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Some Difficulties Abroad

My third and fourth weeks in Berlin have been difficult! After the initial excitement of arriving, I have had enormous trouble accommodating the local culture. Despite these experiences being relatively indulgent, they have had really big affects on my mental health; I’ve had to work really hard lately to battle depression and loneliness. Here are a few:

The diet is very centred around carbs, most specifically breads and cheeses. As a vegetarian who prefers to eat vegan, I have felt so bloated for the past four weeks! Vegetables and fruits are very fresh and inexpensive, but the majority of food I have been eating has been making me feel quite ill. I think I’ll have to buy new pants!

This is the hottest summer Europe has experienced in a while and without air conditioning in most buildings, my apartment, or public transit, it is extremely fatiguing to go about one’s day, or even to breathe.

The men can be very aggressively forthcoming and it can be exhausting trying to ward off their advances with a language barrier.

After the initial shock of having to bag my own groceries at the market (ha), I still haven’t loved having to walk a mile carrying them heavily on my back. In the heat.

The 7-8 time difference has proved really challenging in maintaining my old relationships. My boyfriend and I decided to break up because of the pressures it placed on us.

There aren’t any opportunities for free public water save the occasional bathroom sink and oftentimes I feel dehydrated. Additionally, bathrooms usually are not free and paying a euro for one can be a bit frustrating sometimes.

I really miss peanut butter.

In all, these aspects of living abroad have given me so many opportunities for introspection and learning. I think everyone can benefit from navigating through discomfort. I certainly have a different perspective because of these experiences.

 

Two Weeks of Classical Music

My first weeks here have been full of the most fantastic music! My first day arriving I had a lesson with Walter Seyfarth, a clarinetist in the Berlin Philharmonic. We worked on Brahms together and he taught with so much passion. Afterward he gave me a tour of the Philharmoniker and introduced me to the upcoming performances there, for which I am so grateful! I was able to hear Britten’s War Requiem and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, also seeing such an elegant production of Swan Lake. I went to Vienna for the weekend to see Falstaff at the Vienna Oper, which is perhaps the most beautiful venue I’ve ever seen. I also saw Faust at the Deutsches Oper which was incredible macabre with German humor; all the supporting roles wore baby masks and carried machine guns. The leading roles glided through arias on roller skates.

I learned so much through these performances. German productions always start on time, compared to American performances which usually start 5-15 minutes late. The audience members, who were largely young and very dressed up, were so completely still and silent during the performances. The intermissions are at least 20 minutes long, which allow for people to indulge in a glass of wine or even a small sandwich outside with friends. At the end of the performance, applause lasts for up to a half hour! I saw an orchestra take more than 6 bows. My hands were quite exhausted. Most noticeably, the caliber of the musicians was so so high and they seemed to be really enjoying themselves: moving with the music, engaging with the conductor, taking artistic liberties. I fell in love with German musicians and hope to someday be one!

Eis Eis Eis

Eis or ice cream is a staple here for the summer, especially when it’s upwards 90°F. There’s no air conditioning in buildings and apartments. CIEE can get very hot during the days, especially when we only have a fan. Grocery stores and department stores do have air conditioning, so I’ve been going window shopping quite a lot this week. Summers are usually rainy and hot, but this summer is especially hot. The worst thing about the heat isn’t walking around, it’s when I have to get on public transportation at rush hour and there are only open windows to combat the stagnant air of people packed like sardines.

Anyways, back to Eis! Ice cream is definitely cheaper here than in Chicago. There are ice cream shops every few streets. You can usually spot one by the big ice cream cone in front. I’ve never had more ice cream in a summer than on this trip. Usually, after dinner, I would take a quick five-minute walk in any direction, and end up at an ice cream shop. I decided to explore Berlin’s ice cream shops more and searched for ice cream to try in the city. Images of spaghetti filled my laptop screen as I read the words Spaghetti-Eis. Upon further research, this dessert was concocted in the late 1960’s in Germany. It’s ice cream noodles with strawberry sauce and white chocolate flakes. If you can get past the looks and how it’s kind of a gimmick, it is pretty delicious!

Spaghetti-Eis

It’s a bird, it’s a plane… JK we’re talking about trains

It’s been 3 weeks so far, and I think I’m finally able to visualize where I am when using the BVG (Berlin’s CTA.) What shocked me most at first was just how enormous Berlin is when looking at the routes. The plus side is that it’s not that difficult to figure out which way you need to go once you have an idea of how the map is orientated. It’s just a bigger version of the CTA and not everything is clustered around one area, like Chicago’s loop.

