Final Reflection

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.

Blog #3 – Spandau

For my third blog entry, I will be writing about my experience in the Berlin neighborhood of Spandau. On a nice day last week, me and a group of my friends decided to take a trip out to Spandau. Spandau is on the far western side of Berlin; hence it took around an hour to get there by train. Prior to going to Spandau, my roommate and I had learned that Spandau is known for its forests, rivers, and lakes that one could swim in. During the trip there, we traveled through dense forests. I attempted to see if the forests along the train tracks appeared any different than other forests I had seen in and around Berlin; however, many of the trees seemed the same due to the high volume of pine trees that I have seen throughout Germany.

Once we arrived in Spandau, we took a quick look around a more urban area before venturing out into the forests. We eventually came upon a small shopping mall and looked at the store names on the outside of the building. Something that I found humorous was that we found a TJ Max here… or rather TK Max as it is called in Germany. This is the first instance of a store that I am used to seeing in the United States having a separate name in Germany. After viewing this store, we attempted to get to the nearby river to go swimming. To get there, we ended up having to take a hike through a forest. While going through the forest, I really wanted to take an up-close look at the foliage and see if it differed from the kinds of plants that I would typically find in America. Many of the small plants on the ground didn’t look particularly different than anything I would see in America, however, there were two things that I did notice. As previously mentioned, I have seen an abundance of pine tree forests throughout Germany, and this forest was no exception. One a side note, the pine trees here do distinctly look different than the ones I would see at home. Here, all of the pine trees have very skinny trunks with no branches or leaves until the top part of the tree. In my region of America, the Midwest, most forests that I have been in have a large number of deciduous trees rather than just pine trees, something that differs from the German forests I have witnessed. The other strange thing I noticed in the Spandau forests were these small red nuts all over the trails. I have no idea what plant these red nuts came from, but there many a lot of them found throughout the forest floor. These red nuts are also something that I have yet to see in an American forest.

Eventually, my group found a lake next to a small harbor. When we approached the water, we discovered a boat docked close to the shore. Upon further inspection, we realized that we found a restaurant that was on the boat! We all thought this was an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up, so we decided to have dinner on this boat. I decided to take a risk with my food and get one of the restaurants specialties, being pickled fish fillets. It was served with potatoes and green beans. The fish was…. Interesting, but I was glad that I tried it! The potatoes, green beans, and table bread with a special roasted tomato butter were all very good though! After leaving the boat restaurant, it got rather windy and colder than it had been before, so my friend and I decided to go home and not try to swim in the lake. After arriving back at the hotel, I thought about my experience in Spandau and realized that it felt significantly different than any of the other Berlin neighborhoods that I had been in. The forests and lakes I saw in this area made for a scenic place that was a nice break from all the concrete of the city.


Here are two pictures of the lake we found in Spandau as well as the food that I ordered on the boat restaurant.

Blog #2 – Koepenick

For my second blog post, I will be writing about my experience in the Koepenick neighborhood of Berlin. After our tour group had finished visiting the Stasi museum, my friend Dustin and I decided to check out some of the nearby landmarks and neighborhoods. Nearby the Stasi museum was the neighborhood of Koepenick, which is the neighborhood in the South East corner of Berlin. Up to this point in my study abroad trip, I had really only seen the inner city portions of Berlin that featured many buildings, large amounts of concrete, and not very many trees; however, on this trip to Koepenick, I was able to see German woods for the first time. On the bus ride there, we drove through several lush forests. I looked distinctly at the trees to see if they differed much from the trees in America, however most of the foliage in this area seemed to be similar to the kinds found at home.

The main landmark that we had planned on seeing in Koepenick was called Schloss Koepenick, or Castle Koepenick in English. In reality, Schloss Koepenick was more of an ornate palace as opposed to a castle. We crossed a bridged moat before we were able to get on to the palace grounds. The grounds of the palace had a garden, a café, and several lemon trees out front. Once entering the palace, Dustin and I purchased a guided headphone tour to look around at the art exhibits. The palace was filled with dozens of old art exhibits, many of which were from the middle ages. There were multiple floors in the palace, each with different types of art. Some of the things that stuck out to me were the ornate tapestries featuring art work depicting life in the middle ages. Some of the tapestries were incased in glass due to the potential for deterioration from being so old. There were many different chests and cabinets that were extremely detailed in their carvings. One of the most memorable parts of the palace to me were the wooden paneled rooms. These rooms were covered in exuberantly carved wooden panels and pillars that were quite a sight to marvel at. Other things we saw in the palace were frescos on the ceilings, extremely detailed sculptures, jewelry, and old glass works. In the basement of the palace, there were several displays detailing the history of the area were Schloss Koepenick now stands. The palace was originally built in the middle ages and was destroyed after a few hundred years. The one that is currently built was constructed in the Renaissance Era in Europe in the 16 and 17 hundreds. We were able to see the original stone bases of the castle from the middle ages in the basement, but that is the only remaining part from the old structure. Another memorable thing we saw in the basement were bones from humans that existed there thousands of years ago. It was an incredibly interesting experience for me to be able to see just how much the palace and the grounds it stood on changed over time.

