STEP Study Abroad Reflection: Berlin May 2015

Emily Diefenbacher

Berlin, Then & Now: People, Places, and Experiences


The Berlin, Then and Now: People, Places, and Experiences is an Ohio State study abroad program that takes place in Berlin, Germany during the May session.  During the program, I learned about the history of Germany through direct engagement with its people and places.  Moreover, throughout the entire length of the class, I worked with a partner on a blog about a person who strongly influenced Berlin (below is the link to our blog).


Traveling in Germany has helped transformed me in many different ways.  I have become more independent since I had to adjust to the lifestyle and learn how to travel in Germany.  Now I am completely confident in finding my way around the buses, S-bahn, and U-bahn.  Additionally, this trip expanded my global awareness and cultural perspective by allowing me to interact and see various cultures here in Berlin.  One example of seeing other cultures was when I went to the Karneval der Kulturen and saw the different foods and goods at each stand.  Also, since I learned so much about Berlin through its history and from the perspective of the Germans, I feel that I can understand the German culture better than before I came here.  An example of this is when i realized that Berlin used to be two separate cities until almost thirty years ago.  Yes, I learned about the fall of the Berlin Wall in school, but I never fully understood the separation until I went to Berlin and heard about the fall of the wall from people who actually witnessed it and remembered the event.


Being in Berlin, I feel, has helped me to understand more about other countries and cultures.  I believe that I now have a better understanding of Germany as well as the United States because I was able to compare both countries.  Because of our trip to Berlin, I now know more in general about German culture, how to communicate and interact with different people, how to be more accepting of differences other cultures have, and how to not be judgmental of something I do not know of fully understand like a culture or religion that is different than my own.  One place where I really noticed a difference in cultures was on the public transportation systems in Berlin like the S-bahn and the U-bahn.  You could tell who was from Berlin and who was a tourist pretty quickly because people who are from Berlin would either talk quietly or not at all and people who are not from Germany tended to be louder.  Another way to tell Berliners and tourists apart was by their accent or if they actually spoke German or not.  An alternative example was when I went to restaurants and I saw Germans drinking beer and just having conversations with their friends and families.  I know that in America a lot of people drink for the sake of being intoxicated, but I liked seeing that people in Germany seemed to enjoy it more as a nice social outing with friends and family.

Because of my experiences in Germany, I believe that I can now function independently in Germany in several different ways.  I believe that if I went back to Berlin I would be able to navigate the public transportation on my own, read a Berlin map correctly, travel by myself, order food, ask strangers on the street for help with directions, and maybe even go to school or live here.  However, I do not think I would be able to live by myself in Berlin because I would not know anybody else and it is easy to get lost in a huge, unfamiliar city like Berlin; there is just not enough time in one month to learn how to navigate all of Berlin without using a map.  Also, if I moved here I would have to learn German, which is easier said than done.

Even though I eventually learned how to assimilate myself into the German culture little by little, I still had many challenges along the way.  Basically, I was challenged to adjust to a completely different lifestyle than I was used to having back home in the United States.  For instance, when we first arrived on Sunday, my roommates and I had trouble finding a place to eat for dinner because a lot of the stores and restaurants were closed (Sundays in Germany are days spent relaxing and with family).  Moreover, I did not realize that in Germany everyone pays mostly in cash instead of credit cards, and that restaurants do not typically split checks.  Another example was when there was a train strike in Germany the weekend my friends and I were leaving for Prague.  We had to take a bus down to a train in Dresden instead of a direct train from Berlin, Germany to Praha, Prague.  It was a struggle to figure out the changes to the trip last minute, but we talked to the people working at the train station and eventually figured it out.  Overall, I was able to find solutions to any problem we faced here in Berlin and was able to have an enjoyable time.


I am currently a junior Marketing Major and a Fashion and Retail Studies Minor at The Ohio State University.  I am also trying to figure out if I can be a Business Analytics Minor as well, which would help me in my future career.  My future career goal is to become a fashion buyer for a retail company, however I do not know which one.  A career as any type of buyer would require that person to look at data and, from that data, predict what and how many products you should purchase next for whatever company that individual is working for.  Furthermore, I believe that studying abroad in Berlin, Germany helped me come closer to attaining my future career goal in several ways.  Germany used to be a fashion capital before World War II, but afterward New York took over as one of the major fashion capitals.  Still, Germany today is an important center for fashion trends.  Also, Berlin is a fairly modern city with many different types of architecture, both old and new.  I have seen several pictures of architecture in Berlin, and those pictures of the buildings and the whole design and layout of Berlin really inspired me to learn more about them through personal experience, not just looking at pictures online or in a textbook.  It was incredible to see brand new buildings built next to buildings from the 1800s.  Moreover, I believe this experience will help me accomplish my career goal by helping me learn about other cultures and using that knowledge to become more open-minded.  Also, going to Berlin helped me become more knowledgeable about fashion because I saw a variety of different fashions while abroad, and I could compare them to what I normally saw in the United States.