How a new place can feel like home

Sarah Ross
February 17, 2020

I have now been in Berlin for two weeks. My orientations have ended, and I am in the middle of my German intensive courses. The reality of living in Berlin is starting to set in.

I am not naive enough to think that my honeymoon phase is over. Everything is divided into rose-colored firsts: my first time grocery shopping in Berlin, my first missed train, my first coffee I should have gotten elsewhere. I am excited for everything. During my four to five months in Berlin I will barely scratch the surface of what this city, let alone Germany, has to offer. 

And yet, I still feel like I have come home in some way. How can a new place feel like home?

Perhaps I’m a bit biased, as having moved so many times throughout my life, I’m intimately familiar with the feeling of unfamiliarity. Something within me kicks into gear when I need to figure out how to get somewhere I’ve only vaguely heard of, or try to figure out if they actually sell good frozen veggie burgers here (spoiler: they do not).

Still, here are some reasons I think Berlin has already felt like home. They may be unique to my experience, but they are also good lessons to learn for moving, traveling or experiencing a big change in life.

Berlin already feels like home because I have identified what is important to me. Before I arrived, I already knew that I wanted to find cheap, good food and drink good coffee. I knew that I wanted to be familiar with all forms of public transportation. I knew that I wanted to find live music. I knew that the more small talk I can make with Germans, the more I will feel like I am a part of this ecosystem, not simply passing through. I have identified what makes me confident, happy and curious, and I am actively pursuing those things.

Berlin already feels like home because I am not starting from step one. I’m not cutting off contact with my loved ones. It’s so much easier to process what is happening when I can text my sister or call my parents about my latest mishaps and accomplishments. I’m taking care of myself and not going against my nature⁠—I’m getting enough sleep; I’m eating full meals. I’m not trying to fully reinvent myself. What a difference it makes to feel like a person and not a blank slate!

Berlin already feels like home because I am not approaching situations with a head full of comparisons like: “Well in America, we do this, so I don’t understand why you would do it like that.” These small comparisons help us make sense of our world but they often do us no favors in learning and living in new cultures. I’ve already experienced things that didn’t make sense to me. (Why would you put only eggplant, broccoli and cauliflower in a veggie enchilada? Why would you wait until the door opens to go to the train door if the train is approaching your stop? Why is so much wrapped in plastic if Germany is supposed to be “bio” and environmentally friendly?) 

Each time, I try to take it in stride. When I can do something, like hold on to my plastic until I find recycling, I do. When I can’t change something about a confusing or irritating situation, I laugh, I shrug and I go on with my day. I’m here to experience life, not a picturesque vacation utopia.

However, I think Berlin feels like home mostly because I was ready for it. I was ready and open to experience everything anew, to accept asking strangers how to get somewhere when Google Maps failed me. I have been impatiently waiting to be surrounded by native German speakers who can correct my German, whether kindly or not. I want to grow! I am ready to be challenged, to fall in love with the rich diversity of subcultures and all that Berlin has to offer. 

I know that some days I will be frustrated or upset, but that happens regardless of where you call home. All I can do is know that I have done my best to get to know Berlin, to learn its history, to respect the people, to love myself and to open myself up to the beautiful unknown of my new home.

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Sarah Ross

<p>I am a junior at American University in Washington, D.C. studying Foreign Language and Communications Media with tracks in German and Public Relations. I am passionate about German punk music, linguistics and its relation to power, LGBTQ+ experiences internationally, strong coffee, and exploring my surroundings through creative outlets. I have previously lived abroad as a child and am excited to be back in Europe. I am also on a mission to pet every animal possible- join me!</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
American University
Dayton, OH
German Language
Public Relations
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