As the semester comes to a close, I have been wanting to spend some time reflecting on my experience and what better way is there to reflect than through a blog post! While I’m in the last couple of pages for my Berlin chapter of junior year, I’m in a unique position where I will be studying abroad again next semester in Madrid, Spain. Due to having this exciting opportunity to do a re-do of study abroad with all the knowledge I gained from this past semester, I wanted to think about what I might do differently next semester. This isn’t to say that I have regrets from my time in Berlin, as I have immensely loved this experience, but this is more a reflection on what aspects of studying abroad I could focus on more and which components didn’t end up being as important to me as I had thought.
Enjoy more time in Berlin (or wherever I am) while the weather is nice
Prior to arriving in Berlin, I had no idea how much the city comes alive during the times when the weather is warm. There are incredible green spaces and beautiful outdoor areas to spend time with friends and enjoy the sun. My favorite place in Berlin, Tempelhofer Feld, is an airfield turned into a massive green space with people of all ages biking, roller blading, jogging, and walking on the runways. Not only is it exceptionally unique, but also an amazing space to enjoy warm summer air. As I’m writing this blog now with the sun setting in Berlin around 4 pm every day and frigid temperatures shocking my Louisiana-accustomed body, I can’t help but crave another evening spent watching the sun set over the old airport terminal. In the future, I would save the many museums and indoor activities of Berlin for when the weather gets colder and focus on enjoying these fantastic outdoor areas while it’s pleasant to be outside.
Spread out travel more
With studying abroad in Europe suddenly opening the door for many exciting travel opportunities, I felt like a kid in a candy shop booking trains, flights, and activities left and right. After about my third consecutive weekend of a packed schedule, I got hit with an immense fatigue that stretched out over a significant portion of my weeks without travel plans. Since I was rushing around without much time to let myself recover, I felt reluctant to explore the very city I was living in. While I don’t regret taking things slowly to let myself feel energized for the next fun activity, I think deliberately spacing out travel instead of excitedly packing weekends would have helped me in the long run.
I distinctly remember doing my abroad packing preparation in the floor of my room. I laid out all the clothes I wanted to take and crossed things off my packing list as I had prepared them. I had the bag space to bring what I needed, and unfortunately a lot of what I didn’t need. Now as I begin to think about packing to leave Berlin, I have absolutely no idea why I felt I needed to bring 2 calculators, 3 baseball caps (I have never in the past two years actively decided to wear a hat), and an obscene amount of summer attire for the one month (if that) of summer I would be experiencing in the city. Next time around, I will be leaving many things behind and focusing on a capsule wardrobe rather than packing like I’m preparing for every possible situation abroad.
Choose a more consistent way of documenting the experience
Although I love the many photos I have taken throughout the semester, I think I have lost some of the experiential moments along the way. The photos can take me back to what it felt like to walk around those places and marvel at the new locations, but I lose the funny thing my friend said along the way or the surprising impulse decision we made that turned out to be a fantastic one. I don’t remember what I don’t remember and it’s unnerving to imagine how 4 years from now I may struggle to recall some of these important moments from the experience. While I am definitely sitting down sometime soon to document all of the amazing things I can remember from this first semester, I think more consistently cataloguing those experiences throughout the semester would have been something I thank myself for in the future, even though I have definitely never been a journaling type of guy.
Focus on personal interests over needing a group
There were many times this past semester when I put off going to someplace new, going to an event, or trying a new restaurant because I was waiting to see if I could get more people on board to join me in the experience. I think the fear of doing things alone was still hanging on to me from my first two years in college when I felt that solo activities were just about the most anxiety-inducing affairs I could imagine. After having my first solo travelling adventure in London, however, I discovered I can have an amazing time doing things just by myself and I became more comfortable following my own whims without feeling a need to crowd source for people to join me. After returning to Berlin, I began reviewing my list of things I still wanted to do in the city and setting out on my own to check those boxes. Of course, it’s very hard to get everything I want to accomplish when I save all of those “I’ll do those things later / I’ll go there later” Berlin bucket list items to the last two weeks, so for that reason I would enter this next semester with a confidence to explore on my own.
Meet more expats
One of my long-term goals is to move abroad, and I came into my year abroad with the mindset that I would be trying out different cities and figuring out where I may be able to see myself living in the future. While it is very helpful to explore the city itself and see if I can feel at home, I still find the whole endeavor of making that leap very daunting. It’s one thing to leave the country for a structured academic program with lots of support and guidance, yet it’s an entirely other one to navigate a lot of those processes yourself. During my time in Berlin, I had the chance to meet up with a few alumni from my academic program at my home university who had been living in Berlin for a few years now. Just hearing their stories gave me some confidence and motivation that I was on the right track towards this goal. While being in Germany, I’ve had a lot of fear meeting new people due to language concerns. Yet, in Berlin, so many people speak languages I’m more confident in, such as English or Spanish. If I were to do this semester again, I would embrace being an expat in a foreign country and seek to meet more expats in languages I am comfortable with so I can continue gaining confidence and advice on moving abroad.
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Howdy folks! My name is Josef Kiesenhofer, and I'm a passionate accounting, German, and Spanish student excited to explore the world. I love all things blue and embroidering on clothes. I sometimes have a broadcast radio DJ show, too!