I have been recommending this study abroad site since my first week here. I honestly did not know very much about Berlin before I came here, however that was what I wanted out of my study abroad experience. I wanted to go somewhere where I would have to learn everything first-hand, rather than testing the validity of a city’s reputation. En route to Germany, I had a bit of a panic attack. I was sitting on the plane and halfway through the flight, I was struck with a string of thoughts and worries and concerns:
“Why am I coming to Berlin of all places? Not all of my classes are relevant to my major. The program is tiny, what if I do not meet anyone? What if I hate Berlin – I’ve never even been to Germany before! What am I doing???”
To calm myself down, I ran through my mental list of reasons why I was coming here in the first place. I felt better, but still anxious. I pulled out my phone and opened my Notes app. I wrote down exactly what I was feeling in that moment and then proceeded to comprise a list of goals that I wanted to work on in the coming months. Although some of these were simply “I want to learn LOTS of German!” or “I want to get off of my phone,” they were mostly rather personal goals.
This list kept me at base whenever I felt I was uncertain or down. I knew I might not accomplish everything on the list, but every time I looked back at it to check in, I realized I had made quite a bit of progress. To anyone studying abroad, I think making a cheesy list like I did can be incredibly helpful. It also serves as a good way to make yourself stop and reflect on what you have experienced after a given period of time that is likely going to be rather hectic.
In my opinion, the most important thing you can do when you travel anywhere is to keep an open mind. This idea is as cliché as it is for good reason. When you go anywhere new and unfamiliar, it is easy to let small interactions define your view of a place, in both a positive and negative light. However, after spending an extended period of time in that place, you start to realize that stereotypes are ephemeral and that it is super important not to ground an opinion or mentality in just one or two experiences. Berlin is a progressive city, but it is also not without its flaws. Of course I have both witnessed and experienced some negative interactions here, however it is impossible for them to outshine all of my other positive encounters in Berlin. I have seen so much and met so many amazing people. Still, I cannot help but wish that I had pushed myself to meet more Berliners earlier on in the semester. I realized that connecting with people and learning their perspectives is for me, one of the best ways to feel “fulfilled.” The NYU bubble is all too real, and I simply wish I would have popped it even earlier. After all, people are just people, and as it turns out, they are generally much more receptive to our attempts to make connections than we perhaps expect them to be.
I thought I would be traveling every other weekend, but the few times I did travel, I found myself longing for Berlin. In hindsight, I should have gone into this experience with the attitude that it was quite alright to stay in Berlin and get to know the city. Berlin is huge and it has a bit of everything for everyone. Yes, on the one hand it maintains its wild aura with its crazy nightlife and hardcore techno scene, however it can simultaneously be a pleasant, cozy place to live for families and angsty, young people alike. I came to Germany with few expectations, mostly just hopes, and I believe this was the best mentality I could have maintained. I have never felt forced to do things based on prior research, rather I have experienced things spontaneously. My best advice is to not put too much pressure on your study abroad experience, and to instead just be open and willing to meeting lots of new people and to exploring the city you will be living in. Walk around by yourself, remember to look up and around, and push yourself to venture into the city – even when facing a brutal Berlin winter! It will be worth it.