Since arriving in Europe I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of self doubt. Although I have been met with kindness every time I make an effort to speak German and usually find ways to communicate with other people here, I cannot help but feel a lingering disconnect within these conversations.
It has been difficult to practice my German, since many people tend to respond in English regardless of my initial attempts. In fact, some places I have visited greet me in English before I even say hello. I still haven’t figured out if they do this out of politeness or annoyance, but I suppose it’s mostly just situational. Although, German is hard for me, the language itself hasn’t become the major concern for me; it’s exciting and new, and I’m not completely expected to speak well. The real struggle actually lies within my inability to communicate with those whom I’m “supposed” to be able to.
The other day I hit rock bottom, in terms of feeling defeated by language. After wandering around an unfamiliar neighborhood one evening, I decided to escape the unfamiliar streets into a Latin American bar I had passed earlier. Trying to work up my confidence, I entered the bar, prepared to ask my questions in German. However, my German ran out more quickly than expected, so when our conversation began to sink, the woman at the bar finally asked me if I spoke Spanish. I dread this question more than not knowing German or being asked if I speak English, so I replied hesitantly with a nod and a shake of my head. We ended the conversation in English.
Some background information: My mother is Chilean and I have grown up learning Spanish my whole life, but never really spoke it at home. Studying in Germany was actually quite shocking for my family, and somewhat of a disappointment to my mother, as everyone else in my family is fluent in Spanish.
Over the last few weeks, my inability to communicate in Spanish here has actually been one of the most difficult things for me to deal with. This may seem strange, considering the fact that I am living hundreds of miles away from the nearest Spanish speaking country. However, not only is my knowledge of the language diminishing the more I study German, my actual sense of identity has been in question since my arrival in Europe.
Although I don’t speak Spanish fluently, I have always identified strongly with my mother’s culture and family history. However, now more than ever, I find myself lost in a sea of sounds and undecipherable words. I have always felt insecure about language. However, constantly being reminded that what I am here is different than what I am at home has been difficult. Losing what has been engrained in me for so long has been the hardest thing to get used to during this slow transition into something so distinctively different.
The most difficult, yet resonant part of the text for me lies within Flaubert’s idea of official nationality versus finding parts of the self in other places. Since coming here, I have questioned parts of myself have felt comfortable for many years, almost daily. Being in Berlin and learning about new cultures and society, however, I hope to discover more about myself, through new and sometimes intimidating facets, including language.
Sometimes being surrounded by so many new faces can be the most frightening and tiring thing in the world. However, sometimes it’s the familiar ones that wear you out the most.
Over the past week and a half I have been unavoidably traveling within NYU packs. Berlin is roughly 341 square miles, yet I’ve found it to be more difficult here, than in Manhattan (a measly fraction of that number), to lose myself.
Maybe my inability to let go has been bred by my hopeless attempts to comprehend the city’s extensive and sometimes unconventional layout. However, I think that before anyone can truly navigate any city, they must understand why certain things exist as they do. Berlin is actually a masterpiece of seven different towns and about 20 different villages that eventually grew together over the course of many centuries. I say this not to boast my historical knowledge (I actually have very little to contribute in that department), but rather, to remind myself that this city is hard to know.
Wandering around, you probably wouldn’t guess that today’s Berlin grew from royal palaces and Parisian influences though. Due to heavy destruction of many of its original infrastructure during World War II, most of these places have been lost, leaving behind large voids and confusing temporal divides between current structures – the old, encompassed by an ocean of new.
The other night I finally decided to “lose” myself within the waters. After completing some course reading, I walked away from all of the little comforts that I had finally found on Humbolt University’s (NYUB’s host university) buzzing campus. As I wandered aimlessly past semi-familiar Bahn stations and into the dim underside of Museum Island, I finally felt the jolt of energy I had been missing for weeks. I walked along the quiet street and braced myself as my feet began to numb from the cold. I attempted to step between the falling snow, stopping only to look through obscured shop windows and cafés. I reveled in pause underneath a passing train just to feel the familiarity of its movements and began again along my aimless course. As I crossed the River Spree and stopped parallel to the Berliner Dom, I noticed a few others walking in solitude beside me – all of us taking in the city’s nocturnal beauty together, yet alone. Berlin is quiet at night, but its dim glow is strangely warm and comforting.
I will probably never be able to cover all of those 341 square miles in just one semester, probably not even within one lifetime. However, as Walter Benjamin puts it, to not try would be uninteresting, even banal. Since losing one’s self is supposedly a conscious choice (Solnit), I want to make sure I lose myself at least once everyday from here on out.
Hello all! My name is Nicole Schenkman. I am from Morristown, New Jersey and am a junior in Gallatin. I’ll just quickly say that my concentration has recently developed into a loose combination of sociology, psychology, and the construction of environments.
To be perfectly honest, for the past few months, I had actually been wrestling with the idea of studying abroad at all. Having just settled into NYU a little over a year ago, as a transfer student, I have been hesitant to leave NYC and the friends who I never thought I would find there. However, after spending hours of my fall semester trying to come up with thoughtful rationalizations not to go, I decided that I could not come up with a legitimate rebuttal in favor of my fear. The future is pretty uncertain at this point in my life, as I am edging closer and closer to the end of my undergraduate career at Gallatin and still am struggling to piece together a point of focus within my studies. However, this realization has only pushed me further beyond my comforts and will hopefully continue empowering me in the face of some of my biggest fears that lie ahead.
Before arriving in Berlin, I actually spent two weeks visiting family in Italy, so I guess you could say that this is really where my journey began. Since this was my first time traveling overseas alone, I was beyond terrified and definitely actively dreading every little thing that could go wrong between home and Milan, Milan and Pescara, so on and so forth. Much like J.K. Huysmans’s Duc des Esseintes, I quickly found myself craving experiences of these places, but through the protection of a screen or the pages in a book. I wanted reassurance from the familiar. I was carrying the “lassitude” of fear on my back and on my front, from point to point, unwilling to let go and really wander off the map that had been provided for me all this time.
Although I am not fully settled into my routine here in Berlin, I have found that the smaller moments are where I truly can feel relaxed. It is within the “transient spaces of travel” that I can exit myself within the present and simply wander around my own mind, undisturbed by the chatter of unfamiliar voices and spaces. Similar to Baudelaire’s conception of experiences away from home, I have found joy within the complexity of travel and literal the physical triumph of arriving here.
Upon reading “On Travelling Places” I suddenly was taken back to a recent memory of myself riding the train from Frankfurt to Berlin alone. Around the third hour of my four-hour ride; I was beginning to, once again, feel the pangs of doubt within me; first the woman sitting next to me stole my window seat, so I had no views of outside to occupy my time, and second, I was finally completely on my own, arriving to no one’s greeting. To calm me, I began listening to a podcast about traveling within one’s self and strangely enough they began referencing Baudelaire’s fascination with the clouds. It was in this moment that I think the serenity of travel really clicked for me because even though I couldn’t see them from my seat, I imagined how they looked here, over the dreary landscapes, and how they were at home on the farm, and how they would be when I arrived in Berlin.