This study abroad program in Germany has been an incredible experience that has allowed me to experience the German culture firsthand and further learn about the German language. Throughout this trip, I have noticed several differences between the cultures and ways of life between people living here in Germany and people back home in the United States. These past three weeks living in Berlin have also allowed me to firmly grasp the German culture in a way that has allowed me to function well in this foreign country.
Some of the differences that I have noticed between people living here in Germany and people living in the United States are subtle, yet noticeable. One difference would be the way in which restaurants and table waiting works here in this country. In the United States, your waiter will periodically check in on your table. They will always offer free water, have an overtly friendly demeanor, and will check in to ask if you would like the check. In Germany, this is not the case at all. Water always comes with a cost here, and the words “free refills” are a fantasy in this country. In addition to this, you will always have to flag down the waiter here in order to receive the check. I got used to these differences over time, but I much prefer the restaurant style in the United States where I know I can always have free water, lots of free refills, and a waiting staff that checks in on me.
Another cultural difference that I have noticed here would be the respect for crosswalk lights. Often, in the United States, people will cross the street at a crosswalk if no cars are coming, even if there is no walk signal. In Germany, however, many people actually respect the crosswalk signals. There have been multiple instances where I have seen people wait at a crosswalk, when there are clearly no cars coming for a while, simply due to the crosswalk signal staying on red. Although it has not happened to me yet, I have heard some people say that Germans will yell at you if you choose to cross the street when there is no walk signal displayed. To me, this ultimate respect for crosswalks seems unnecessary at times, and I prefer it in the United Sates when people can cross a street when there are no cars coming.
A third difference that I have noticed between Germany and the United States is the quality of public transportation here. It is no secret that public transportation in the United States can be lacking and dirty at times. Here in Germany, public transportation has been consistently great for me! The trains and buses are generally on time and they are always clean and well maintained. Not only are the means of transportation themselves clean, but the train stations and bus stops are always clean and well maintained as well. This is one thing that I definitely prefer about Germany over the United States, as using public transportation here is simply a better and more convenient experience. I think that the United States should strive to have its public transportation held to the same quality standard that I have seen here in Germany.
Coming in with six years of studying the German language and culture, I feel like I had a unique experience on this study abroad program that many of the other students could not have. Because I already spoke a decent amount of the German language and had been learning extensively about the history and culture of Germany for years, it was not very hard for me to function here. This being said, the two hardest challenges for me were finding appropriate times to try to speak to people here in German and spending my money wisely with currency conversion taken into account. At the beginning of the trip, it was somewhat intimidating for me to try to use my German skills in speaking to people in Berlin; however, I eventually got over this and started with easy conversations, such as ordering food. Progressively, through talking with more people, I was able to feel a little more comfortable using my German language abilities here. As far as money challenges go, I had originally not taken into account currency conversion. Because the US Dollar is worth slightly less than the Euro, I often found myself spending more money than intended when only looking at the Euro values of food or other items. There were many times where I would have to withdraw 100 Euros from an ATM and ended up having to pay 130 US Dollars for this transaction. By the third week, I noticed the money in my bank account was dwindling, and I was able to keep better track of my spending from there on out. I did this by trying to eat at a cheap cost more frequently and paying closer attention to what the US Dollar value of an item would be as opposed to just its Euro value. If anything, this was the biggest challenge of this study abroad trip for me.
Lastly, this study abroad experience has definitely enriched my education. Most importantly, it has finally allowed me to make a practical use of my German language skills. As previously mentioned, I have been able to speak with actual Germans throughout this entire trip. This has allowed my speaking abilities to improve and has greatly helped me in being able to understand what the people around me are saying. This trip has also allowed me to have firsthand experiences with German history that I have been learning about for years. Around three years ago, I began learning about the history of Germany, its communist divisions, the Berlin Wall, and East Germany’s lasting impact on the city of Berlin today. This trip has finally allowed me to see some of these things with my own eyes as opposed to out of a history book. I feel as if being on this trip has allowed me to have a better understanding of just how much communism impacted Germany through sites such as the remnants of the Berlin Wall. I would also say that this program has helped me academically by helping expand my worldview. My major and future career path both have to do with political science and international studies. For these two areas of study in particular, understanding the cultures and viewpoints of other nations is absolutely critical. Being immersed in the German culture has allowed me to better understand the ways of life and the reasoning behind why people think and act in the ways that they do here. This is certainly a great benefit for my academics.
In conclusion, this program has been a great experience that has taught me many things. It has helped me improve my German language abilities and has allowed me to see many amazing landmarks and sites that I will surely never forget. In addition to this, I have made many friends and memories on this trip that will last me a long time. I’m very glad that I was able to attend this trip as I know it will benefit both my personal and career-based future.