For my STEP Signature Project, I studied abroad in Berlin, Germany. While in Berlin, I learned about the history and culture of the city in both the past and the present. As a group, we had class twice a week where we discussed in depth the tours of the city we were going to go on and how they affected us. We went on a tour about 3-4 days a week and the rest of the time was free time to explore the city for ourselves and make the trip ours.
Getting the opportunity to travel abroad with a group of strangers is unlike anything I have ever done. Any traveling I have done in the past was for vacation with my family. Being able to go out on my own with new people and truly immerse myself in a different culture allowed me to grow as an individual. At first, there were some challenges, such as adjusting to a new culture, a new language, and getting to know everyone who I travelled with. After a while, these things became less difficult and I become extremely close with those in my group. I was very fortunate that the people in my group were people I felt comfortable with and people I could create friendships with. I believe that the friends I made over the course of my trip really helped transform me into a more globally aware and independent person, simply by being there to support me throughout the trip.
Upon arrival in Berlin, I was immediately overwhelmed. However, when I asked an employee of the airport where to find my luggage, I was pleasantly surprised by how open he was to helping me and how good his English was. All over Berlin I found that nearly everyone I had an interaction with was kind and very understanding of my lack German. Having these daily interactions with locals made me much more globally aware of just how powerful America is on the world stage and how America is focused on America and nothing else. Also, getting to live in the heart of one of Berlin’s largest boroughs was an amazing opportunity because I felt like I was living like a local, not just visiting Berlin for vacation. Learning about the history of Berlin made me more aware of how close to home World War II and the Holocaust were for those people living there. Learning about those events at a distance only have so much weight, but getting to hear firsthand stories and see the aftermath of these events, made it much more real. Being so close to the subject there made me realize how recent these events really were. It is very easy to put them behind us so quickly as history, but getting to meet people that really experienced things such as the Berlin Wall, made it feel much more recent. Over the course of my trip, I also became a much more independent and confident person. Going to a new country alone can be very scary, but being open to new ideas and new people really helped make the friends I made feel like family and the new city feel like home. I went into this trip knowing only one person and came out with new best friends. During the month I spent abroad, we did everything together and together we learned about the city. If it were not for the friends I made during the trip, I would not have had the amazing experience that I did.
Before taking this trip to Berlin, I was not knowledgeable about the history of Berlin or about World War II and the Holocaust. I feel like I came home much more educated on important world events and much more globally aware. It is important to be globally aware in these times because of how connected we all are by social media and the internet. Getting the chance to live in Berlin for a month opened my eyes to the fact that there is more to the world than just the US and made me appreciate another culture more than I ever thought I could. Because of this trip, I have also become much more independent and confident. For an entire month, I had to navigate a completely new city without speaking the language. This forced me to become confident in my ability to navigate my way around and step outside of my comfort zone and ask for help when need be.