Most of you have probably experienced the delights of our modern society: the world is like an open book, every place you visit bringing you one page closer to understanding the plot. I can barely imagine what life would be like without low-fare airlines. The ability to leave the nest and find a little piece of adventure elsewhere gives us the freedom we desire.
Needless to say, a period spent abroad can have a big impact on you as a person. International friends, independence and a different way of living: all of this teaches you about life and what you can expect from it. I had the chance to participate in an exchange programme myself. Although I was quite independent already, it made me tougher and I couldn’t be happier about the city I’d chosen: Berlin.
Because of the popularity and reputation of the city, I had heard many things about it before arriving. It is the capital of techno, how the West and East are so different, how people dress in all-black clothing. But Berlin isn’t merely it’s reputation. It is a vibrant city with a rich history and myriad interesting museums. Although it is a commonly known stereotype that Germans are rather strict and distant, that does not seem to apply to this city. Instead, Berlin radiates a feeling of openness. Citizens of Berlin walk around holding a beer, often on the public transport – which is very well organised and punctual by the way. On the trains, trams or underground it was often not German you could hear people speaking. All nationalities can be found in this flagship of tolerance. They call people who were born and raised in Berlin ‘Ur-Berliner’, or ‘original citizen of Berlin’. I have only stumbled upon a few during my stay.
At first, I was slightly intimidated by the size of the city. Okay that is a lie – I was very intimidated. I’m not used to taking public transport on a daily basis, especially the underground or the tram. To calm my nerves a little bit, I even bought this pink fidget spinner for one euro – you know, the small plastic toy that keeps spinning. After a week, I no longer needed it. I felt the city embrace me and fears of things such as crossing it melted into my past. A past which I may not have uncovered had I never taken the leap and lived there in the first place.
Even after living there for six months, it felt like I hadn’t seen even half of the city. Most of my time I spent hanging out with friends, exploring the elaborate rave scene and traveling to cities easily accessible from Berlin. I had a strong preference for Poland: Gdansk and Warsaw were the destination for my first solo international trip ever, even though I could barely say thank you or hello in Polish. I somehow felt quite at ease walking around by myself, a new found sense of courage and freedom took root in my psyche. At times it was overwhelming. Although it could have been delirium from lack of sleep. Low cost options include overnight buses which leave one open to loud breathing, bumpy roads and a rigid upright nights rest.
All in all it was a fascinating experience. Being surrounded by unfamiliar cultures and unintelligible words, you discover new parts of the world – and yourself. The decisions we make now can set in motion an accumulation of coincidences which will determine a big part of our life. Even the smallest things, like choosing to stay a minute longer at a café – or exactly the opposite, to leave quite early – can lead to beautiful and life enriching encounters. More than once I decided to stay in a club all by myself after my friends had gone back to the dormitory, and I met such interesting people from all over the world by doing so.
Not everyone will have a chance to leave their home country and study abroad. I felt overwhelmed by my opportunity and taking it was one of the best things I have done for myself. Saying goodbye to Berlin felt like a break-up. One that might take a lifetime to get over. A month and a half later and I have already been back. Before this, I would never have thought that it was possible to fall in love with brick walls, grey corridors, and graffiti sprayed bridges. The juxtaposition of bright new buildings and derelict ones or a street full of twenty kebab shops. In the end, Berlin is more than a vast and varied conglomeration. It’s very streets exude the vibrance and openness I felt upon arrival. I only came to understand and know this feeling even better. Somehow, it was impossible not to love.