Reflections on a Summer Abroad

[I’d first like to apologize for the sporadic nature of my blog posts and updates, but I think the “organic” timeline that they show is more accurately reflective of my experience in Berlin.]

 

 

As I settle back into life in Evanston, I’m finding reminders of my time in Berlin everywhere—not the least of which is explaining my summer to people as I reconnect with them, and meet others for the first time. THAT part is a little odd: Introducing myself and explaining my summer in Berlin sounds highly pretentious on its own. So I’ve found myself holding back a lot because there are a million things I want to talk about with people who don’t have the same opportunities. Those are conversations I’m having with other students that have studied abroad—the stories, sights, shared experiences, etc.

However, I’m seeing plenty of opportunities to apply my lessons learned in my daily life. I’m far more social than I was before the trip, which is odd. I never expected my daily interactions with people to be affected by my experiences abroad. I think it has to do with adapting to new environments constantly. As a Berliner explained it to me, “Berlin is not easy, it tests you—but it is always rewarding”. Every day I had to interact with new people, ask silly/basic questions, and be more open to different styles of interaction, all skills that helped me build my cultural competence.

Another bizarre lesson learned: People are nice. Not all people, to be sure, but I enjoy conversation more as a result of the trip. The German stereotypes of brusk indifference are not true at all in my experience (not that I believed them to begin with), and the vast majority of them are helpful and want to share their culture with people who are genuinely interested in Germany.

I could not wish for a better experience and can’t wait to recommend a Summer in Berlin to other students considering a study abroad program!

Tschüss, and thanks for all the lessons.

The shadow of Martin Luther follows me everywhere

 

Tschüss Berlin!!

So here we are, with my very last blog post of the summer as I sit on the back patio of my parent’s house surrounded by a mild bombardment of potted plants. With only a couple days at home under my belt, I can still confidently say that Voorhees, New Jersey is worlds different from Berlin, and I still have tons and tons to process through. But here’s the quick rundown of my last couple moments in Berlin ~~

Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum

yes to any and all floral things

The last week of my stay in Berlin began with a wonderful trip to the Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum. My obsession with flowers and pretty plants pretty much mirrors my obsessions with all things coffee culture, so as you can imagine I was STOKED to get to go see this place! I won’t bombard you with ~all~ the succulent and floral shots I took while here, so you can just believe me when I say I was on cloud nine during the whole visit. There’s something about botanical gardens that reminds me of my childhood/home (probably because when I was little my parents liked to take me and all my siblings to a botanical garden in Pennsylvania and I used to absolutely hate it but look @ me now lol joke’s on me). Anyway, I spent my final Berlin Sunday afternoon just chillin with the flowers and it was lovely. 20/10 would recommend. The place was massive, and I didn’t make it through the whole thing because I got hungry (typical), so I guess that just leaves more to be explored if I ever make it back to Berlin–and I’d like to someday.

Honestly, the rest of the week was extremely lowkey and chill. I finished up my classes at Humboldt University with a final test in my language course and a final presentation in my Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue course. I finished all the last minute souvenir shopping for my family that I probably should’ve done earlier, took a million last minute pictures of the Berliner Dom, ate my very last ice cream cone (rip I will miss you Berlin ice cream), and did plenty of walking all up over and around the city of course. Towards the end of this trip, the weight of the last few fast-paced months abroad were kind of catching up to me, hence feeling a bit exhausted as I aimed to see everything one last time. But looking back I think I can confidently say that I saw/did/learned/experienced all that I really hoped to this past summer.

Tiergarten strollin

On my very last full day in Berlin, I strolled around the Tiergarten to the Berlin Victory Column one last time, making sure I’d have a solid memory of the place and also so that I could reflect a little bit on what this past summer has meant to me. Studying abroad for the summer in Berlin was nothing like I could’ve expected. Aside from juggling classes and schoolwork, I also needed to cultivate a brand new sense of independence and not be afraid to get to know a city all the way on the other side of the world. I think the most significant thing I learned this summer, which I guess is a pretty typical sentiment to be found in a study abroad reflection post, is not to be afraid of change/difference, and not let my own version of comfort dictate my quality of life in a place that might take me a little outside that comfort zone. Berlin is a wonderfully diverse city with such a cool, vibrant culture (shout out to the art galleries and coffee shops). I am fortunate to not only have experienced that culture, but in a way to have become a part of it, albeit for a short time.

