The hours before I land on the North American continent can be counted on one hand.
Back in October, a Berlin friend texted me, “Hey / You know what / I think I will miss you in December." A few weeks later, I joked to a friend with IES Abroad that we were a little over two-thirds through the semester, to which she said, “God, don’t even make me think about that.” Come the tail end of November, as we joked and told stories well past midnight, another student paused mid-sentence and suddenly exclaimed, “Wait. Wait! We only have two weeks left, what the [EXPLETIVE DELETED]?” As we grinded through final projects, a fellow New Yorker on the program confided in me over WhatsApp, “I'm justifying doing dumb crap every night recently by telling myself ‘only 10 days left in Germany’ / Which I guess is the truth / It snuck up." And on a final date with someone who was living in Berlin, (largely spent drinking hot chocolate in my student housing), I found myself saying, “This might be the last time I see you before I leave, so, I should give you a really good hug and all.”
There’s plenty of other examples in-between, but—I’m sure you get the picture.
The reality of December 11—the day of our departure flights—had been hurdling at us ever since the morning we first checked into our student housing. And little by little, we had begun to notice it.
But even when that Friday before flying home came, when I scrubbed every last inch of my apartment, top to bottom, and when we all spent that final evening in a haze of last-minute hugging, laughing, and packing, when we bumped into each other at the airport again and again…the finality of it all never really sunk until settling into my seat on that last, Newark-bound flight.
How would I begin to describe it all? How do you compact an entire season of one’s life into a digestible, clearly understandable series of words?
No matter how much I could try, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell I could get across the excitement of wandering across Kreuzberg, trying to find the sole vacant pool table in the city. I can’t entirely explain the euphoria of being taken seriously in the native language, of being genuinely mistaken for a local. Has anyone ever truly been able to describe the joy of learning, absorbing material that resounds into every neighborhood of the city you explore? That strange feeling, every time you half-consciously saunter across the former boundaries of the Berlin Wall? The epic sensation of not just understanding a city’s culture, but taking an active part in its creation?
This isn’t my last goodbye to Berlin, that much is obvious. Even the IES Abroad staff recognized it, greeting us all in the lobby of our apartment building—instead of a farewell applicable to the rest of my life, I got a, “I’m sure you’ll be back here sooner or later,” and a “Visit us at IES Abroad whenever you’re in the city again.”
And yet, this semester in Berlin really has become the sinew that connects all the previous chapters of my life story to the ones to follow, the stitch in the fabric that binds it all together. This fall of my junior year marks the very middle of my college experience, and the earliest inklings of not only being 20, but being in my 20s. Everything clicks together just a little more than they did back in August.
I feel myself rapidly developing into that cliché of the Study Abroad returner whose experience has changed, like, their entire philosophy on life. But what’s really so bad about that? I’m surely not alone.
A non-negligible percentage of that night had been us students crying, admitting to crying, or planning to cry. We had stretched four months living two blocks away from an infamous sex club on Koepenicker Strasse into an eternity, and into a root of new, decades-long friendships. And yet somehow that eternity came to a conclusion, ending in a flurry of boarding passes, promises to visit, and additional bag fees.
Not realizing we would find ourselves on the same connecting flight to Frankfurt hours later, one of my new IES Abroad friends ended up taking me into a big, hearty embrace goodbye—we gave each other our usual half-joking kisses on the cheek, standing under the cold lights of our apartment building’s lobby.
“Avery,” he told me, “You’re a really good guy.”
With one-part snark, and two-parts sincerity, I told him, “Yeah, I know.”
Would have I been able to say that, off the cuff, just four months ago? Probably not.
But Germany didn’t magically plop me at the end of my personal growth. This semester, though, wasn’t the first time I’ve been to Berlin, nor my first tango with public transit, nor even my first time learning German. I can’t call these hundred-something days between August 30th and December 11th a start, either, even in the slightest.
Instead, I’ll remember it all as a middle. The middle of my college life in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of a city that was, for so long, a middle between Western and Eastern Europe. A middle ground between being an unwilling gentrifier and willing explorer as a visiting, foreign student. A middle of a love affair with cities international. A middle connecting friends, languages, and memories of the past, present, and future.
So, knowing that I’ll come across Berlin again, I’ll simply tell her:
Tschuess, ciao, und auf Wiedersehen.
Farewell, goodbye, and ‘til the next time I see you.
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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!