Why Berlin? My Choice of Study Abroad Destination

Headshot of Sydney Braun.
Sydney Braun
January 26, 2023
A photograph of the Brandenburg Gate with a dark blue and cloudy sky in the background.

It’s a common icebreaker question, but rarely anything more: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Well, I’m fortunate enough to be able to spend an entire semester there. 

I’ve planned on studying abroad since eighth grade, but I never quite knew where I wanted to end up. The possibilities were endless and overwhelming, but I couldn’t be happier with my decision. When I tell my closest friends that I will be spending my spring semester studying abroad in Berlin, they are absolutely thrilled for me – it’s no surprise that I ended up making this decision. Yet, when I tell others about my plans, they usually ask me, “Why Berlin?”

During the height of the pandemic in 2020, one of my fellow music-enthusiast friends recommended I watch a documentary: B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin. The documentary details the music scene in 1980s West Berlin, describing the history and influences of that era of music, interviewing countless musicians about their artistic endeavors in the city. I didn’t know it at the time, but watching that movie would spark an interest in me that would change the course of my time in college – and my life as a whole. From my closed-off, quiet, and lonely living room at home, I was thrust into a vibrant scene of packed crowds, live music, late nights out in the city, unique style, and fascinating individuals and friendships – all things that I felt were missing in my pandemic life. I found myself living vicariously through this documentary and city in which I was watching a past culture exist during a time where I could barely even leave my house. I was captivated. Suddenly, my music playlists were filled with music by German artists – Die Ärzte, Malaria!, and Einstürzende Neubauten, to name a few favorites. Without much else to do, listening to music was a great way to pass the time. I don’t speak German, but it didn’t matter. The music spoke to me in ways that language can’t quite articulate.

The eighties have come and gone, and I realize that my experiences in Berlin will not match those that I saw in the documentary. However, my excitement about the city (and about Germany as a whole) has evolved. I’ve become a double major in Environment and Communication & Media – something that coincidentally led me to taking the best class I’ve taken in my life so far: German Environmentalism and Ecocriticism. I learned about Germany’s commitment to environmentalism and strong regulations and attitudes about recycling, sustainability, and more. I am fascinated with how these ideas on the importance of combating climate change and protecting the planet are taken so seriously and are so widespread in German culture. It’s made me think about the possibilities for change in my home country, the United States of America, and gives me hope for the planet’s (and country’s) future. I’m thrilled to be able to study abroad at IES Abroad Metropolitan Studies in Berlin and be able to experience this culture I have learned so much about from afar in person. 

It turns out that I’d been researching my study abroad location – albeit unknowingly – for the past few years – through documentaries, classes, the internet, and countless social media accounts showing life in Berlin as well as the history of the city. I always assumed that I would be choosing my study abroad location, but in some ways, Berlin chose me. 

After going to college hours from home at a university where I knew no one and being able to establish an amazing support system of friends and mentors, I have full confidence in my ability to do the same thing in Berlin. While, for me, anxiety comes with any big change, I remain overwhelmingly excited about the opportunities I will encounter abroad and all of the new things I will be exposed to and amazing people I am sure to meet. I can’t wait to visit the music venues that I experienced from my living room sofa in 2020 and see what music and art in Berlin is like today. I can’t wait to learn how to navigate Germany’s complex recycling system. I can’t wait to visit record shops and see physical copies of the music that helped me through the pandemic. I can’t wait to meet Germans and learn as much as I can about their culture, especially about their own individual attitudes toward sustainability. I can’t wait to learn more about the world and learn more about myself in a place I’ve dreamed of visiting for so long.

So to anyone planning on studying abroad: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? What would you learn? Think about it, and then figure out a way to go there and learn that. It’s what I am doing, and I cannot express how excited I am to finally be able to experience Berlin in person and see what I end up learning there. I can’t wait to share my adventure with you! 

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Headshot of Sydney Braun.

Sydney Braun

I am a junior at the University of Michigan and am double-majoring in Environment and Communication and Media (Class of 2024). I’m from Brookeville, Maryland, and apart from writing and blogging, I love music, playing the guitar, drawing, learning, and exploring new places. My passion for advocating for the environment as well as my interest in the culture and history of Berlin led me to this study abroad experience, and I am thrilled to be able to share it with you!

2023 Spring
Home University:
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
Environmental Studies
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