If you’re still reading this, thanks for tracking with me and my sporadic posts this summer! And Berlin, thank you for the priceless mems. Nothing but grateful for the wonderful, crazy, weird, lovely, unique adventure that was this summer abroad.

So long for now!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What 68 days In Germany can do.

2 months. 2 months of an amazing experience that I will never ever forget. I am so glad I am home, but I cannot help but to be sad because I will miss Berlin. When I first arrived in Berlin, I was so nervous and I was very overwhelmed. Everything was so confusing like the language, the food, and the environment. I told myself to keep an open mind and it was that open mind that saved me. I felt like I was thrown into another world. I felt like nothing would be easy. I did have my doubts that I would hate the trip and desperately want to go home. I soon realized that those doubts quickly went away when I had my first ice cream cone. I was happy and began to feel more content. I knew from then that I would enjoy my time here.

Nothing was handed to us. Grocery shopping in another country was absolutely terrifying and even taking the U-bahn for the first time had my hands shaking. All the buildings in Berlin are so massive and I felt like a little outsider ant (no seriously I felt helpless). I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling this way but like I said, I kept an open mind. I kept an open mind to everything I did and to everyone I met. I’m glad I did because I met Laura. I was told that really strong friendships will be created and that was very true.

Let’s talk about academics. I first would like to say thank you to all the professors. All of them were helpful and guided us through another part of Berlin that we probably would not have been able to grasp the content of on our own. I learned so much in the German History class parts 1 and 2. I really enjoyed going to all the excursions especially The Jewish Museum and the Alternative Tour. As far as the German Language course, to me it was one of the best classes I have ever taken. Taking a language course in the US compared to the country of origin drastically changes things. I loved how I was learning German and had to immediately execute my newly learned skills when I walked out of the classroom. The work in both classes were a lot but I took away so much knowledge. The Humboldt University classes were great too. I think the most exciting part was that we were able to meet students from all around the world and for once, we were the international kids. I wish that every student at NU got the opportunity to go study abroad.

Living on my own was tough. Even though I am now a master chef because I had to cook so much, it was very difficult to manage everything. I had to stay close to my budget and really plan out my days which really became tiresome. There was a point where I felt like I could not do it anymore, but I still kept an open mind.

Coming back to the states felt so weird. First off, everything was in English which is great but I know I will not see anymore unrecognizable words. I am actually sick right now as I am writing this because of jet lag and all that fun stuff. I now know for sure that there is more to life than just being in the US and I am glad I got to experience it.

I don’t really think I would have done anything differently. I think I did pretty well.

Climbing Berlin

 

As the IPD Program comes to a close and we finish Humboldt courses, I’m starting to realize something interesting from the pictures I’ve been taking for the last two months—I’ve climbed a lot of buildings. I don’t mean exclusively rooftop restaurants and Lokals, but these peaks have been some of the high points of this trip. (*groans for the obligatory dad joke*)

Berlin is very spread out. I’m not going to dance around it: it’s a wide city. What would be called “walking distance” in any other major city is extended by a factor of 4x here; thank Gott the public transportation is so efficient, it seems like every Berliner makes ample use of it in their daily life. But I digress. My point is that Berlin is spread out with a lot of smaller buildings. Small by urban standards: as a global city and a European capital, the lack of skyscrapers is uncanny. So, when you find somewhere that’s marginally higher than the rest of the city, you can see for miles around this giant of a city.

