On Tandem, we encourage you to find a partner who shares your interests. KiKi from Japan and Julie from Germany bonded over their mutual love of art – and now they have their own exhibition together in Berlin! Here’s their story.

art artists language exchange

Julie grew up in a small town near Dortmund, Germany, and started watching anime as a very young child. She realised that if she learnt some Japanese, she would have a better understanding of what was going on in the cartoons. Her studies took her on a trip to Japan, which she loved, but when she returned to Germany she didn’t have anyone to practice Japanese with.

Meanwhile, KiKi was growing up in Izu, a small but beautiful village in Japan, and was always dreaming of traveling and seeing the “world outside”. She visited many places in Japan before deciding to take her travel to the next level and venture overseas. It quickly became clear to her how important it was to learn languages. KiKi explains, “During my first trip abroad, to Paris, many local people helped me. But I could only say “Thank you” to them, despite having so many things I wanted to tell them.”

From then on, she felt a strong need to learn languages. She studied English in the USA, then had the opportunity to travel to Berlin, Germany for a new adventure. KiKi explains: “In Berlin, lots of people speak English but I wanted to learn more about German people and culture through their language. That’s why I chose to focus on learning German.”      

KiKi decided to look for a language partner to help her learn German who had similar interests to her, and found Julie. As they both loved art, it was instantly a good match. Julie says, “I looked for a Tandem partner to freshen up my language skills. It’s a great way of making new friends as well! I love meeting new people and hearing their stories, and Tandem is a perfect way to do this.”

julie henning illustration

The first conversation was a bit nerve-wracking, as they both were nervous that their language skills wouldn’t be good enough. They were also both a little in awe of each others’ artwork. “I had seen KiKi’s illustrations and thought they were beautiful,” explains Julie. “I was curious to meet the person behind them, but also a bit nervous!”

They overcame their nerves by deciding to use their artistic skills to help each other from day one. They introduced themselves using a notebook to write down words they didn’t understand and drawing pictures to help with understanding. By doing activities together, they were both active participants in the conversation and found it easier to retain new phrases and vocabulary.

Soon they were chatting often, and even meeting up face-to-face in Berlin to discuss their art projects. Germany and Japan are two very different countries, but when Julie and KiKi became Tandem partners, their artistic talents helped them see each others’ countries in a new light.

art language exchange

Reflecting on the cultural differences between Germany and Japan, Julie explains attitudes towards learning in the two countries. “It’s the way of learning things, such as a craft, that I find admirable in Japanese culture” Julie says. “It’s a very mindful way of learning how to do something, as it takes very small steps and lets you see all the small things that make a piece of art, for example. As I sometimes tend to rush things I do a little, I think that’s something I can learn.”

KiKi, on the other hand, finds German bluntness endearing. “I already had some ideas about people in Germany not being afraid to speak their mind,” she says. “It’s so true! People love to discuss and share their ideas. It’s something I really love about Germans.”

They also found that their exchange helped them to deconstruct stereotypes. “I’m sure there still are some stereotypes in my head,” Julie explains. “One thing I learned through KiKi and my other experiences living abroad though is that every person is unique. The boxes we have in our minds often don’t quite resemble the truth for each individual.”

KiKi agrees. “I think making wonderful friends in Germany and other places and meeting my Tandem partner is the best thing about learning languages! I also learned a lot of things from them. Having real communication through the language gives us a lot of new discovery and truth – more than you can get from information in books or on the internet.”

Julie henning illustration

For Julie and KiKi, the language exchange turned into a real friendship, and not only that, but a creative partnership. They decided to exhibit their artwork together in Berlin, inspired by their Tandem experiences.

The exhibition, Gedanken†が、いそがしい!!, is all about how cultural exchange experiences can be developed through both verbal and non-verbal communications. Together, Julie and KiKi came up with themes – such as seasons, foods or traditions in their home countries – and drew pictures based on their experiences of these things.

One way in which they expressed their differences was with the different colored pens they used for the illustrations. They explain: “We used color pens to show how growing up in one place then visiting another place helps you to see things differently. We found many similarities between our two cultures, as well as differences!”

And what next for Julie and KiKi? KiKi says she will visit more places in Germany to find more inspiration for her art. She hopes to have a solo exhibition based on her travels. Julie will continue to let her travels inspire her photography and poetry.

Thank you Julie and KiKi for sharing your amazing story with us!

Julie and KiKi’s exhibition took place at Hiroshima Mon Amour in Berlin Kreuzberg, 19th-28th January 2018.
You can check out KiKi’s (@kikiiiiiiy)  and Julie’s (@jgh_illustrations) drawings, as well as their photographer Karin Shikata (@karinkamera), and Hiroshima Mon Amour (@hiroshima_mon_amour_berlin) on their Instagram pages.

berlin illustrator art

Inspired by KiKi and Julie’s Tandem story? Download the app today on  Android or iOS and find your perfect language partner!