When I imagined studying abroad in the past, I was always so excited for the opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture, surround myself with a new group of people, and discover more about myself. While all three of these things have happened and are in practice, I am not experiencing them to the extent that I had hoped. That is not to say that I am not having an amazing time in Berlin — I just do not think I am as fully immersed in German culture and Berlin city life as I would like to be.
NYU Berlin (and likely most other NYU global sites) creates a tight-knit, comfortable, and supportive community for its students. All of us students are in one, small residence hall, we study together in the limited number of rooms in the Academic Center, and we attend NYU-sponsored events together. The more time we spend together, the closer we get, and the amount of time we spend outside of NYU-related activities increases. We explore the city together, we go out at night together, and we plan trips to other cities and countries together. There is no immediate need to step outside of this newly-found comfort zone and meet non-NYU people or to put oneself in situations in which only German is spoken, etc. This is something that I don’t love about NYU’s study abroad sites. I often feel like I am missing out on opportunities to experience life as a Berliner or to meet people native to the city.
However, coming to Berlin without the security provided by NYU Berlin and the friends I have made through the program would not necessarily give me the type of experience I want. Germans and even non-Germans who have been living in Berlin for awhile create bubbles around themselves that often make them appear unapproachable or unfriendly. It is rare that I will sense a prime opportunity to go up to someone on the street here and introduce myself — something that I feel I can often do in New York. As I bop around enclosed in my NYU Berlin bubble, other Berlin residents are doing the same from within the bubbles they have constructed for themselves. I rarely find these two bubbles colliding in any substantial way. I have had many friendly interactions with Germans in the context of purchasing things or ordering at a restaurant, however, no genuine, long-lasting bonds have been formed.
I have found, however, that one can enter a new type of bubble in Berlin in which all bets are off. I’m sure I have written about this before, but Berlin’s club scene provides a space unlike any other in which one can either experience the space in isolation or speak to anyone and everyone, dancing and having interesting conversations with strangers. Going out in Berlin is one way that I feel I can get a real taste of what it is like to live in Berlin, beyond what NYU Berlin has shown me. I have been trying to determine what it is about nightlife here that allows it to transcend the reserved boundaries of social interactions amongst Germans. What makes this bubble breachable? While I am still searching for the answer to that, I am so happy that there are spaces — even beyond nightlife — in which bubbles can be popped.
While my study abroad experience has not been a process of complete immersion, it is leaving me wanting more. I will hopefully be able to come back to Berlin in the future and be challenged without my NYU security blanket. If I have no bubble of my own to retreat back into, perhaps I will be forced to pop other people’s bubbles, entering into stronger relationships with them and creating a new bubble for myself that can I can always step outside of.