This might not be unique to Berlin, as I had similar experiences in Dresden and Weimar, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Dresden from the Frauenkirche

Frauenkirche in Dresden

Buchenwald Concentrations Camp Memorial near Weimar

 

 

I’ve posted photos from my favorites in Berlin, but they’re all spectacular and worth the visit.

An obligatory shoutout to the TV Tower starts off this list, and it was one of our first excursions in the program. This kicked off our time in Berlin—coffee, cake, and meeting the people we would be living with for the next two months. It’s hard to believe how long ago that looks now.

TV Tower (Fernsehturm)

View from the TV Tower, less than 1/8th of the city

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Berliner Dom is, just—wow. I can’t describe this massive cathedral any better than my pictures, but it’s pretty on the outside, gorgeous on the inside, and spectacular for taking in views of the city.

Berliner Dom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite my first two choices, my hands-down favorite place from which to see Berlin is the Sieggesäule (Victory Column) in the center of Tiergarten. It may not be as high as the TV Tower or as gilded as the Berliner Dom, but I fell in love with this landmark as a crossroads for Berlin. First built in Prussia, it stands for the unification of Germany into an upstart nation at the turn of the 20th century and its struggle to find its place on the world stage. It’s in the middle of Tiergarten, which is itself quite central to Berlin. From the top you can see the TV Tower and Soviet-inspired downtown in the Eastern part of the city as well as Potsdamer Platz and the shopping-based downtown in the Western part of the city. To me, it feels like the Nexus for the entire city, and my time in Berlin would not be complete without it.

 

Me, gripping a railing far too hard

Victory Column on a morning jog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling helps us see new perspectives, literally and figuratively. You cannot understand a city without having a well-based cultural perspective. Likewise, the physical beauty of a city cannot be captured in a photo or a memory, it has to be lived and experienced. And I am incredibly lucky to have experienced this city.

Recap coming soon, until then.

Robert Babich

International Kids

Hello all, I have realized that I am horrible at keeping you wonderful readers updated so please spare me. WELL, this week is the last week of classes at Humboldt University and I can tell you that I have gained so much in only 4 short weeks. I am taking the International Economic Law course also another German Language class. I absolutely love my IEL course. One the first day I was very nervous because for once, I was the International student and I did not know what I was up against. But, all my nerves went away when everyone had to do introductions. Everyone in that class was from a different part of the world (not even over exaggerating, except for the students in the NU Berlin program already). There were students from the U.K., Greece, France, China, Brazil you name it. It was so funny because regardless of how far away we all are across the world, we still are able to build friendships and talk about pop culture and funny videos that went viral on social media. All of us wanted to know so much about each other’s culture and attaining this knowledge keep me very exposed to the real world. Our professor, Professor Hanno, is really passionate about the topic so he made every thing sound all interesting (I mean don’t get me wrong it is great to learn but sometimes having to learn case after case can get a little bit overwhelming). Anyways, I met a few great people and I am hoping that I can keep in contact with them after the program. As for the German language course, I am perfecting my basic skills and the class isn’t too hard. We were somewhat ahead because of the fun NU German course we had 4 weeks earlier (Shout out to Wiebke). The area around the school is great because it is right by Alexanderplatz, Hackescher Markt, and Anlegestelle Nikolaiviertel. I never end up going back to thehotel straight after class; I always end up somewhere else.

 

So, now to the really fun stuff. My Birthday passed a few days ago and I am officially 20 yay!!!!!!! I was pretty excited that I would get to spend my Birthday in Berlin. It also happened to land on a day where the program provides group dinners for us so I got to pick the place. We also went to a beach bar called Yaam. I cannot tell you how much I love that place. The food, music, and atmosphere is great. I am grateful that I was able to bond with other students on the trip because my Birthday was actually a success. I really have made some great friends. Speaking of that, Laura and I have surprisingly backed away from the ice cream fetish that we had. This is sad because I am almost certain that we have not visited every single ice cream shop in Berlin. We have a few more days left so this is the ultimate goal. The group also went swimming in Wannsee. It was so fun and I would definitely go again. I have also gotten the chance to visit more museums and check out some cool art and all that jazz. The paintings were really interesting and I am actually thinking about painting one of them that I have posted in this blog. My last class is on Thursday and I think Humboldt is arranging a little party for the students to say goodbye. Whooooo party!!! Welp, that’s it for now until my next blog… I promise it will be soon.

