disciplines and imagine her future beyond graduation (and New York City).

Why did you want to study abroad?

I came to NYU because of the tremendous study abroad opportunities. I knew I wanted to go somewhere I knew nothing about, a place I could discover as my own. 

Why did you pick your particular program?

Stanislavski, Brecht, and Beyond is one of the two semester-long acting abroad programs, and it’s much newer than RADA [Shakespeare in Performance at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London]. It’s close in style to what the Experimental Theatre Wing might offer, and that’s very different from the training I received at both Meisner and Stonestreet.

How did the location enhance the work you were doing there?

Everything we talked about in the classroom was present in the national, professional theatres. We were studying how the Third Reich influenced Berlin’s theatre scene and then experiencing it first-hand. We read Brecht’s plays and then saw them (in German!) at the Berliner Ensemble. We studied Epic Theatre in studio and then saw it demonstrated at the shows. Theatre in Berlin is wildly different from theatre in New York and I never expected to like it more than I do now. This program made me realize that you don’t have to stay in NYC to make amazing theatre. 

How are you using/will you use techniques or skills you learned abroad in your work?

We did so much devised work that it inspired me to transfer to Playwrights’ [Horizons] for my senior year. Watching my fellow classmates who came from Playwrights’ and their ability to adapt as writers, directors, designers, and actors was inspiring. We studied Lucid Body technique in this program, which can only be taught by 12 different teachers internationally! It’s a movement style that easily helped me deep dive into character work and provided many exercises which I will continue using. 

The staff at NYU Berlin, and particularly this program, care for the students in a way I’ve never experienced in New York. You’re learning a new language, intensively studying Epic Theatre, and are constantly in studio — it’s natural to get overwhelmed at some point. But we were never condemned for needing a break and were always encouraged to take care of ourselves.

How do you think your study abroad experience will shape future projects or career choices?

Everything about my artistry has been changed by the things I learned this semester. I’ve been opened up to international connections, some of which are keeping me in Berlin for the summer for work. I consider Berlin a viable location to live post-grad, whereas before I never thought I’d leave New York. 

Because of the acting classes we took, I’m easily and healthily able to get in and out of character, and leave my scene work at the door. I want to continue learning about devising, a skill I never thought I could possess. I never thought I’d be capable of being in Playwrights’, and yet I’m transferring there strictly because of my experiences in the Stanislavski, Brecht, and Beyond program. I can never say enough good things about this program.

What was special about the location where you studied abroad?

Berlin is a city in development, a multicultural artistic haven that’s still finding who and what it wants to be. It’s special to be a part of that, even to just watch it happen.

What did you learn about yourself while studying abroad?

I have the capacity to be a multi-hyphenated artist. I love working in ensembles. I am an artist, and will always be a student. I have good ideas! And it’s important to kill your darlings when making work with other people. Everything is for the sake of the piece.


This piece comes to us thanks to Tisch Special Programs and the original can be found here.

NYU Berlin Hosts Seminar – Feminist Urbanism: Designing Cities that Work for Women

On 7 May NYU Berlin hosted a seminar entitled Feminist Urbanism: Designing Cities that Work for Women. The seminar featured Professor Sylvia Maier of the NYU Center for Global Affairs and an NYU Berlin GRI Fellow.

Questions considered included: What would a city designed by women look like? How would its public transportation network, commuter hubs, sidewalks, parks, and shape of buildings be different from the Berlin, New York, Dubai, or Bariloche of today? Focussing on Berlin and Vienna, which both introduced a gender lens into urban design, Professor Maier will discuss how feminist planners and urbanists are working to “un-gender” and (re-)democratize urban public spaces

In Conversation with NYU Berlin’s First Global Equity Fellow Mahalia Thomas

Mahalia Thomas was the first Global Equity Fellow in Berlin last academic year. The NYU Global Equity Fellowship is a competitive year-long fellowship created by the NYU Office of Global Programs in partnership with the NYU Leadership Initiative and NYU Student Affairs. The purpose of this fellowship is to empower and equip a diverse body of students to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion while studying away. Our hope is that our fellows will broaden their capacity as leaders and change agents at NYU and beyond. During its pilot phase the Global Equity Fellowship was only for students studying at NYU Berlin, NYU Buenos Aires and NYU Sydney. As of Fall 2018, the program has been expanded to all 11 Global Academic Centers.

