Changing My Idea of Success

It has been an eventful last full week, and it has dawned on me that my experience in Berlin is ending soon. Although I am excited to be home and to have many reverse culture shocks that I have heard so much about, I also will be sad to leave and say goodbye to a city I enjoyed living in very much. This past week I made a plan to go out and see many things that I still have not had time to see, whether it be parks or monuments. Yesterday I went to see Kornerpark which was the most amazing park I have ever been to. It was like a summer oasis equipped with everything needed for a relaxing time; music, food, and cool looking fountains. I went on my own and observed everyone enjoying the weather and festivities. It was definitely a moment I will look back on in a positive light. In addition, on a more solemn note, I said goodbye to a few friends I met in the other group of interns from different schools which was hard because we never know if we’ll connect in the future, and when that might be. That being said, we reflected on our time here and will keep in touch, always keeping the memories we made close to us. 

In terms of success, Germany has a slightly different definition than U.S. workplaces, but to be honest they are not that different. In my workplace, I feel like success is expected, and not congratulated. I am rarely congratulated by my supervisor, and instead met with a “not bad” or “that’s fine”. This was definitely something to get used to, but as I talked to other German people I realized these terms are actually good, and means that you are doing what is expected. Since I am used to being showered with compliments if I do something that I feel is outstanding, it felt underwhelming here at first. To make myself more successful, I knew I had to adjust to these expectations and always meet them whenever possible. It has led to me knowing that when I get what I consider to be an underwhelming review of my work, I am actually doing what is expected. Of course, it is also expected that I come on time and communicate sternly and quickly with my supervisor whenever needed. Keeping questions to a minimum is key, because my supervisor along with others I have worked with prefer less talking and more reading between the usually obvious lines. These strategies have helped me to be successful in my internship until now, and I will make sure to finish off the week strong keeping in mind many of these ideas. 

I would say an overarching difference that I have noticed is how success is talked about between the U.S. and Germany. In the U.S., it is generally a status symbol to be “successful” and people generally attach a monetary value to that. Success is usually measured by your income, size of your house, or car you drive. It seems as though this type of measure is not as popular within my circle here in Berlin. I talked to my supervisor here and he said that although many people do have that idea of success in Berlin, it is not as acceptable as a success metric. Instead, success is more measured through connection with community, family and friends. Having a rich home life that is abundant with those around you who value spending time and doing an array of different activities together seems to be more appreciated and related to success. I feel as though here success is more intangible, whereas in the U.S. it is a tangible thing that is more materialistic. I would say this is not true for everyone of course, but from what I have seen it is a general pattern. Learning to take on the German idea of success is definitely an important lesson from my time here. It will be important to keep this idea strong when returning back to a more materialistic culture, and hopefully using it to get closer to friends and family. Although Germans definitely take work seriously, their separation of work and life is much better. Once 5pm hits, it becomes time to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends, and forget about what might have been worrying beforehand. My supervisor has made sure to explain this philosophy to me whenever possible, and whenever I bring up work outside of work, he tells me to never bring it up past 5pm. I am grateful to the people who have taught me this lesson while abroad, and now the difficult part will be to maintain this idea while back home.

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