Kein Zeit!

Here we go, three weeks into the Humboldt University half of the course and I’m still falling in love with this city every morning—usually with my news in German, which I’m picking up much easier after our language courses.

Wow, so much has happened since my last update, here’s a short timeline:
We traveled to Hamburg for a weekend, about one week after the conclusion of the G20 Conference and the city still showed signs of the conference & accompanying events. The broken windows and graffiti did not distract from the city as a whole, but rather reminded me that German cities—not just Berlin—are hubs for global affairs and domestic debate for the Eurozone.

Shipping and commerce capital of the Eurozone

Hamburg Town Hall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After returning from Hamburg, we began classes at Humboldt University and met an entirely new cohort of students. The past three weeks have been filled with classes and events, such as tours to the Bundeskanzleramt where Chancellor Angela Merkel has her office, cabinet meetings, and offices for support staff.

Bundeskanzleramt: Don’t let the ominous clouds fool you, this is one of the nicest office buildings I’ve ever seen

Cabinet Room at the Bundeskanzleramt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That brings us to now—where I’m exploring Berlin on foot, on bike, and on an amazing public transportation system. Next time I visit this easily-traversable city I’ll be sure to buy a bike for the entirety of my stay: there are bike lanes everywhere! Another Northwestern student on the program, John, bought a bike at the beginning of the trip and is still using it. Despite repairs and a flat tire, when he resells the bike it will have ended up being cheaper than a rental.
Besides the beauty of downtown Berlin, there is just as much fun to be had away from the city. Schwimmbad Wannsee is a ~short~ 9 mile bike ride from our hotel (it’s a wide city), and the regal castles and palaces of Potsdam make a pleasant day trip for the casual explorer.

Schwimmbad Wannsee—and it has a waterslide!

Despite all that I’ve done and will do in our final week here (only seven days left?!?), I know there is too much to accomplish here in one week. I’ll try to make my list of regrets as short as possible, but that will serve as a to-do list if I get the chance to return to this inspiring city.

 

Bis Später,

Robert Babich

coffee and some light contemplation

Hello hello here we are with less than two weeks left of this summer in Berlin and I think I’m starting to get the whole typical summer-ending blues. Being in such a completely different place from what I am used to and initially knowing none of the language as well, I honestly was not really expecting to have become as attached as I have to this city. This summer has been a whole lot of things besides just an opportunity to take classes somewhere other than Evanston, and I think it may take me going back home and further processing it all in order to really relate all my impressions and experiences. But before then, I’m on a mission to savor my last few days in Berlin at my own pace–not trying to frantically rush in order to get every little thing done and see every last sight possible before leaving. Because at the end of the day, I’m really going to remember the slower moments rather than the hurried ones spent trying to run through every last museum exhibit or historical sight.

So the last few weeks have been pretty packed for me with classes and having two different NU friends come to visit me in Berlin from other summer study abroad programs within the span of a week. Honestly, it was really cool to actually feel like the expert as I explored my favorite spots again with people who really weren’t all that familiar with Berlin. Visiting places like Mauerpark, East Side Gallery, Kreuzberg, and even my favorite little gluten-free bakery/cafe right off the Eberswalder Straße U-Bahn stop, I felt less like a tourist and more like someone who knew their way around. That being said, living in Berlin for one summer hardly makes one a true Berliner, but I think it’s safe to say that I’ve found a rhythm to living here, and I’ll miss it when I’m gone.