NYU Berlin has created a similar in a local German high school. Part of the thinking behind this program was to provide Mahalia and future Global Equity Fellows with ‘colleagues’ at a German school enabling them better access to conversations about equity, diversity, inclusion, and identity outside the NYU context. Although Mahalia is now back in New York, we had the opportunity to connect with her about her experience.

Tell me a little bit about your field of study and how you came to NYU.

I am in my fourth year at NYU in a joint degree (B.A.-M.A.) program at CAS/GSAS in New York. Within the field of politics, my studies have shifted and transformed to find the niche that I am excited to explore: Comparative Constitutional Law focusing on its impacts on electoral politics. I began freshman year with the plan to join the International Relations track focusing on Europe, but as I began to get deeper into Africana and Urban Studies, I realized the amount that still needed to be accomplished in the United States in terms of social progress and equity. As such, my Undergraduate political journey was focused on the American Political Practice and Leadership Track that eventually brought me to Washington D.C. as a Global Leadership Scholar in the Spring of 2017. Throughout that semester, I was introduced to Constitutional Law, which – dry it may be at times – I found fascinating. I came to realize that a founding document like a constitution not only delineates the structure and exchange of power, but it also shapes a country’s culture, its aspirations, and can be an incredible catalyst for equity. As of now, I hope my Master’s Thesis to be a comparative study of Germany and the United States and the impact of higher standards in their constitutions (ex. Article I of the GG) on the rise of Alt Right Politics.

NYU first sparked my interest the summer after 10th grade when I went to NYC to study at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. At the time, I was going to the Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanity, which was a specialized high school for those who wanted to pursue a career in the arts. NYU had a solid dance department, and I almost applied to Tisch in 2014. However, as I came to terms with the end of my 12-yearlong dance training, my interest in NYU did not diminish. I ended up applying ED1 and was able to accept my position thanks to the financial and community support offered by the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Program.

I understand that you were the first Global Equity Fellow (GEF) in Berlin. How did you become involved in the program and what did the fellowship mean to you?

By the time that I heard about the program, I had already applied and been accepted into the Berlin study away program. I remember receiving the email while I was at my D.C. internship at the Justice Policy Institute (a think tank focused on Criminal Justice Reform). The sender of the email, Krystal McLeod, made me realize the gravity of the position as she was a Truman Scholar and had worked on a number of tangible and important equity efforts at NYU. At that time and still ongoing today, I evaluate NYU’s pro-equity programs as either being cosmetic (i.e. to look good) or tangible (i.e. to make an impact). While reading the description for the program, all I could think was “This is something real!” and I couldn’t believe that I received the position only a few weeks later.

Something that has shaped my entire journey from moving to the United States to going to NYU and eventually getting to be the Global Equity Fellow was thankfulness and a want to give back. I would not have been able to make it as far as I have if it hadn’t been for particular teachers, friends, and mentors and the way that I want to thank all of them is by continuing their mission and supporting those I can. Because of this, the Global Equity Fellowship meant for me the opportunity to give back and pave a path for others. It was an exciting and, sometimes, intimidating experience, but I am incredibly proud of what I’ve accomplished especially in regards to the MLK Jr. Fellows.

What was most meaningful about your time at NYU Berlin?

