After being in Berlin for over three weeks, I feel differently than I expected. I was expecting to have a moment of extreme culture shock – some moment of revelation or confusion. But that hasn’t happened yet, and I’m not sure if it will. Overall, Berlin has been much more similar to the U.S. than I expected. Most of the locals I have talked to have described Berlin as a very diverse and heterogenous city. You can feel influences from many different cultures in this city. This is especially true when you consider the popular food and restaurants in the areas where I work and live. On my commute to work or when walking around the city, I see a lot of Asian, Italian, and Middle Eastern restaurants. There are also a lot of American chain restaurants. I think the biggest shock to me so far is that there is not nearly as much German food as I expected! While I was looking forward to trying authentic German dishes, I really haven’t had the opportunity like I thought I would. There are also many American clothing stores in the area where we are staying. When I see this, it feels less like I am in a foreign country and more like I’m at home!
However, I know that Berlin is very different from the rest of Germany. It is definitely the most globalized city and has that sort of “melting pot” feel that is inherently characteristic of the United States. I think if I was studying abroad in a different part of Germany, I would feel very differently. That is the reason I want to travel to several other cities or towns across Germany. I want to be able to compare how smaller cities in Germany compare to Berlin as well as to the U.S. This travel would probably cause me to feel some more “culture shock” than I do here in Berlin.
This past weekend I visited Hamburg, and it was definitely very different from Berlin. The city was quieter and felt more relaxed. We were walking around on a Saturday at noon, and there was hardly anybody around! I would have expected that to be a very busy time in the city. It wasn’t until a few hours later that we started to see more crowds and traffic. It was clearly less “tourist-y,” so it felt like a more authentic German experience.
Although it may seem unlikely, I feel that the most difficult adjustments I have had to make are at work. I am not used to the environment, especially how quiet the office is. The office space is a large open room with groups of desks facing each other. The space itself has a very collaborative feel, but people really do not speak much. Most of the employees put headphones in and listen to music while they work for at least part of the day. I usually listen to music too, but when I take my headphones out, I’m surprised every time at how silent a room of 15 people can be. I sit right next to my supervisor, but we rarely speak. He will send me messages via the company’s online messaging platform all day, but we only talk out loud if the issue is too complicated to explain in a message. In all of the previous places I have worked, the environment was very noisy and interactive, so working quiet alone has been a very unique experience.
Receiving feedback on projects and assignments is also very different than in America. Luckily, I knew what to expect, but it still has not been easy to adjust. In the U.S., people tend to be hesitant to give negative feedback. When they do, they buffer it with compliments or a positive comment. Feedback in German culture is much more blunt, as is communication in general. Even though it sometimes hurts to not receive positive feedback, it is just the culture. I have come to appreciate when I get neutral feedback because I know that it means I did something well.
The last aspect of my internship that surprised me was the lunch breaks. In all of my previous jobs, breaks were short, and employees would usually eat a quick lunch by themselves. Here, people spend a whole hour taking their lunch breaks, and oftentimes they go out to a restaurant together. It is a very social hour for everyone in the office. This has been a good way for me to get to know the employees and learn about Berlin.
Monday is a holiday and we don’t have work, so I am going to Croatia for the weekend! I’ve heard it’s very beautiful — I’m so excited to see it in real life!
Until next time,