I chose to use my STEP signature project for studying abroad. This past May, I participated in the Maymester program called Berlin Then and Now: People, Places and Experiences. We took a class that was focused on the history and culture of Berlin and we had many tours and visits scheduled into the curriculum.
I learned so much while I was on this trip. One of the reasons that I chose to go on this study abroad was because I felt very stuck in my day to day life at OSU. I wanted to break from my routine and have new experiences and that is exactly what I did. I had only been to Europe once before, and it was when I was a child, so this was basically an entire new experience for me. My mom always encourages me to try and live life outside of my comfort zone, and that is exactly what I did on this trip. I went to a foreign country, not knowing the language and not knowing any of the other people who were on the trip. I learned so much about myself and what I am capable of on this trip. I am more responsible and capable than I thought I was and learning that has been so encouraging for me. I also had experiences that helped to transform and shape my view of the world.
I thought that I had a pretty good perception of how America and Americans are perceived abroad, but this trip really opened my eyes and gave me better perspective on that as well. Germans are blunter in their opinions and often discuss politics more than Americans do. Once, our waiter flat out asked us our opinion on Trump when he realized that we were Americans. It was very interesting to see and comprehend how Europeans seem to be more interested in American politics than Americans are. I think this has to do with the mindset that many Americans have in which the US is at the center of everything and every other country depends on the US.
This closely ties into an assumption that I immediately noticed when we arrived in Berlin. This is what I like to call the “English advantage”. One of my concerns before going on the trip was the fact that I speak no German. I was assured that that wasn’t going to be an issue but I don’t think I fully grasped that until I got there. Almost everyone in Berlin speaks English very well, so it was very easy to get by without speaking any German. However, I still felt bad every time someone would speak to me in German and I would respond in English because if it was reverse, and someone in the US didn’t respond in English, it is not very likely that they would be understood. We met some college aged German people and we were discussing languages with them. One German said how they thought Americans were not smart when it comes to languages and I agree with them. In Germany, most teens are basically trilingual by the time they are headed off to university. This really made me think of how privileged I am to know English as my first language and be able to travel almost anywhere in the world and being able to communicate with people.
There were many times when we went on tours or excursions that really made you think. We visited a concentration camp on the third week that we were there, and that was a very difficult tour. It was hard to go through the camp and walk the same ground where people have experienced the worst of humanity, but it was very informative. Many of the tour guides kept saying how these memorials and museums are built to remember what happened so events like the Holocaust never happen again. This made me think about our society today, and how people are still being targeted in different ways based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Experiencing this inspired me to be a more active member of society, in terms of social justice.
On a different note, I formed relationships on this trip that were completely unexpected but that were a major part of the experience. I was very skeptical coming into this trip because I didn’t know anyone ahead of time and I didn’t know if I would be able to make friends. I remember meeting four others on the trip at the airport in Newark and realizing we were all on the same flight. We all really bonded that first day because we got to the hotel at 8am but we couldn’t check in until 11, so we went on a little tour of Halensee (the town we were staying in) and a few surrounding neighborhoods. Everyone was tired and sweaty from the plane, but despite that we all were really having a good time and truly happy to be there. This really set the mood for the trip because I realized that everyone was just as happy to be there as I was and we all just wanted to soak it all in. Everyone on the trip was very inclusive and ready to really experience everything that Berlin had to offer. I became close friends with my roommates, and we did almost everything together. It’s crazy because if I hadn’t gone on this trip, I wouldn’t have met them, which would have been crazy because I feel like I have known them my whole life and I’ve only actually known them for a month. This trip gave me amazing people in my life that I didn’t even know were missing from it.
Besides the amazing friendships that I made, this trip has greatly informed me about the history and culture of Berlin and also helped me think more globally. Having an open mind will help me in every aspect of my life, whether it be socially, academically, or in my professional life later on. This trip has also sparked my interest in learning more languages, and I have signed up to take German in the fall!