Academia vs. Practice
The contemporary business world forces us to be on the constant search for new opportunities to develop our job skills and consequently become more competent in our professional fields. At the time I decided to apply for the Zoran Djindjic Internship Programme I had already been working at the academia as a Ph.D. student for a few years, and parallel to that freelancing design projects for different clients. Even though I found my job tasks at the University intellectually stimulating, I always felt as if something was missing, and there are more things out there in practice to be learned. Architecture as a profession has always been somewhat in-between arts and engineering, and there was always a battle between theory and practice, and both are equally important in achieving a quality design. With an idea to gather more practical experience, I decided that the Zoran Djindjic Internship Programme of German Business for the Countries of the Western Balkans was a great opportunity to improve my skills and discover how architecture is practiced in one of the most developed countries in the world – Germany.
Cultural shock: ja, nein, JEIN?!
At the time I found out I was selected, I did not know how am I going to manage to pause all of my activities, and just leave for 5 months to do an internship abroad. Of course, there were also other factors for the anxiety to kick in, since I was 28, Ph.D. student mainly active in theoretical research, and I thought that the companies would not accept the interns who already had some professional experience outside Germany. But believe me, all of these doubts were nothing compared to the fact that the internships for architects were exclusively done in German. It ended up better than I expected. Not only did I improve my language skills during my stay in Dresden, but I also made many new friends who helped me to cope with all the cultural differences and adapt to them more spontaneously. The colleagues were very communicative and supportive, and they helped me whenever I did not understand something or needed to check my German spelling. (feel free to google: Saxon German accent, and you will understand what am I talking about J ) Outside work, I became friends with my WG roommates, who showed me a Dresden lifestyle and took me to some wonderful places nearby. I also visited some of the German cities that I always wanted to, for example, Weimar, Berlin, and Dessau, where the BAUHAUS school of design and architecture was established, or Düsseldorf, where I visited an exhibition of Tomas Saraceno, one of my favorite artists. Not to forget are constant trips with other interns of the Programme, which made the time in Germany lot easier, since we were all going through the same things, and always gave each other support to overcome hard times during the first weeks of the cultural shock.
Map of Dresden
Problem = Challenge
Professionally speaking, spending five months in company Heinle, Wischer und Partner, Freie Architekten had many positive outcomes. As a part of an international team, I was working on a competition project for the new administrative center in Dresden. It was a complex task, including a lot of research and learning about building regulations in Germany, which are of great importance when designing this particular type of public buildings. Before this internship, I had not had a chance to work on a similar capital project, especially the one that included intricate aspects of heritage protection. The project management was also a bit challenging for me, as the design included collaboration with professionals from other fields, such as fire safety and engineering. I acquired a lot of new skills, such as learning new software, 3D modeling and visualization techniques, some of which I am currently applying in the projects in Serbia. I also had an opportunity to visit some of the building sites and get an insight into the realization and complexity of the practical side of design.
Small steps towards great goals
Not until my return did I notice how much I learned about the similarities and differences in planning and project design between architecture practice in Serbia and Germany. Now I am motivated to try to find a way to contribute and overcome those differences in the field of architecture and city planning. I started applying the knowledge that I gathered right after my arrival in Serbia. Currently, I am doing research into the models of presentation of city master plans and the digitization of planning practice, a part of which will be implemented in my Ph.D. thesis. It is a topic that I am really interested in, and currently, I am focusing on the ideas and recognizing opportunities for applying this in the local context. The language also plays an important role in my research, as I can now include sources in German and make contact with potential collaborators with more confidently. In addition, most German companies and universities look for candidates and students who can speak German, who are informed about building regulations and have professional experience outside their home country, so in that sense, the Zoran Djindjic Internship Programme has also improved my future career prospects.
The importance of programs like Zoran Djindjic Internship Programme of German Business for the Countries of the Western Balkans in the opportunities they offer for young professionals, ambitious and oriented towards changing the world they live in. First, it helps the interns develop their expertise in the affluent country and gather invaluable skills and knowledge by working for some of the world’s leading companies. It is a perfect chance to acquire know-how about their future call, or in short to adapt, adopt and apply that knowledge later in their own countries. By doing so they have a chance to establish new business relationships and facilitate the development of their own countries. Second, the international exchange programs like this offer the great opportunity to break the cultural barriers, which still persist in some parts of the Balkans, and is more than necessary if we are to become a part of the European Union. The intercultural exchange like this can only help in building the better communities of tomorrow, encourage the young people to take responsibility and be understanding of one another. Through them, they learn about mutual respect, collaboration, and solidarity between people of different nations and cultures, which are the core values if we want to live in a stable democratic society.