Final Post – a Reflection #9

Today, I am reflecting on how I have grown/how my perspective has changed over the course of the internship.

Over the course of the past two months working at the Estrel Berlin, I have had the opportunity to gain a ton of hands-on experience working in the hospitality business. I could write an entire additional blog just about my personal growth through that. But what I feel has most contributed to my change in perspective has less to do with the business skills I learned from work, and more to do with small, everyday interactions I’ve had while running errands around Berlin – something I did not expect to be the case.

The experience of living in a foreign city with a language and culture different from your own is quite a humbling experience. This is something that I was expecting going into this internship, but I was caught off-guard by just how big of a role this played in everyday life. I come from a pretty diverse town in the US where multiple languages are spoken/people come from all different cultural backgrounds, so the concept of linguistic and cultural privelege were ideas that were very much discussed growing up. And now that I have spent the past two months navigating a foreign language and culture, I feel that I have more of a personal understanding as to how challenging it can be to be a minority in this way.

No matter how much you practice a second language, you are going to make mistakes – especially when it comes to navigating situations that can’t be found in the classroom. Something that really stood out to me was that, in the part of Berlin where I stayed, most people I encountered just assumed that German was my first language (which I mean makes sense, because we were in Germany). If I made an obvious language mistake during the conversation, they might realize that German wasn’t my first language and be a little bit more forgiving. But if it was just a quick exchange, like at the grocery store checkout for example, and I took just a bit longer than is normal to figure out the right amount of change, I could tell that the other person was sometimes judging my intelligence. Being in these situations, I realized that I have probably made similar, incorrect snap judgements about people in America. When I’m in Ann Arbor, I just kind of assume that the people I interact with in public also speak English as a first language. While this is usually the case, living in Germany for the past few months has made me think a lot more about how it may not always be obvious when someone isn’t speaking in their native language, and that if I continue to jump to the conclusion that I’m speaking with another native English speaker, I might be missing out on the big picture and misinterpreting certain situations.

Another thing that really struck me was that I had totally underestimated how challenging it can be to adjust to even very small differences in cultural customs and expectations of daily life. I had been to Germany before, so I had a little experience with some of the differences between German and American culture, but there were still definitely things that threw me off. For example, by American standards, I am considered an extremely clean person. I knew that German culture emphasized cleanliness, and I thought that I would fit right in and not have to adjust too many habits because this is how I am accustomed to living. But when I first moved into my apartment, I realized after a week or so, that, compared to my roommates, I was considered a bit of a slob because I wasn’t sweeping, mopping and vaccuuming my room every week, washing the inside and outside of my window with windex if it hadn’t rained for a while, or using soap and water to wash and wipe down my shelf in the refrigerator when buying new groceries. It was a strange experience being the odd one out, and it was an especially strange experience realizing that even if my behaviors remain the same, depending on where I am, my perceived personality (in this case, neat and orderly vs. unkempt and dirty) can change even if I don’t.

I have absolutely loved interning at the Estrel Berlin and having the opportunity to live abroad for the last couple of months, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to both learn so much from my work and just by going about daily life, even if navigating linguistic and cultural differences can be a bit difficult at times. I also realize that, as a college student as part of an established program, I have quick access to help and resources when I have trouble figuring out new procedures relating to being in another country, whereas others do not have so much of a safety net or may have higher stakes relating to their well-being and success. In terms of how I have grown/how my perspective has changed over the course of my internship, I would say that the biggest takeaway for me has been to think more about my relation to the language and culture of the place in which I live, as well as the relations of those around me to the environment in which we are all living, and to realize that this is something I should never stop thinking about as I go about my interactions in everyday life (no matter where I am).

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