The first time I went to a train station, I realized there weren’t any turnstiles. It was “free” entry and exit. You didn’t even need to show your ticket unless there’s a controller. Controllers show up randomly on trains, so you don’t know when you would run into one. I have yet to experience shuffling into my bag for my monthly pass in the past 3 weeks. If only the CTA trusts me as much as the BVG. I definitely make it onto more trains here. The trains are also very exact. If it says 3 minutes, it will come in three minutes. Another thing new to me: Germany is punctual. (I went to a music performance five minutes late and the doors were closed.) Trains run pretty much every 5 minutes, so the wait is never long. If I do have some time, I usually browse around the train stations. Some of the bigger stations have basically a mall down there. From bakeries to an Asian market, you can find anything- use it as a hang out even.

Food Mood

Apologies for the lack of posts thus far, but I’ve been so busy meeting so many great faces in even more unusual spaces. I want to start this blog post expressing my gratitude for the teachers, staff, and faculty that made this trip possible; especially Frau Meuser, Jan Behrs, and Jonas Rosenbruck. I have experienced so much linguistic and personal growth because they are very passionate about exposing us to the German experience. I am thrilled to be here because they have fostered an environment of being unique and trying everything out once. The first thing that I talked about with Jonas when he picked us up at the airport was about food; partially because I LOVE FOOD, but also because I wanted to know some of the best spots to go to grab a snack. The best thing about my trip to Germany so far without a doubt has been the availability of cheap and magnificently beautiful cuisine. All food here you can basically get for under 10 euro; from a juicy Thuringian bratwurst to a creamy lachs linguine.  Another thing I love about the food here, is the social sport of bringing people together. Since everything is so new and the availability of ingredients here is so diverse, cooking and trying my friends food has been a blast. So many different cooks and their own personal flavors dance around my palette when we make meals together or go out for a buffet. Since Berlin is huge and has about a million food places, I have attached one of my favorite websites to look at for food suggestions just so you know what I have been going through to find some of the best food out there.

https://sattundfroh.de/

 

Pre-Berlin Anxiety

I have never felt more anxious! I leave this afternoon for Berlin and have been feeling so out of sorts recently. Imagining my summer abroad, packing and saying goodbye to friends and family have invoked such strange feelings! I sit terrified in my mom’s car contemplating the big decisions of my life, the friends and family I care so deeply for, and whether I’m a person to be proud of. Despite my mom dancing along to Justin Timberlake beside me, I can’t help but to take myself seriously.

Leaving my comfort zone is a sure way for me to experience such anxiety and introspection. Traveling abroad especially has invoked feelings of crisis in me; fearing that once in a foreign place, I’ll have to truly face the not-so-good aspects of myself. There is something inherent to leaving one’s language, culture and network of loved ones that disturbs my inner peace and clarity. Despite trying to remind myself that this is natural, I’ve already broken down sobbing a few times this morning, losing all sense of rationality and perspective.

I’m now at the JFK airport and I have to suppress tears of nervousness. The people traveling abroad seem so unfamiliar and reserved. How will I interact with the people of Berlin? Will I be proud of the person I become? I try to focus on gratitude and compassion as I prepare to watch this new adventure unfold. Despite the stinging apprehension, I feel confident that this summer of self-improvement, joy and wonder must be held in Berlin. I feel excited to start living anew and to shed personality traits that prevent me from living my most carefree life. Whatever happens, I will be so much the better for it. Danke schöne, Berlin!

Historical Perspectives

A garden that should be seen as a place of beauty with bright green leaves overheard letting in slim rays of sun is immediately made uneasy to the human senses by tall pillars of random lengths and cobblestone floors that sink and rise beneath your feet, seemingly changing itself as you walk on it. You leave the garden of confusion feeling as if you have no concept of balance remaining in your feet. However, while your senses have been disoriented, the overall experience does not cease. You continue and see a door at the end of a hallway with the walls narrowing as you approach it. The closer you get to the door, the more crushed your body feels. You walk through the door not knowing what to expect and you find perhaps salvation: a wide-open room with walls so tall that the tops blend in with the roof as you crane your neck towards the sky. Yet, this open space does not provide relief from the narrowing hallway but instead only invokes fear due to the silence broken only by footsteps on cold concrete. Some light shines through an open corner, yet it provides no warmth and no hope. It is a false beacon, prompting the people inside to want nothing more than to leave this room of tension. This haunting experience is capped by an exhibition that could drive anyone mad by this point. You continue through turn after turn to then walk upon metal plates and hear each one clank against the ones surrounding it. You see faces within each plate and hear each clang as a unique scream, matching the face you step upon. Through this entire experience within the museum, you have experienced disorientation, fear, and guilt and every negative emotion outside and in between. Yet, you have only been inside one museum and participated in a tour that lasted not more than two hours.

This is what marks the Jewish Museum as an experience unlike any other and as a highlight of my time here in Germany. It is not a historical tour nor is it a tour that preaches how you should feel. While both of these are perhaps necessary to fully understand any situation, especially one like the Holocaust, there is another level in going through an exhibition meant to provoke emotion within the very country that was responsible for the deaths of millions of the people to whom the museum is dedicated. This cannot be recreated in America. This cannot be recreated in a history textbook. This cannot be recreated in a movie. This an experience that drives the deepest thoughts and emotions any human can have in response to each stimulus offered. This response will certainly differ from person to person, as you have only heard my interpretation. One fact is undeniable: this is an ordeal many people may not want to have because it is not “fun,” but it is one I am incredibly grateful I had the opportunity to experience.

