The bubble is way too real. I’ve experienced it all throughout high school, sticking to the comfort of its tiny population, and even at NYU, where I often find myself stuck in routines. I value consistency, but I realize I need to break out of the norm and push myself a bit harder.
The worst part is that I knew a bubble would form when I came abroad, and I still could not effectively avoid it. In some ways, the bubble is a positive force. It provides me with a home base network of friends who I feel comfortable with and care for very much. Studying abroad is an especially intense experience that allows for tight bonds to be made between those of us going simultaneously through the the same ups and downs. However, what is the point of studying abroad if you don’t experience the foreign people abroad.
It can be awkward to approach strangers and start conversation, but it’s the only way to meet people. Just as it is in New York, no one will hand you connections, you must forge them yourself. Not all of these conversations will necessarily be fruitful, but some will undoubtedly prove invaluable. Even if these conversations remain conversations in bars, coffee shops, stores, and never progress from there, these small connections in sum will be stories to look back on.
I think my best bet to prick the bubble is to start by moving outside of my neighborhood. Currently, I go to the same two supermarkets and stumble through awkward German phrases with clerks. The guys at Royal 44, the falafel place right by the academic center, have come to recognize me as a regular. Certain areas have become familiar and comfortable, and I’m no longer fearful of the public transportation system. I trust myself to navigate Berlin, but there are still many barriers to breaking through the bubble. For one, the city is rather spread out, thus it is far more convenient to stay in familiar areas that are near the dorms and the academic center. Secondly, the weather is a surprisingly powerful excuse for staying in. The long distances and the cold, wind and rain are discouraging, however these are mere excuses. There is also the natural tendency of Berliners to be rather reserved, which makes the idea of approaching strangers more uncomfortable. Personally, I’ve felt as though striking up conversation would be perceived as intrusive. Certainly it is easier said than done to overstep these constructed bounds. I have found it awkward at first to engage with locals, but the connections I have made thus far with people outside of my bubble are very valuable to me. I’m glad to have to write this post for I’m rather ashamed of how much of Berlin I have yet to see. I really do want to explore this city more, because I really love it here. I like the style, the people, the food, and the atmosphere, so it makes little sense that I have yet to experience more of it.
From now on, I will try to force myself to accept longer commutes and unpleasant weather and not let them keep me within the bubble. I have heard of (and found via social media) so many great restaurants that I keep meaning to try, yet I’ve only checked a handful off of my list. Perhaps the key is to being open to spontaneity and going in a group – it is way easier to motivate yourself to explore when you’ve already made binding plans with others.
Now I just have to take my own advice.