Sofia Garzon,
BMS Phase II Student,
MSc Freie Universität Berlin,
BSc Universidad de Los Andes, Bogotá

I’m currently in my second year of Phase II and I’m working towards my PhD at the Freie Universität Berlin. I arrived in the fall of 2019 in Berlin to start my Phase I at the BMS. At first, I was a little nervous about moving to another continent and not entirely sure about how the enrollment procedure or other paperwork functioned exactly at the university. Thankfully, I was met with an amazing group of people at the BMS Office who started to explain the process to me and answered all my questions. I thus learned that every student was to enroll at one of the three universities in Berlin. I was selected, based on my interests, to enroll at FU initially, where I was also assigned an advisor. I must say that even before I knew myself which mathematical topics I wanted to pursue, the BMS Office seemed to actually have a pretty good guess in mind because my Phase I advisor later became my PhD supervisor, and I am very glad to have become part of his group.

I grew up in Colombia, where I attended the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá. There I completed two bachelor’s degrees: one in Physics and one in Mathematics. Soon after finishing, it became clear to me that I wanted to pursue graduate studies in Mathematics abroad, preferably in Europe. After hearing some testimonies from previous students at my university, I learned about the BMS and its wonderful program tailored to international students and having a very appealing five year structure. I decided to apply and was very happy to learn I was invited to Berlin for the BMS Days in February 2019. There I got to know the incredible international group of students I could be a part of and learned about the MATH+ Fridays, where every two weeks I could get to attend a math lecture and talk to people at the different universities. Naturally, soon after learning that I was accepted into the program, I decided to move to Berlin.

I started my Phase I by attending courses at all three universities and got to know a bit of the very diverse mathematical community I was now part of. I thoroughly enjoyed my first semester, which allowed me to get to know my peers and many of the international students at the BMS. Sadly, during my second semester the pandemic started and all of a sudden, my courses were online. I was attending online conferences, talks, events and social gatherings, and life during lockdown had some major changes, as we all experienced. However, I was very glad to have had the support of the BMS during this time. The BMS Office was very useful in helping me navigate this situation, they were constantly checking in on us and I could still learn huge amounts during the following semesters. Due to all the support I received, I still got to finish my Phase I on track with my plans, while being part of the Student Representatives Group and organizing online social gatherings, the student conference and attending board meetings. My advisor helped me find a source of funding and after completing my QE, I moved on to Phase II and started my PhD at FU soon after.

Starting my life as a student in Germany came with wonderful discoveries, including all the student benefits we get when we enroll at the university, such as a transport ticket, Mensa (Student Cafeteria) and libraries access, to name a few. I was delighted to find out you can also attend all courses offered by universities, including language and sport courses. As of now I have attended German and French classes, as well as dancing lessons in the evening at a very low-cost price. Moreover, the BMS provides support for travelling to conferences and they even funded me a research stay last year.

Studying in Berlin also presents a wonderful opportunity to learn German, something which appealed to me from the beginning. Between the Practicing German meetings, the funding for German classes we get and the immersion in the German culture, there are always opportunities to improve in a fun way.

After almost four years in Berlin, I can only say that I couldn’t have made a better choice regarding my graduate education. Choosing a place for your studies isn’t always easy but for me the personal aspect of moving abroad is as important as the academic one. Berlin is a lively city, where you get to experience history and culture coming alive in your everyday life. Someone once told me that in Berlin people can find whatever they are searching for. And the more I get to know the city, the more I agree with this statement. It offers endless possibilities to explore and interact as much as you want. Whether you are searching for an ice-skating group, salsa dancing, book clubs, amazing food, historical landmarks, secluded bars, or even a central location to travel around Europe, Berlin’s got it all.

I can only add that, from a Mathematics perspective, studying here has also been very rewarding. I am part of an amazing research group while also being able to attend all the BMS events that are constantly happening throughout the semester and getting to travel around the world for regular conferences and workshops. Due to this wonderful mix of activities I get to grow more and more academically and personally every day, I get to meet students and professors alike from different institutions and find new interesting projects I want to work on. If you are thinking about coming to Berlin, and you decide to do it, I can only hope that you find it to be equally worthwhile.

Published in July 2023