Cultural Competence in Berlin

I cannot believe three full weeks of our internships are now complete. It is always astonishing to me how fast time flies while abroad.

On Tuesday this week, several of us were given a day off of work to help with a volunteering project to clean up trash in the Tegel Forest. I have been looking to get involved with volunteering opportunities here in Berlin as this has been an important part of my life at home. So I was glad to be able to take part in such an event, and with my peers! Luckily we finished up early afternoon that day and we able to seize the rest of the beautiful, hot, sunny day in Berlin. We headed to Badaschiff, which is a pool and bar situated right on the river in East Berlin. It was a very relaxing evening to our productive day!

I’ve been working to acclimate myself more and more each day into my work office environment. I think the biggest barriers to feeling completely comfortable around my coworkers aren’t necessarily cultural, but more language based as well as personal. The language barrier is something I’m continuously working to get accustomed to with each day that passes. Because I am also an innately introverted soul, even at home I sometimes struggle to open up in professional settings, and that’s with no language barrier. However, after having gotten lunch and drinks with some coworkers a couple of times now, I think I am starting to set into a groove of pushing myself to interact more in a confident way. Despite common perception, I have found German work culture to be both focused, intensive, and driven while at the same time relaxed and personable. My coworkers are very constructive and positive when it comes to criticizing one another.

After a hectic night on Friday, planning for a weekend getaway to Geneva with my friend currently interning abroad in Lisbon, Portugal, we both ended up missing our early morning flights. Saturday was overall a stressful day of navigating lots of uncertainty and stress. Having quite a bit of travel experience, I feel I handled the day maturely. I quickly booked a train ticket for myself and proceeded to sit on trains for the next 10 hours. To my pleasant surprise, the train ride happened to be absolutely gorgeous. I had amazing views of several German cities and the beautiful greenery of the countryside. Then driving through Switzerland was stunning, as I got incredible views of the Alps and mountain ranges. The ride really allowed me time to reflect and I knew this stressful, anxious experience would be a memory for the future. I finally arrived in Geneva and met my friend shortly after. Though the weather wasn’t perfectly on our side given the rain and clouds, we explored all day on Sunday. It’s such a beautiful town and even with the stress in getting there, I’m so glad we both decided to still come. While there we even got the chance to meet some locals as well as fellow Americans. After a little more exploring on Monday morning, we made our way back to the airport and parted ways.

I think German culture as a whole is very different from culture within Berlin. I don’t have enough experiences in other parts of Germany to consider judgements on the whole country’s culture. But I can offer my own perceptions of Berlin having lived here now for four weeks. I think Berlin, as a major European metropolis, is a fairly liberal and modern thinking city. In this respect I think it has been quite easy and exciting to adapt to. The real barrier culturally for me, has been the linguistic difference. Communication is key for cultural understanding so being constantly aware of that has been a motivating challenge. Given that I work in a very young, start-up centric building with shared and collaborative work spaces, I’d say the perception of German culture as hard-stanced and strict hasn’t really lived up for me. However, I have appreciated differences in the manner and way in which people (both in professional and local, casual settings) interact with one another. I look forward to learning more nuances of the German culture.