IES Abroad: Since your semester ended, what have you been up to? And what are your plans for fall and moving forward?
Avery Trinidad (AT): We’re getting close to a full year since my semester abroad, so I’ve gotten a lot done—we have a mandatory term called “Winter Study” at Williams College, so I actually went back up to campus in January. I did a portraiture class (I guess I’m always making something) and got to hang out with some friends before they went abroad, so that was awesome, but I did have to get my heater fixed in the middle of a New England winter.
Then, I took a German class this past spring that was about Berlin. Every other class, the professor would say stuff like, “Oh, did you visit here?” when we looked at maps, or I’d talk about how the Kreuzberg nightlife was for a young person like me in 2021. She actually was teaching that class since before the Berlin Wall fell, so it was super cool to compare our experiences. I remember the German TAs (one from Austria and one from southern Germany) mentioning that I picked up some bits of the Berlin accent in my German. I guess I can count that as one of my souvenirs from my time abroad?
Right now, I’m in my senior year at Williams (go Ephs!), finishing up my sociology major and planning out the capstone project for my global studies concentration. That’s not mentioning all the little personal projects I got myself involved in. Ironically, I’m taking a Spanish class right now. Don’t worry though, I’m still practicing my German.
IES Abroad: Given your unique experience this past fall, why would you still recommend that students study abroad? Why now, more than ever, is it important to do this
AT: Oh man, here’s a story I didn’t actually tell on my blog: the day before my flight going back home, I got a false-positive COVID test. The policy in Germany is that a PCR can be requested to either validate or invalidate the results of an antigen—and, jeez, I booked it to Friedrichstrasse and shelled out, like, $134 to get my PCR results in an hour. Obviously, the antigen turned out to be a false positive, so I got to keep my flight and hang out with all of my IES Abroad friends before we dipped out of Germany.
Why is this mildly traumatic experience somehow my argument for going abroad? For one thing, the IES Abroad team in Berlin was mega supportive through what ended the worst 3 hours of my 3.5 months in Germany. But also, this experience didn’t manage to ruin my time abroad. If anything, it reminded me of what I was learning that semester. Going abroad is your chance to experience a place as it is now, and on top of that, as you are now. I’m not saying change is always bad—I mean, I’m really glad that omicron isn’t choking out daily life in Central Europe anymore— but college is a critical time in your life and study abroad is a critical chance to change yourself for the better. If there’s a calling in your heart to go somewhere for a semester, please follow it. I really mean that! Things really are different abroad. I mean, sometimes they’re better, and sometimes they’re worse (in Berlin, it’s definitely the weather), but studying abroad is a chance to not only learn how to cope with difference, but to activelyengage with it. This is a time in your lives dedicated to learning! Please, fly out and learn if you have the chance!
IES Abroad: How did you manage the ambiguity and uncertainty associated with being abroad/far from home during the confusion of the pandemic?
AT: I’m gonna be honest: as a first-generation American, it’s sometimes hard to feel at home in the country where I hold citizenship in the first place. W. E. B. Du Bois wrote about this idea of “double-consciousness”— for him, Black Americans are forced by racism to process their identities as “Black” and “American” as being in opposition to one another. I think you can make a similar argument for many immigrants and their children. I’m a Filipino in the United States, and an American in the Philippines. What was I in Germany? I’ll make sure to circle back to that one when I talk about identity abroad.
Most of my blood relatives were born and raised in the Philippines, so my family’s actually pretty used to the whole idea of planning calls around different time zones. Actually, since I was an exchange student in Berlin back in high school, it was the only place my parents were 100% OK with me going to for a semester abroad—like, I already knew people there who I was still friends with, and Germany (for the longest time) seemed pretty on top of the whole COVID-19 situation. I mean, I did get confronted with the whole false positive thing right at the very end, but that worked it out pretty quickly. I guess for the most part it wasn’t all that different from going to college out in the boonies of Western Massachusetts—except everything was in German, and there were actual convenience stores still open past 6 p.m. That’s just me, though!
IES Abroad: It looks like you really tried to make the most of your time in Berlin before you left. How would you recommend making the most of your host city or experience overall in a limited amount of time?
AT: Okay, logistically? Write down a list of things you definitely want to do when you’re abroad. Take pictures at all the tourist traps, visit the museum, go to this and that concert, celebrate this or that local holiday, charm one or two Dutch girls, go on several very romantic dates with a really nice Mexican guy—oh, those last two were just me again. But seriously—if you know you want to do something really specific, plan to do it. And plan around it! It’s your time abroad, and you have the power to shape it.
