UW Political Science major, Nicholas Jaech, received a DAAD Undergraduate Scholarship for 2014-15. He reports to us from Berlin, where he currently studies at Humboldt University.
It has been a little over four months since I stepped off the plane at Tegel International Airport and began my life here in Berlin. Yet, it feels funny to write “four months” because my time thus far here in Berlin has felt simultaneously super fast and very prolonged. I feel as though these four months have just zoomed by, but at the same time, arriving in Berlin feels like it happened ages ago. I can only imagine that this dichotomy is what happens when you're living the study abroad experience that you were meant to live, because these past four months in Berlin have been some of the best of my life.
First and foremost, I have fallen in love with the unique beauty of the city. Berlin isn’t like Paris, London, or Rome, which boast centuries of beautiful and architecturally-stunning palaces, churches, and squares. Berlin, as we know, was mostly destroyed at the end of World War II. However, even today, after reconstruction and reunification, Berlin has a unique glamor that is absolutely wonderful to see every day. Old re-built gothic churches stand parallel to towering modern shopping malls; beautifully-reconstructed opera houses are situated on the Spree River, which runs through the city; historic buildings in all their charm lie next to walls and alleys of street art and graffiti. Berlin is a city of contrasts - the modern and the old, the artistic and the commercial, the regal and the grunge. Put all together, Berlin becomes a uniquely glamorous capital, beckoning artists, students, business people, and politicians alike.
Berlin is also truly one of the capitals of the world. Situated in Central Europe, the city truly serves as a crossroads for people from all around the world. Walking down the streets, I see people, young and old, from all regions of the world, which is wonderfully refreshing. Of course this hasn’t come without its problems, forcing Berlin, and Germany at large, to consider how to respectfully incorporate immigrants and refugees into German society. But this mix of people offers the city a diversity of worldly culture, music, food, and ideas. But beyond nationality, Berlin also stands as a city welcoming of all communities. I live in the Schöneberg neighborhood, situated in the old West, which boasts a historically strong LGBTQ community. It is once again refreshing to see the amount of self-expression LGBTQ Berliners show not only in this neighborhood, but in Berlin at-large. Berlin, once a city at the center of tyranny, presents today an urban environment of progress and individualism.
I am currently studying at the Humboldt Universität, with its central campus located right in the heart of the city (“Mitte”). Here I am taking six classes - three in German and three in English. Humboldt has a wonderful program called “Berlin Perspectives” geared specifically towards international students. This program utilizes Berlin itself as a classroom and provides international students, with all levels of experience in the German language, an education in the history, culture, and language of the city. This program has also been crucial in providing me the opportunity to meet students from all around the world.
Another aspect of the city that I am weirdly enthralled with is the amount of bakeries. There are bakeries literally everywhere. Walking through the park? Don’t worry, there’s a bakery stand! Traveling with the subway? No problem, there are bakeries in the subway stations. Walking to class? Expect to pass at least two bakeries on every street. I love it. All of these bakeries bake fresh bread and pastries every day, which is wonderful compared to America’s obsession with pre-packaged, manufactured baked goods. On top of it all, the smell of fresh bread and real sugar can be smelled early in the morning when passing these locations. It’s great!
Finally, one of the best aspects of living in Berlin is immersing yourself in the German language. I came to Berlin with five years of German instruction, but having to speak German in real life and not just in Denny Hall is terrifying and thrilling at the same time. Within these four months, my German has skyrocketed, and I love that. There is nothing quite as satisfying as having an hour-long conversation in German with a new friend or writing an essay completely in German. Also great is making mistakes and learning from them. It took me about two months to be okay with making mistakes. Whenever I would make a mistake, either in pronunciation or grammar, I’d get really embarrassed and obsess about it later. But at one point, I just let that all go, and being okay with making mistakes makes learning the language much more fun and easy! As much as I loved my German education at UW, there is nothing quite like learning German in Germany.
Living in Berlin these past four months has shown me how important it is to be a global citizen. All people I meet offer such important insights into the current state of the world, and I believe that it is so important to hear opinions generated outside of the US. I have been inspired to continue to live here after graduation, if I can find work, and will explore a career in international relations. But at the most basic level though, I am so thankful to have this opportunity to study abroad.
Liebe Grüße aus Berlin!