An international student’s experience of travelling to Europe

Seun Onalaja

As much as I would like to say my holiday to Berlin started off by looking at flights and hotel reservations, it actually started off on a dull note, by looking at how I could get a visa.

To add perspective, I am an international student from Nigeria, and while this means I can move freely in between countries in the ECOWAS agreement, it does not give me the liberty to move freely within European countries. It had always been a misconception of mine, and one a lot of my friends back home shared that it was extremely difficult to get a Schengen visa (visa needed for European travel). However, when my brother moved to Berlin for work and study, I realised that I would soon have to face my fear of applying for a Schengen visa on my own if I wanted to visit him. Hopefully, my experience may inspire another international student to give European travel a go, because, in the end, it was all worth it!

Travelling as an international student

I first looked at the visa requirements and did a lot of research into the best place to apply and everything needed to do this. This helped me clear another misconception I had which was thinking I could only apply for a Schengen visa from my country of birth (Nigeria). As a UK student on a tier 4 visa, I discovered I was eligible to apply from the UK as I had a BRP (Biometric Residence Permit)! I followed the list of requirements, made use of the university website’s guide on European travel, and I had all my documents ready for the application.

Then the scary part came. To book an appointment for the German visa. After booking my flight and securing my appointment for early June (in order to allow for sufficient time for the visa to be issued), I was on my way to Edinburgh which was another adventure on its own as I had never been there before. The consulate at Edinburgh was very efficient and to-the-point, given that I was able to provide all the required documents, I got my visa on the date and time specified on my collection slip.

When my departure day came, I was in disbelief as for me it was a major accomplishment – I had succeeded in getting the visa, I inspired a lot of my friends in similar situations when I told them what I had achieved.

Exploring Berlin

Once I got into Berlin, I put forward my skills from my Summer German Beginners step 1 class I had been taking at the language school at University, and got a lot of smiles and laughter from immigration and people I met for my effort. It was also really nice to be able to recognise things I had learned in class as well as using my common sense to understand what people around me were saying, it was like my German textbook had come alive and it made my 2-hour classes worth it.

I was staying with my brother who lives in Friedrichshain which is a wonderful area with lots of restaurants and shops and close to the East Side Gallery. Over a few days, I was able to see so much of Berlin, and later on, Potsdam which made all the planning worth it.

Due to the fact that I did and saw so much, I am just going to highlight a few bits that I found amazing.

1. The food: As someone who is big on photography and food, Berlin was a city for me. There is so much food to be found on every corner. From traditional German food and drink like the Curry Wurst and Warsteiner to Thai and Korean Cuisine, Berlin has cuisines from different parts of the world on offer, and a lot of the restaurants seemed to be run by people from the countries so the food was authentic. I would recommend going to Simon-Dach-Strasse in Friedrichshain which had so many restaurants along the street.

2. The transportation system: A bit odd for a highlight, but getting around Berlin and Potsdam was super easy. With a Berlin ABC ticket or AB (7.00 Euros) ticket, I could jump on any of the U-Bahn (underground), S-Bahn (overground) or trams. This made it possible for spontaneous trips to do some sightseeing in Alexanderplatz.

3. The sightseeing: Seeing the Jewish Holocaust Memorial, the TV Tower, the Berlin Wall and Museum Island was amazing. It was so wonderful how a country can turn around and not shy away from their past, and all the memorial sites were beautiful especially the wall which had been turned into a place of art, and they even had section to write on. It was such an accommodating place to be in and so free as well. I would recommend walking around as most of the sites are free to see, as opposed to paying for museum entries, which I tried and discovered it wasn’t as good as walking around and seeing most of the landmarks, which were free.

4. Potsdam: If you have time and you are in Berlin, I recommend taking the S-Bahn and going over to Potsdam, which is about a 1hr journey. Potsdam is a bit quieter than Berlin, and it has older buildings and the wonderful UNESCO heritage site which is the Sanssouci Palace in Sanssouci Park. The view is breath-taking and each corner of the park is an amazing spot for your next Instagram post.

Those are my top 4 highlights of my trip to Berlin and my visa application process, and to summarise, I will just leave a few tips. If you are an international student and you want to go to a European country on a holiday but are unsure of how to, just go for it! You’ll find it’s much easier than you think and when you arrive at your destination it will be worth it! Just make sure you: Do research into your visa requirements, plan at least a month ahead, have all documents ready, and most importantly, keep an open mind so when you finally get your visa and hit the runway, you’ll feel accomplished and ready to embark on a journey!

You can read more blogs from our international students here.

Seun Onalaja

I’m Seun, I'm an international student and have graduated with a BA in Accounting and Finance with a Placement Year.  I completed a DU internship in my final year working as a DICE Marketing intern within the Careers & Enterprise team. I have also written other blogs for the uni about my experiences as an international student at Durham.

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