I’m only on week 3 of my IIP program in Berlin but I feel like I’ve learned so much already. One of my biggest takeaways from the first part of this experience is that living and working somewhere is very different from visiting as a tourist. I’ve traveled in the past to places with significant cultural differences such as Hong Kong, but I always felt like a true tourist. Sure I stayed there for almost 3 weeks but there was never a point where I felt like I fit in as a local. I stayed with my cousins who go to American and Canadian international schools, and my uncle who grew up in Canada, so I never really jumped in headfirst into Hong Kong culture. I just followed them around and didn’t have to worry about public transportation or the language barrier because they were always there to help me. Here in Berlin, I feel like I have jumped headfirst into the culture. I must commute 45 minutes across the city on my own every day, and I don’t have someone to translate by my side at all times. At first, it was tough, and at times it still is, but I’m slowly starting to become a Berliner. I especially feel like one when I see a group of people in public who have clearly just arrived.
My second takeaway is that the cultural differences are much more apparent than I thought they would be. This hit me right when I arrived in Frankfurt when I went to get my new boarding pass after missing my connection. Right when I started talking to the woman working at the desk it immediately hit me that I wasn’t in the US anymore. She was exactly how the Culture Smart book described the German people, but even though I knew what to expect it still kind of shocked me. It’s so much different when you experience a culture rather than just read about it. Even the little things took me by surprise like the way you checkout at a grocery store and the way bus drivers act and drive.
My third takeaway is that I need to get out more. During the school year, I tend to stay inside a lot and focus on my school-related work and activities. Here in Berlin, I’ve had such an incredible time seeing cool places and trying new things. Even on days I don’t have any plans, I just go for walks to see more of the city. Sometimes they end up being just relaxing walks but other times they lead to something spontaneous I never thought I would do. When I return to campus, I’m going to make more of an effort to get out of my room and enjoy what the city has to offer.