As a friend and I stepped onto the tarmac at Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport twelve hours later than anticipated, chilling wind and reality hit us: Germany in January is no place to be if the airline has lost your luggage. After spending the day in Stockholm, Sweden on a redirected flight and missing the introduction to the 2017 International Real Estate Challenge [IREC], it became apparent early on that this entire experience was not going to be what we anticipated.
IREC is an annual competition in which 8 universities participate in presenting a project development based on a specific need from real investors, and I happened to be in Germany with a team from the MS in Real Estate & Infrastructure program to represent the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School at the 2017 challenge.
Hoisting myself into the top bunk of the Berlin Hostel, conversation ensued about what I had missed – it seemed no one truly knew what the project ahead was. The following morning each of the eight teams in the competition, comprised of students from the United States, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Slovakia, and Italy, quickly gathered before meeting the client for the competition. HOWOGE, a public housing company in Berlin, informed each group that they were expanding into student housing from a current portfolio of multi-family apartment properties. The complicated part? HOWOGE was not looking for a real estate development in a foreign country, but rather a concept being implemented abroad in student housing. Our goal was to bring back those innovative ideas to Berlin. Coincidentally, my team’s travel location was Gothenburg, Sweden: one of my favorite countries.
In Gothenburg, we met our city guide and mentor, Göran, who was the Construction Management program director at one of the best universities in Sweden, Chalmers University of Technology. Given his field of expertise, Göran was an incredibly valuable asset to our understanding of Swedish student housing and construction practices. With a team of individuals from across the globe and a variety of areas of study including real estate, investment management, and architecture, he had the task of providing us with ample opportunity to see student housing practices, what goes on in planning these developments, and inspiring our team to think outside of the box to incorporate new and innovative concepts.
After three days, all eight teams reconvened in the workshop in Berlin, all having vaguely similar concepts to bring to student housing. One common thread seemed to run through every group’s proposal: we need to bring people together again. Though this concept is not revolutionary in American student housing, an important connection was realized by every group. Classrooms and schools can teach a wealth of information; even more knowledge is gained from experience, from going outside of one’s own comfort zone, and interacting with people and places far different than we are accustomed to. There is no better way to grow and learn as a student than by fostering an environment where different minds and opinions can come together to create the most favorable outcome possible, one that is socially, environmentally, and fiscally responsible. IREC 2017 achieved this goal and provided us all with new friends, unique knowledge, and experiences.
Who would have anticipated so much when simply taking a flight to Berlin.