Ever since I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to study abroad in college.
The question always was, however, which country would I call my home for the few weeks I would be living and studying there?
Growing up, I’d always had an inherent love for Australia. The oceans, the outback, and the sunny seasons all seemed magical to me. There was the United Kingdom, as well – the castles of Scotland and the hustle and bustle of London, England were romanticized in my mind. I never imagined myself going to a country with a language barrier. Eventually, (and for the better!), I would find myself with an interest in Germany and its culture, and before I knew it, I had applied for a summer studying abroad in Berlin, Germany.
Though I had taken a last-minute semester German class at my home university, I was still worried about how I would be able to communicate in my new city. The culture would already be so different from my own, and in addition to getting accustomed to those differences, I would have to change how I would communicate, as well. Still, I was over-the-moon excited for the opportunity and pushed the nervousness to the back of my mind.
It wasn’t until I had just arrived in Berlin and was trying to order lunch that I realized I had begun to face my first test. I remember so vividly working with the other students on my program who also had a bit of German language learning experience to try to put together a few sentences as best as we could in order to get something to eat. The encounter eventually turned out okay, but I was suddenly filled with fear again. How was I going to survive nine weeks in a country where I couldn’t speak enough of the native language to order food at a restaurant?
Over the next couple of weeks, I searched the internet for key sentences that would help me get through my day, from introducing myself to navigating the S-Bahn to successfully ordering food in German (“Ich möchte einen Döner Kebab, bitte!”). Eventually, even if I couldn’t decipher every word that was spoken to me, I learned that many Berliners are very open to people who make an effort to speak the language, and they are very appreciative of it, too. And even though Berlin is a big city and many people do know English, as well, it really is a special feeling being able to speak German and become part of the culture and history through the language itself.
Now, eight weeks have gone by since my first few days in Berlin and every day I am excited to try out my German in the city, learning something new by doing so. I have completed two German language courses so far and I am now in the middle of my third, and though there are still days when I feel frustrated, they are overshadowed by the days that I feel excited and thankful for the opportunity and the skills I have learned. Maybe I’ll even join the German Club at my home university in the United States so that I can keep speaking German for as long as I can!
Being immersed in a new and completely foreign language may not be for everyone, but I highly encourage you to take the leap if you have an interest in studying somewhere where they speak an unfamiliar language. You never know what you will learn from the experience!