Halfway…Already?

Writing this week’s blog post is so bittersweet because it made me realize that I am halfway through my internship! Living in Berlin for a month has given me so many exciting opportunities and new experiences, but I know this next month will fly by even faster. One thing I love about living in Berlin is its proximity to other European countries. This past weekend I was fortunate enough to travel to Croatia – somewhere I’d never imagined myself going! I knew nearly nothing about the country and wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was very pleasantly surprised. We went to Dubrovnik, which is right along the coast. It is so beautiful and has such a variety of attractions. The beaches are stunning, and the water is crystal clear. Near the shore is the historical Old Town with many shops and restaurants (and lots of gelato stands!), as well as the famous city walls that were built in the 13th century. It amazed me that a structure that old could be in such great condition eight centuries later! After seeing how much Croatia has to offer, I wonder why I’ve never met anyone who has been there before – especially since Game of Thrones shot a lot of scenes there. I definitely hope to return to Dubrovnik one day!

In the past month, this program has given me the opportunity to develop my sense of independence. While I have been technically living on my own at Pitt, it is very different living and working in a European city. There is definitely a level of comfort living at a university that does not exist living abroad. I feel that living in an apartment in Pittsburgh has taught me some aspects of what it is like to live independently as an adult, but living in Berlin has definitely augmented that experience. It has not been too difficult to adapt, but I know I have to be more alert and pay greater attention to make sure that I am doing things correctly – especially when it comes to using Berlin’s extensive transportation system.

I think my time at Pitt has prepared me well for this internship program in both professional and personal senses. Last year, I had several friends from Germany studying at Pitt as part of an exchange program. I was able to learn a lot about German culture from them and also get some ideas about fun ways to spend the weekend in Berlin. We also got to talk about stereotypes about Germans, so I had a better idea of what to expect when coming here. When I got accepted to the IIP, they were able to give me some information about the workplace environment in Germany.

Most of all, I feel that my previous study abroad experience through Pitt prepared me well for this internship program. Last summer, I participated in the Pitt in Greece program. That program taught me a lot about a) how to travel internationally, b) how to understand European culture, and c) how to adjust to that completely different culture. When I went to Greece, I had no idea what to expect in any of those aspects. It was very enlightening to see how people in another part of the world live and to be able to engage in that lifestyle for a time. This summer, I had a better idea of what to expect, even though I had never been to Berlin specifically before. I was mentally prepared for the culture shock I might experience and ready to be able to adapt to a very new and complex environment. I was also able to pack more appropriately, which is crucial on a two-month trip!

However, this does not in any way mean I was completely prepared for the experiences I have had in Berlin. There have been times when I have missed aspects of American culture that are familiar or convenient. Additionally, I feel that unpacking the work environment here has been a big adjustment – but I don’t think that is something I could really ever be prepared for until experiencing it firsthand. I think the best way to approach it is to accept the differences and be brave. If I shy away, I will never grow to feel comfortable in it. It might be difficult at first, but I know that going out of my way to engage with my coworkers and ask for responsibility will pay off in the end.

I’m so thankful for an amazing first month in Berlin. Here’s to another great 30 days!

Kayla