Expectations and Reality

This being my third study abroad program, I have come to learn the importance of balancing the high of being abroad and being overstimulated with all the experiences and activities going on and meeting this with time to rest, think, reflect, and simply take care of mental, physical, and emotional health. The longer the time abroad, the important this becomes. Having this be the midpoint of the program, I am becoming more and more aware of this as the time is flying by. Reflection for me is key. Taking time to think about every experience, process it, and learn from it is something I try to do everyday before falling asleep. Because of how short the time living abroad truly is, I want to glean from all experiences both work-related and life-revolving in general.

After work on Wednesday, several of us headed over to the Intrax office to meet Britta, our liaison, and her colleagues for pizza to discuss progress of the program and generally how we each feel our internships are going. It was nice to hear from everyone and glean from how their experiences have been so far.

On Thursday after work, we enjoyed a nice evening out in Kreuzberg for dinner and drinks. We discussed plans for the weekend, as we were all looking forward to being together, home in Berlin, and not traveling for the weekend. We took advantage of the beautiful weather in Berlin this past weekend; we spent most of the day on Saturday at Badeschiff, the pool situated on the river in the east side of the city. This was my second time there, and again it was a really fun and relaxing day. On Sunday around noon, we walked over to Thai Park for some delicious authentic street Thai food. After sitting on the grass for a while, enjoying our meals and each other’s company, a few of us headed over to Mauerpark. There we walked through a large flee market, picking up some souvenirs for ourselves as well as family and friends back at home. After spending several hours there, we explored the surrounding neighborhood before making our way to the GDR museum in Berlin Mitte. Berlin’s history museums are some of the best in the world. As a history major, I am fascinated by museum studies, how countries interpret and share collective memories, and how museum designs can really influence a visitor’s takeaway. 

After finally arriving home after an eventful, productive, and fun day of exploring our home town, I called my parents and wished my dad a happy father’s day. It was really nice to connect with them, share some of my experiences, and just catch up. I have found this balance of living fully in the moment and also being connected to home and family sometimes difficult while living abroad. Besides the time difference, it becomes hard to find time to connect when both parties are busy having experiences with the other not around. Regardless, I am thankful for the conversations that leave me feeling reconnected to them. 

In feel my experiences at Pitt have generally helped me contextualize and navigate certain experiences here. Certainly, being a History major and having deeply studied this region of Europe for years now has prepared me for observing the cultural resonance of collective memories. My senior thesis advisor is also natively from Germany, so I have learned a lot just in talking with him. Obviously, everything you learn in a classroom setting cannot always be directly applied to real life experiences. But I believe my studies of Germany and Europe as a whole have given me deep historical context for understanding Berlin’s past. 

In another light, my experiences at Pitt haven’t necessarily prepared me for all the everyday experiences I’ve had and will have just from living in a foreign city. The cultural differences and daily interactions with life in Berlin as compared to Pittsburgh are quite dissimilar. But in this sense, I continue to use my skill sets gained from past study abroad and travel experiences to navigate this uncertainty. I also feel that the criticalness of self-dependency while living abroad isn’t quite emphasized enough at Pitt. Being able to fully care for oneself, have personal best interest at heart (mental, physical, and emotional health for instance), and take responsibility for one’s own actions–all while completing a full-time internship–is a substantial and honorable feat for maturing university students. I think most of the life experiences associated with living abroad, outside the professional, work setting, are left for us to navigate. I feel strongly that making independent choices are a huge part of the learning process in growing to be more a self-reliant and responsible person.