Philosophically? Trust your gut and give into your impulses every once in a while. My trip to Amsterdam was slapped together with some of my friends I met in Berlin not all that long before our mid-semester break. I also had some of my most important experiences abroad during my five days there. I found one of my favorite bars in the city by punching “gay bars in Berlin” into Google and going to whatever was closest at the time. Like, obviously don’t fall for the literaltourist traps or very transparent pickpocketing scams or anything like that. But take more chances. There’s only so many of them in a semester.
IES Abroad: What role did being a Correspondent have in your study abroad experience? And how would you encourage other students to write?
AT: Uhm, well, I’m pretty verbose. But it might surprise you to know that I didn’t submit every single piece I ended up writing when I was abroad (really!). I committed to journaling and drafting new articles pretty consistently. And, in the middle of writing, I got the chance to think a lot more critically about my experiences abroad.
When I say “more critically,” I really do mean critically. A lot of my experiences were good—lots of opportunities to refine my German—but some of them weren’t so great. Witnessing strangers being incredibly racist to my friends of color while abroad—yet, strangely amicable with me—allowed me to reflect on the ways race, and many other dimensions of privilege, simply operate differently in different places. Those experiences should have never happened, but putting words to them let me process hard moments in a way that was constructive, and deepened my understanding of the place I was in.
Really, here are my two bits of advice for other students planning to write:
1. Write often. 2. Write from the heart. That's it. That's my secret.
IES Abroad: What was the most rewarding aspect of your study abroad experience, if you were to pick one?
AT: Meeting new people! Meeting new people! Oh, man, meeting new people! To be clear, I love Williams, and I love a lot of the people at it. But...if you silo a little over two thousand people in a little New England college town, they’re only ever gonna consistently interact with each other (and their professors, obviously).
But going abroad really let me meet people from vastly different educational backgrounds—not only those from my IES Abroad program, but a lot of the unaffiliated students living in the student apartment building we were housed in. I might be from New York (which, to be clear, is a city that moves exponentially faster than Berlin), but it was my real first time going to college in a city. Learning about just how many different ways people can end up going to university in Berlin (and the surrounding area) really changed my understanding of higher education. Heck, even talking to random people at bars contributed to my time learning abroad: their experiences of the city deepened my understanding of the readings we would be assigned for class, and every new conversation became one new thing I learned abroad.
I got a lot of practice in German (...a little bit in Dutch, and French, and Spanish, and Cantonese, and Tagalog), but really, that just reflects how many people I was willing to meet and engage with. If you’re going abroad to “learn about another culture,” please: remember that people are the ones making culture. Don’t be too afraid to talk to them.
IES Abroad: What do you think of identity and the study abroad experience? What does studying abroad do for identities?
AT: Oof, uhm. Well, this is the big one, and probably the most glaring indicator I’m a sociology major. Tired readers, feel free to jump down to the skinny. For the more ambitious, press forward and read the full response here.
IES Abroad: Anything we didn’t ask about that you’d like to share?
AT: By this point in the interview, I’m imagining most readers are either incredibly fatigued or morbidly fascinated by how much some guy can compel himself to write. That being so, I won’t hold people much longer.
Monumental thanks to everyone at the IES Abroad office in Berlin: you gave us care, patience, and an incredibly robust academic experience. (Like, woah, we were partnered with Humboldt Universität for a reason.) You’d be hard pressed to find another abroad program willing to bike to your apartment building just to give you a spare key to your studio— not that I ever needed that (honest!).
A similarly big thanks to all the friends I met abroad, whether from the program or The Fizz Berlin or from sheer serendipity. You gave me a colorful experience, and a whole new set of adopted quirks for my Williams friends to tolerate. But seriously, you guys rock—and, yes, we’ll hang out in New York when you finally roll into the city. (And a special shout out to fellow New Yorkers on the program, Alex included.)
At the risk of being redundant, if you’ve been trawling through the massive infodumps I’ve passed for blog posts trying to determine if you should go abroad: you know what my recommendation is. Make the plunge and don’t look back.
One last thing! My personal döner order:
Salat alles Kräutersoße, keine Scharfsoße Pommes Frites an der Seite Mit einer tasche bitte Danke sehr und ciao
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Hey there! I'm Avery Trinidad, a junior majoring in Sociology and concentrating in Global Studies over at Williams College! I think long walks by the beach are an unironic fun time, have made a hobby of writing songs with ukulele accompaniment, and have an apparent talent for making eggs. I'm a big ol' New York native, with a booming voice and headstrong attitude to boot. Though born and raised in Manhattan, I've had the opportunity to take German as a third language since my freshman year of high school. I'm looking forward to documenting my experiences in Berlin, especially after it emerges from such a tumultuous time in not only its own history, but the world's! Bis bald!