During the spring 2019 semester, I spent four months in Berlin, Germany, studying politics and journalism.
The experience of studying abroad is hard to write about. Every time I think about it, I’m full of longing for the place that became my second home, but I also have no clue how to shrink down four monumental months of my life into 400 words. It feels like trying to wrangle a lion into a box, and then tie it with a pretty bow.
When reflecting on 16 weeks living in Europe, you think the picture-perfect moments are the ones you’d love the best: the Trevi Fountain coin toss or the sunset in Prague. Trust me, there are plenty of those moments. Bike riding through Budapest, drinking bier in Berlin and art museums in Vienna are a few more, but none of those are the real beauty of studying abroad.
Somehow, the best memories are of sleeping on the airport floor because you went to a club before your 6 a.m. flight. It’s remembering how we passed the same sickness around our program for four months. It’s getting a text from your mom reminding you that you have $9 in your account. It’s falling in love with a city, then having to leave.
Studying abroad is a lot more than traveling to pretty places and studying for tests, even though those things happen, a lot. It’s knowing no one in a strange city and finding out who you really are in the process. It’s experiencing other cultures and sharing your own. It’s a four-month-long exciting, thrilling and breathtaking test of everything you’ve ever known.
Berlin is not for the faint of heart. It’s a city that’s seen incredible evil, was literally broken in half and has since struggled to its feet. However, Berlin’s troubled past does nothing to make it any less magical or enchanting.
French politician Jack Lang once said, “Paris is always Paris, and Berlin is never Berlin.” The city is constantly changing and transforming and thrives as a playground for artists, writers and musicians. While it’s not romantically beautiful like Prague—and your class field trips are to concentration camps and not vineyards—its beauty is in its wild heart. And I miss it everyday.
In writing this, I don’t mean to say that everyone should study abroad. It’s not for everyone, and I won’t sugarcoat it. Sometimes it’s scary, you’ll get lonely, and even the most independent people get homesick. However, I will say the risk is worth it. Studying abroad is life-changing and wonderful, yet somehow heartbreaking. But only in the best way.