showing my friend around my favorite spots in Berlin–this is one of my favorite views

cheesin at the East Side Gallery

ALSO PSA: I have found my absolute favorite little corner of Berlin ever ever ever, and I adore it so much that honestly if I could just pack it up and bring it with me back to the States I would. If you know me, you know that I have a #basic obsession with coffee shops and all things coffee-culture. Well, to all my fellow quality aesthetic coffee-shop lovers out there, I would like to let you all know that I have found perfection. Yesterday, I hoped on the U-Bahn to  check out a new coffee shop recommendation for an afternoon of class-reading, photo editing, and chilling (I only got to the last two oops). I got off at the Karl-Marx Straße station in Neukölln, headed down the street and around the corner till I found it, and I was obsessed at first sight. This absolutely gorgeous coffee spot doubles as an art gallery and creative space. The current exhibition shows beautifully stunning photography by exclusively female photographer’s and is titled “Girlz Who Shoot”. At the far end of the cafe also stands a small stage where live music and performances are held regularly in the evenings when the cafe transforms from a coffee shop/work-space into a super hip and chill bar. The entire spot has the classic vintage aesthetic really going for it, complete with hand-written chalkboard coffee menus and fresh wildflowers placed on little antique looking tables. Prachtwerk is definitely my far one of the prettiest little places I have ever seen, and you’d better believe that I’ll be back tomorrow. Lol this post just became an advertisement for Prachtwerk cafe and I’m not even sorry–catch me here during the next two weeks, soaking up my last few moments of this Berlin life! That’s all for now~~

my happy place

Berlin is so fabulous and gay!

Hey People!

It’s been some weeks that I came to Berlin and it’s been an exciting adventure! In this blog entry I am going to share with you my crazy experience with Berlin’s gay pride, or, as they call it “the Christopher Street day”. First of all, let me start with saying that since I came here I noticed Berlin was a very liberal city. Just look at these pictures, taken weeks before the pride.

People seem to be very supportive of the cause here!

On the pride day I woke up a bit late, but I still managed to join the parade at Wittenbergplatz, only a few hundreds of meters from the parade’s starting point. Pop music was blasting loud on the speakers and everyone was just carelessly dancing and drinking wine or beer. Everyone was having so much fun and the world seemed to be a better place, even just for a moment :). It was all very liberal, open and overwhelming. Indeed, it suddenly started to rain heavily and in the beginning all the people were like “yay, let’s dance in the rain, fun #yolo”… but 5 minutes later they were all “crying”, hiding from the rain under the roof of a grocery store, haha.  I was one of them. I was soaking wet as I was trying to use my wet phone (uselessly) a couple in their early 30s approached and offered to help me and dried my phone for me. We started talking and soon afterwards they invited me for a beer and asked me whether I wanted to join them for a party later that night. They even got me their extra tickets for free! People from Berlin are so nice and friendly. My new friends and I marched through the Tiergarten towards the final point that was the square in front of the Brandenburg gate. It wouldn’t be Berlin, if an event didn’t end up in a huge party with a lot of music and beer!

I have been enjoying myself so much so far! My Humboldt classes start soon so let’s see what Berlin has to offer me next! 🙂

Berlin truly is a paradise!

Those kind of posters were very common in Berlin – even one month after the pride!

Hallo Humboldt!

Hey hey coming at you live from officially the second half of this wild ride called study abroad! This week it really hit me that I’ve been in Berlin for over a month, and I was actually kinda impressed with the progress us NU kids have made. For the most part, I’ve gotten pretty good at tackling the public transportation here (minus that time yesterday when Alex and I took the wrong train back from Alexanderplatz and ended up 100 years away from the hotel with our arms completely full of very heavy groceries… just ignore that…), I’ve learned not to walk in the bike lanes lest I risk getting flattened by the packs of slightly intimidating bikers, and despite having a not-so-wonderful sense of direction, I kinda know my way around some of central Berlin pretty well too. Definitely would not call myself a real seasoned Berliner, but hey it’s pretty nice not to feel like such a helpless newbie anymore!