Other than the work that I was able to do with the Global Equity Fellowship, the most meaningful thing about my time in Berlin was to rediscover Germany and my place in it. I’m originally from Frankfurt but moved to the United States at 7. I’ve been back periodically but never for more than a few weeks. This was my first time being back in over 5 years and as an adult with the knowledge of identity that I had gained over the years. Regardless of being in the US or in Germany, being biracial (African American and German) comes with particular challenges and internal questions, and it took me a long time to settle on identifying myself as a Black German when questioned about my ethnicity. One surprising discovery I made while in Berlin was the heterogeneity of the African Diasporic community. While in the United States (particularly in the South where I lived for 8 years) most Blacks trace their lineage back to slavery, this isn’t quite the case in Germany. From my understanding, Germany has had more stagnant migration patterns of Blacks from Africa, the United States, and surrounding nations such as the UK and France. This lack of a shared history and its impacts is something I hope to continue to explore if I have the chance to return to Berlin. At least, we can all agree that Mohrenstrasse is not an appropriate street name.

Another set of meaningful experience was the work I was able to do at the high school outside of my mentorship role in the MLK Jr. Fellowship. While I was only able to visit two classrooms during my time there, I enjoyed both immensely. The first was with a class of 7th graders where we did an exercise around what names mean and how names shape the way that society can see (and often judge) a person. This was followed by a Q&A where I ended up finding myself explaining the United States’ Separations of Power because they wanted to know if Trump would start a war. The second visit was to their most advanced English class where I held a workshop on inclusive language covering topics from non-binary pronouns, LGBTQ+ terminology, and contextualized salient identities. While exercises such as these are commonplace at NYU, it was completely new to them and it was interesting for them to explore concepts that have become so ingrained in the way I think about Inclusivity. It was also a fascinating learning experience for me as I got to see how identities of nationality and race were differently interpreted and internalized in Germany compared to the United States.

I understand you were involved with the launch for NYU Berlin’s Martin Luther King Jr. Fellowship program? Can you describe how the program developed and your role. What was it like working with the local fellows?

Much of the groundwork and relations building to get a program such as the MLK Jr. Fellowship program going was already completed by the time I arrived in Berlin. Nonetheless, hearing the passion and enthusiasm of the potential of this program from Gabriella, Linn, and Frau Dinter, I was excited for the opportunity to be a part of it. I helped with finding the name for the program which we based on my Martin Luther King Jr. Scholars Program, picking who our fellows were going to be, and, most importantly to me, getting to be their mentors for my remaining time in Berlin.

To answer the question of what it was like working with Mahir and Ecenur, I think it can be summarized by the first time we all met. Only a short time after they were selected, I set up a time to get to know them over coffee and I was immediately blown away. A conversation that I had predicted would be 30 to 45 minutes of awkward small talk turned into a 2-hour enriching conversation spanning the welfare system, US Politics, and the role of schools in created inclusive environments. I remember coming back to the dorms and just having to go up to my suitemate and rant about how amazing they were (and still are). It was an absolute blast getting to be their mentor and watching them grow as scholars and change makers.

I am incredibly proud of them and I am beyond thankful for having had the opportunity to be a part of their journey as Martin Luther King Jr. Fellows.

How do you think the fellowship enriches the lives of the fellows as well as the NYU Berlin community? Is it consequential for local communities?

I think that we, as a society, greatly underestimate the experiences and insights of those younger than us. I know this from having both experienced the diminished weight of my opinions in workspaces where I am the youngest as well as my grave error of thinking the fellows would just be “high school kids.” This is something that society as a whole and each person as an individual should work on and one way to do that is by providing the opportunities for “younger folk” (which I use a variable term depending on context) to be seen as equals first and foremost. By doing this, we eliminate the need to have younger folk prove that they deserve to take up space, which, from personal experience, can lead to diminished self-worth. This is how I hope the fellowship has enriched the lives of the fellows. It taught them that they have a right to take up any space they decide to enter and that their opinions are just as valid as anyone’s else’s regardless of age or educational attainment.

When Mahir, Ecenur, and I began the conversation about their fellowship project, it quickly became apparent that the topic would be LGBTQ+ Inclusivity, the longer and harder decision was the scope of the project. We decided that they would act as the conversation starters for their school on this topic using personal stories, statistics, and collective involvement. While I do think that the work that they’ve done is consequential for local communities, I think it is more important that it was impactful for them because one change is a beautiful thing and can have many rippling effects, but one person who has the excitement to make change (as both of them do) is an endless sea of possibilities for future change.