Finding Space to Think

I have always loved cities, and Berlin is no exception. The bustling streets, the people, the constant hum, the late nights out, the endless things to do, all seem to beckon to me no matter where I am. However, sometimes you just need to find time to think– a clear space to clear your head– so lately I have been adventuring in Berlin to find my own little pockets of solitude.

The first week, I found Viktoriapark. This beautiful hilly park is the icon of Kreuzberg, my local “kiez” (neighborhood), with green fields perfect for laying out with friends and watching the sunset, a small, babbling man-made waterfall all down the side, and one of the best views in Berlin. I come here often to eat kebap or gelato by myself and write, think, or dream, but it is also where I bring anyone I know who is visiting! A perfect little respite from the city below.

Tiergarten is another Berlin fixture! Originally created so that the royalty had a place to hunt game, the centrally located park is now home to a fantastic biergarten, ponds, bike paths, gardens, and acres and acres of perfect green grass and trees for a hot day.

Most recently, I made my way out to Schlachtensee and Grunewald. Schalchtensee is the cleanest lake (of many, many lakes) in the Berlin area and is a beautiful little spot to relax under some trees and go for a dip (that is if you can find a spot!). Grunewald, in which Schalchtensee and Wannsee are located, is a massive patch of green in which you can find an old Cold War spy station, wild flower patches, community gardens, and enough trees to get lost in.

So yes, I love Berlin, and I love its hustle and bustle, but I also love being able to find spaces to just stand still and listen to the birds and the wind through the trees. Berlin really has it all, and I couldn’t be happier to be here to discover it!

Using My Stress

My suitcase continuously got more filled as I planned for all the possible lives I may lead while abroad, repeatedly bouncing between 45 and 55 pounds. It needs to be just right so I can, “have the best experience possible abroad!” Trips back and forth from Target to home become less and less exciting and more and more anxious as the departure date creeps closer. The newfound concept of having to unlock a phone and pay for that added purchase adds weight to the already cumbersome load of preparation. The money invested slowly starts growing and a question begins pressing all of us: is this worth it?

This question sat heavily on my head, pushed further by my family’s stress. This was the reality of the situation for beginning study abroad, for me at least. Yes, there’s excitement and joy, but that can easily be overwhelmed by the severity of having to concretely plan and prepare for an excursion outside of the country for 8 weeks. It isn’t just easy-going all the time once the application and scholarships are over.

But why do I choose to speak on this? Why not instead focus on the fun times looking forward to travelling to Germany? The idea of living life as a European, with croissants and scarves and everything (if you can’t tell, I had never been to Europe before)? I choose this because this is the reality of a pre-departure life: while everyone will certainly have different specific experiences prior to attending the study abroad, there will be stress and anxiety. This will exist for different reasons for different people. It could be someone’s first time travelling internationally, it could be financially straining, or a plethora of other issues. Yet, does any of this make any of the experiences possible in studying abroad not worth it? The truth is: absolutely not. Preparing for leaving can be stressful and it can be hard, but the work put in will be rewarded and will make your experience that much more enjoyable. Preparing to leave is not departing from one home but instead taking a break to find yourself in a new home. Plan according to that mentality, and studying abroad will be the life-changing experience you always hear about.

Overcoming Anxiety

The day that I arrived home from Northwestern at the end of Spring quarter I felt immense relief — how good it is to be home with my family and no homework! But my relief was soon overtaken by all the symptoms of anxiety that I have grown used to over the years: restless nights, headaches, trouble focusing. I didn’t understand why my body was reacting in such a way, as I have traveled abroad before (and indeed by myself!). I ignored my body and my brain and fought against the idea that I might be anxious about my trip, but as the day of departure got closer, it became harder to ignore.

It wasn’t until I could no longer ignore the fears that I realized that that is okay. Just because I have traveled before, just because I have traveled alone, just because I have done all sorts of things does not negate the fact that moving to a different country for an extended period of time is inherently frightening. This understanding helped accept the anxiety and instead of focusing on why I was, or why I should not be, anxious, I could focus on the incredible experience that was waiting for me.

You are never too experienced, too old, too smart, too well-traveled, too well-prepared to get anxious about new experiences. Life is scary sometimes, but it is when we are able to cast aside that fear that we can really start living. This is exactly what Marnix Pauwels discusses in his TedTalk “No More Fear of Life,” a recommended watch for anyone who feels like maybe their fear is holding them back from their own life. I am going to conquer my fears in Berlin, and I hope that others can do the same in their own lives!