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Being Comfortable with Feeling Uncomfortable

When looking at study abroad programs during the Fall, I was conflicted as to what program I should apply for. Two summers ago, I participated in the GESI program in the Dominican Republic. I chose that program because I was already proficient in Spanish and I was interested in the different projects I had the potential to work on. This time, I wanted to do something completely different. I decided I wanted to do a program in a country I had never been to and with a language I had never learned. I knew it would be challenging, but I was up for it. 6 weeks later, I can definitely say I am being challenged. Before this trip, I never knew what it was like to be in a country where I didn’t speak or understand the language. I didn’t know what it was like to be in a timezone that was seven hours ahead of my family. When I arrived in Berlin, I just didn’t know what to expect at all. I was excited for the new possibilities, but extremely nervous as well.

Many aspects of this trip have made me uncomfortable—from the stares of Berliners when they see I am not from there, to traveling within the city and not understanding what the speaker on the train is actually saying, to seeing non-Black individuals with box braids and (dread)locks (traditionally African/African-American hairstyles). My salient identities as a black, American, female have made me stick out in ways that are a lot different in comparison to when I am back home. This discomfort isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. It has pushed me to learn German at a speed way faster than if I were just taking a class at Northwestern. It has pushed me to ask for help when I needed it, and to not be afraid to admit when I am confused, lost, and/or uncomfortable. And lastly, it has pushed me to start being comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Six weeks isn’t really a long time in the grand scheme of things—its shorter than a normal quarter at Northwestern, but I feel like I have learned way more about myself and the world, than in any 10 week period in Evanston.

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