Following an unfortunate series of flight cancellations, conversations with airline customer service, and an overnight transatlantic flight next to a rather gregarious fellow American, I arrived in Berlin exhausted but undiscouraged for my first experience outside the United States. Today now marks my first week out of thirteen to be spent here in Germany. For the first four weeks, I am living with a host family in Karow, which is a small neighborhood in northeastern Berlin, and taking an intensive German language course at the Carl Duisberg Center. After the language course, I will then spend the remainder of my summer in the western German city of Düren, where I will work with the Düren District Administration on the education and integration of migrants.
Up until a week ago, I had rarely traveled too far from Michigan and never outside of the United States, although I had been searching for an opportunity to go abroad since I came to the University of Michigan. Over the course of the last year, various discussions with a mentor and other Michigan students led me to change my major to International Studies and to apply for internships in Germany. Fortunately, I was able to secure such a summer internship placement with the government offices in Düren which will allow me a great opportunity to improve my German and to gain experience living and working in an international setting. Even though I think that my language course and my internship will be a great opportunity to explore some issues that are really relevant to Germany and to my major, I do not think that my time will be without challenges. In the last week alone, I have had several language based issues ranging from a failure to understand the explanation for a surprise S-Bahn delay to attempting to talk to my host family about a squirrel in the Tiergarten, but accidentally using the word for unicorn, much to our shared confusion. I am not certain, but I expect that language will be a more substantial issue once I begin my internship in Düren.
Even if I were to come away with nothing else from my time in Germany, I think that I learned an important lesson just from my first few days of what it must be like for someone to move to a new nation where everything is so unfamiliar and a concrete language barrier exists. At times it can be pretty intimidating not knowing where to go, being unable to effectively converse with others, or misunderstanding what might be going on around you. If even just a little bit, I think that it has helped me to understand what it must be like for all the people in the world who migrate to new places for work or simply to get away from something. It must take a certain type of courage and determination to make such a serious move and to try to integrate, and especially so if one is alone and does not have a firm grasp of the local language. I don’t think that I can begin to imagine how much more daunting it must be when you might stand out in your new country or are looked down upon by the your new neighbors. It is certainly a perspective that I have never truly considered too much when I have encountered immigrants in America. Certainly something to think about.