Also, this week began the new courses at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Humboldt University of Berlin), and I am PUMPED about it. On Monday we had orientation and a welcome session where we got to meet some of the other students participating in the summer program at Humboldt and also tour some of the campus and see where our classes would take place. As I wandered into the big meeting room with my name tag pasted to my chest and made a beeline for the free coffee table through the bunches of small-talking students, I got very strong “first day of school” vibes. “First day” scenarios are not always my favorite, with the cyclical repetition of answers to the typical name-major-college-hometown questions, but within the first few moments of arriving at the orientation I found myself getting actually pretty excited to get to know some of my new classmates/program-mates. It was fascinating to connect over areas of study or even familial ethnic background with students who lived across the globe from me and to learn what we had in common and in difference. I am also thrilled to be taking classes within the Humboldt campus because it’s in such a central location–literally a stone’s throw away from the Berliner Dom, around the corner from Alexanderplatz, and a stroll over from Hackescher Markt. Together with the river, bridges, museums, T.V. tower, and little shops and markets, it’s really the most Berlin-idyllic location and I am LIVING for it. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin is also one of Berlin’s oldest universities and is associated with 40 Nobel Prize winners and some brilliant lecturers, including Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, and Georg Hegel, so I’m a little bit starstruck about taking classes here myself.

I am enrolled in two courses for session II of the Humboldt summer program, a German language course and an Anthropology/Culture course titled “Interreligious and Intercultural Dilaogue in Germany; Interrogating Memory and Migration” (lil bit of a mouthful). I am miraculously not 100% lost in my new language class, despite not knowing a word of German before June (shoutout to my wonderful incredible amazing 101 session 1 teacher Wiebke you rock). And today I began my Interreligous and Intercultural Dialogue course. I’m interested to see how it plays out and what I learn through the course in the next few weeks

So that’s all from me for now! I’ll let you know how my classes turn out and about any cool new sites I get to visit. Catch ya later~~

views from across the bridge from the Humboldt Theology Dept. building where I take all my classes (the building with the red roof tiles)

B for Berlin!

I have officially made it through the first half of the summer abroad program in Berlin. I am just going to ramble about a bunch of things so stay with me here. So far, my experience has been amazing. It is so cool to be across the world and engaging in the German culture. The buildings are beautiful and everything looks so glorious. I LOVE DÖNER. For those of you that don’t know, Döner is a Turkish delight that is extremely popular in Germany. I could eat about 5 a day disregarding what it will do to my health, but at this point who cares. There are also tons of little bakeries that have bunch of pastries and coffee. I faithfully go to one everyday and get a different pastry each time which is fine because I deserve it! Anyways, we have been on a million different tours (I should have worn good walking shoes for some) and each one has taught me something new about Berlin. The most interesting part of Berlin is on the East. It is filled with young adults, artists, and has so much urban history it’s pretty cool. Now…the schoolwork is a little overwhelming especially when you have a busy schedule filled with tours, excursions, and essays due. The classes are pretty short and I had an amazing German teacher (shout out to Wiebke B. you the best). I am slowing learning how to shop in German grocery stores without help, order food, and ask for directions. I have somehow managed to complete everything with my best effort and still enjoy the perks of being in Berlin. We went to Postdam on a castles tour and let me tell you, castles are just….omg they are so pretty. The castles scream history and they are huge! Postdam is a charming and quaint city. It was nice to get out the city for a minute and enjoy other parts of Germany. Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and outdoor

 

Also…WHY OH WHY…do I have to pay for water in Germany? I caught off guard when I was eating in a restaurant and ordered a glass of water because they charged me for it. Lol I was in shock. I was like “wow”. Another also, you have to pay to use the restroom so I was a little depressed for like a week when I realized all of my small change that goes towards ice cream cones had to go towards using the bathroom. Lesson of the summer…don’t drink water and stay dehydrated so you don’t have to use the bathroom and can get ice cream. Yup, I live by this. We are about to start the Humboldt University classes tomorrow and I am very excited. Stay tuned for my next update!

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