After visiting the palace, Dustin and I got some doener kebaps from a nearby shop. These doeners have been the best ones I have had in Berlin by far! They were incredibly delicious, and I was able to speak with some of the employees at the shop in German. On the way home, we walked over a large bridge that ran across a large river. On the river, there were several large barges hauling dirt and stones, something I do not commonly see in America. After making it to the train station, we returned home. At this point in my trip, Koepenick has been my favorite neighborhood that I have visited.

Here is a picture of Schloss Koepenick.

Blog #1 – Mitte

For my first blog entry, I will be talking about my experience in the Mitte neighborhood of Berlin. Mitte, which is German for “middle,” is the center most district of Berlin, located very close to our hotel. Throughout this first week of my study abroad program, I spent a lot of time in the Mitte neighborhood. Something that I found interesting about this neighborhood was the distinct mix of the old and new parts of Berlin. For example, I have seen multiple churches in the city that reside right next to modern style buildings. Last week, me and two other people on this study abroad program went to see Berlin’s Marienkirsche, which is the oldest surviving building in Berlin. It was incredibly interesting to me to see this old church with parts still from the Middle Ages, right next to a modern TV tower and shopping center in Berlin. Throughout this neighborhood, you could see the old remnants of the GDR’s communist government in the eastern part of Berlin. The Western and Eastern parts of this neighborhood have distinctly different feels and aspects to them that are unique.

Three years ago when I was a senior in high school, my teacher had taught us many things about Berlin’s past, particularly with the history and lasting impact of the GDR government, and this trip has shown me this firsthand. The cross-walk signs are a very good example of this. In the west areas of the city, the cross walk signs are either a green or a red picture of a man walking, similar to the picture you might see of a man on a cross walk in the United States; however, in the eastern parts of the city that were once communist, you will see either a green or red picture of a stockier man with a hat known as the “Ampelmännchen.” This unique eastern cross-walk symbol is an example of part of the old GDR influence in Germany that still exists today. You can even tell a difference in certain building styles between the two areas of the city. While the western parts of this city might have varying architectural styles, the eastern parts often have block style, gray apartment buildings.

On one day in particular, me and two other people on my study abroad program went to explore the Mitte neighborhood after visiting the Berlin Wall Memorial. After visiting the memorial, we could see an extremely tall tower in the distance. This tower, knows as the Berliner Fernsehturm, was once used as a gigantic TV broadcasting tower by the GDR government. We decided to go investigate the tower, and along the way, we discovered some picturesque apartments with gardens between them. We even found an area without many tourists that had some unique shops. In one of these shops, we all stopped to buy a special German beverage known as Apfelschorle, which is a drink that is essentially carbonated apple cider. Once we arrived at the TV tower, we bought tickets to travel to the top of the tower, where today there exists a viewing platform. We road the elevator to the top and marveled at the amazing view of Berlin from the tallest point in the city. At the top, we could see every single building in Berlin, and it was quite an impressive sight. The upper levels of the TV tower contained a restaurant and a bar. The tickets to get into the restaurant were very expensive and there was a long wait for seating, so my friends and I decided to get a few drinks at the bar instead. I got a rather pricey eleven-Euro cocktail that was a specialty of the TV tower known as a “Tower Sour.” Personally, this is undeniably the best cocktail I have ever had. For me, it was incredibly interesting and exciting knowing that I was in a building that was once used by a communist government for a completely different purpose than tourism. If there is one thing that the Mitte neighborhood has shown me, it was that Berlin is a city that has changed significantly over time. Many of these changes that occurred in only the past fifty years can still be seen and felt today.

All of the topics discussed in this blog were original accounts from excursions that I personally experienced within my first week in Berlin. It was exciting to me that I was finally able to see firsthand many of the things that I had learned about years ago regarding the lasting impact of the GDR in Berlin.

Here is a picture that I took during our adventure to the TV tower.