NYU Berlin Hosts Decolonize Mitte! Humboldt Forum, Museum Island, and the Palace

On 19 November, NYU Berlin will host a public talk: DECOLONIZE MITTE!

Moderated by Ares Kalandides of NYU Berlin, the discussants will include Annette Loeseke (NYU Berlin), Stephanie Pearson (NYU Berlin & Humboldt-Universität), Wayne Modest (Research Centre for Material Culture, Amsterdam), and Iris Rajanayagam (xart splitta, Berlin).

As the Asian Art and Ethnological Museum collections move into the Humboldt Forum, questions have arisen about how to be responsible stewards of cultural heritage. 

Provenance research and repatriation are in the spotlight; but what is still missing from the public discourse is any recognition of – and attempt to grapple with – a fare more pervasive problem: the colonial perspective that informs museum displays not only in the Forum (most evident in its architectural frame, the reconstructed imperial Schloss) but all across Museum Island. This public talk draws attention to the above challenges and searches for solutions.

NYU Berlin Hosts Reading & Discussion with Yoko Tawada

On Thursday 4 October, NYU Berlin will host a reading and discussion with author Yoko Tawada.
Yoko Tawada was born in Tokyo in 1960, educated at Waseda University and has lived in Germany since 1982, where she received her Ph.D. in German literature.

She received the prestigious Akutagawa Prize for The Bridegroom Was a Dog. She writes in both German and Japanese, and in 1996, she won the Adalbert-von-Chamisso Prize, a German award recognizing foreign writers for their contributions to German culture. She also received the Goethe-Medal, an official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany and the prestigious Kleist Prize (2016). Yoko Tawada writes novels, short stories, essays and poems. She will read stories and excerpts from her books Talisman (1996), Überseezungen! (2002) und Abenteuer der deutschen Grammatik (2010).

This event will be held in German.

NYU Berlin Hosts Lecture by Mary Nolan

On 1 June, 2o18, NYU Berlin is hosting a lecture by NYU Professor of History Mary Nolan. Professor Nolan’s research interests include: Europe and America in the Twentieth Century, Cold War, history of Human Rights, Global economy in twentieth century, Modern German history; European women’s history. Her talk entitled, Still the American Century? End of the European Project?, will reflect upon the political crises unfolding on both sides of the Atlantic.


Talks Without Borders – NYU Berlin RA Adam Silow Reflects on Tutoring a Syrian Refugee

Today, NYU Berlin Resident Assistant Adam Silow reflects on his experiences as an English tutor for a young new Berliner from Syria and the power of “talks without borders.” His initiative is part of a long-term relationship between NYU Berlin and Unionhilfswerk, a German non-profit that supports refugees and other Berliners who find themselves in need of community and resources. Since 2015, staff and students have supported the work of Unionhilfswerk and similar institutions in a variety of ways. Initiatives include coaching workshops on “Teaching German as a Foreign Language” for voluntary helpers, a community garden project with families currently living in a welcome center operated by Unionhilfswerk, and regular English language tutoring.

Talks Without Borders

By Adam Silow

The dark roast of Syrian coffee wafts between our “Denglish” conversations as we swap stories, cultural idiosyncrasies, and language tips. Since this summer, myself and a young Kurdish man have met typically once a week for an hour-long tutoring session to improve his English language skills. Both of us are new Berliners, yet our paths to this sprawling German metropolis could not have been more different. In 2015, I was wrapping up my penultimate year of university, studying economics and global studies at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University. Two years ago, he was attending middle school in northeastern Iraq. Rather than return home to California after graduation, I decided to explore my European roots by using my German citizenship to move across the Atlantic and take a job as an NYU Berlin Resident Assistant. At the same time thousands of miles across the globe, a middle schooler and his family in Iraq faced an increasingly dangerous environment of instability and violence. They soon joined thousands in an extraordinary journey to escape war in their homeland for uncertain future in Europe.

Our disparate paths crossed in August 2017 in Berlin when the volunteering coordinator at Unionhilfswerk, a German non-profit that supports refugees and partners with NYU Berlin on a variety of initiatives, contacted our team to ask for assistance on behalf of a young man who was eager to find an English tutor. I had been looking for a way to more concretely engage with my newly adopted community and jumped at the chance to meet this young man. After our initial session, we agreed to meet weekly for an hour and set new topics of discussion each week. Although shy at first, his immense appetite for learning languages quickly became apparent; before arriving in Europe, he spoke numerous regional dialects of both Kurdish and Arabic as well as being almost fluent in German after barely two years in Berlin. Next on his list was English. I tried to hide my embarrassment as I realized at his age my language skills extended only to English, German, and a halting level of high school French. Yet, I was more than happy to help him continue his linguistic mastery.

His school year was starting soon and I did not want to make him sit through our sessions simply as another required course with tedious grammar lessons, which I would not have been fully qualified to teach either. Over his mother’s strong Syrian coffee, we let each session develop as a relaxed exchange of stories from our hometowns, our family and friends, recent trips, and similarities and differences between our experiences as newcomers to this quirky, graffiti-filled, “multi-kulti” community we now found ourselves in. He was skeptical during one session when I shared with him “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strips from my childhood. I translated the panels and tried to explain how the mischievous adventures of a young boy and his imaginary toy tiger were silly, yet dotted with meaningful parables (I doubt that I convinced him, but he was always kind enough to indulge my attempts). Other days, we joked about the Doc Martens-wearing hipsters who seemed to fill Berlin to its artisan-coffee-roasted brim all the while sheepishly admitting that a part of ourselves was slowly assimilating into Berlin’s

alternative culture. At other times, we discussed the reality that even among the seemingly open and inclusive community in Berlin and other parts of Europe, dark and xenophobic factions not only remain entrenched, but have gained traction in certain political wings. Whether light or serious, these conversations flowed between English, German, and a sprinkling of Arabic and Kurdish. It soon became a highlight of my weekly life in this new community.

When I first landed in Berlin, I was fully aware that I was one of countless newcomers to this city. I knew, though, that many had arrived here not by choice and privilege as I had, but by necessity and loss. There were moments when the political turmoil and divisive discourse that splashed across newsfeeds and headlines made me feel overwhelmed and uncertain as to how I could find space to engage with my new community and fellow newcomers in a way that was humble, constructive, and human–stepping beyond digital echo chambers. For me, these English sessions were a refreshing opportunity to do just that. And what began as a simple request for an English tutor soon blossomed into a warm friendship.

Today, my phone continues to buzz with news alerts and social media notifications about the ongoing challenges that rack my adopted and native homes on both sides of the Atlantic as well as in places further abroad. Violence, instability, social and economic inequality, myopic policies, and fear-based politics are but a few of the immense challenges that are dividing communities, cities, and countries. Our weekly sessions have certainly made no material impact on these events. Yet, even when things seemed too out of reach to change, I found that I can still dream big while learning and building bridges within my reach. From that vantage point, stumbling together through new languages to have a conversation–one that stretches across differences, cultures, and borders–seems like a pretty good place to start.

NYU Berlin Considers Democracy in Crisis

On Thursday, November 30, NYU Berlin is hosting an event, Democracy in Crisis, that will explore pressing contemporary political questions in a global context. The discussion will feature Dr. Christian Lammert (Freie Universitat Berlin) and Dr. Boris Vormann (Bard College Berlin) and be moderated by Dr. Margit Mayer (Technische Universitat Berlin). Dr. Lammert and Dr. Vormann recently co-authored a book on democracy in crisis and they will present their work.
Questions to be considered include: What is common to the crises of democracy on both sides of the Atlantic? In which ways do they differ? How has economic liberalization hollowed out the political values of liberalism as an ideology and a set of political practices? What are the roots of a “politics of inevitability” that deems marketization to be the only and best way to govern societies? 
RSVP here: goo.gl/X5mu6F