Growing in a New City

Caitlin Jarrell, IIP: Berlin Summer '22

Before coming to Berlin, I had high expectations for my experience while trying to remain open to whatever may happen. I was so intent on ensuring that I would grow professionally, academically, and personally that it actually began to stress me out. Making the most of my summer in Berlin was so exciting, yet so anxiety-inducing when I thought too much about my fear of wasting the opportunity. I wish that I had known there was nothing to worry about, because growth happens naturally in new situations, especially a nine-week program in a new and exciting country.
After spending the summer in Berlin, there are many things I wish I could go back and tell myself before departing from the United States. It would have been nice to know more about German culture, particularly in Berlin, outside of what I read in books. I went into this experience worried about being judged for my lack of German language skills, when in reality almost no one cared. There were even occasions that I tried to speak in German but was immediately switched to English by an impatient worker who would prefer to converse in English than hear my subpar German. This could have saved me a lot of stress and Duolingo hours, but I am glad that I was able to use German occasionally throughout my time there.
Another key part of anyone’s study abroad experience that can be very worrying is budgeting. Before leaving, I created a very strict budget that was much lower than the program manager’s estimation. I thought, “if I can budget in Pittsburgh, I can budget in Berlin”, but I wish I could go back and tell myself to listen to my program manager. Spending nine weeks in another city as a visitor is nothing like living there in terms of spending, because I was constantly trying new things and exploring fun places in the city. I should have prepared myself for the cost that comes with this mindset and experience, just so that I did not feel as guilty when paying to visit museums, historical sights, etc.
The last piece of information that I wish I had known is so simple, yet so important: I should have researched weather patterns for the entire summer. When figuring out      what clothes to pack, I considered bringing a heavier jacket, just in case. After looking up average Berlin temperatures for June and July, I decided not to bring one, and instead bring lighter layers. This was a mistake. What I failed to check was how temperatures changed throughout the entire day. Every night in May and early June after 9pm I found myself shivering when I stepped outside, because I failed to realize that temperatures there drop much more at night than they do here. Looking back, it is funny how often I was cold due to such a small mistake, but I really do wish I had decided to stick that jacket in my suitcase.
Going back to my original point, the amount of growth I experienced surprised me most of all. The thing that induced most of my pre-travel stress became the thing I did not have to worry about at all. I felt myself becoming more independent, open to experiences, and culturally educated without trying. Every experience in Berlin provided me with an opportunity to learn something, whether it be from work, public transportation, or exploring the city and its culture. Despite my high expectations for my growth, I was still surprised by how much I changed. For outsiders looking in, I probably appear to be the same person. What they do not know is how I personally have changed. Pre-Berlin Caitlin was terrified to do things alone, even in my hometown of 19 years. She would have hardly recognized the Caitlin that went on a solo hike and walking tour in Budapest, spent hours in Berlin museums by herself just admiring the artwork, and simply spending an entire Saturday in the Tiergarten, which became my favorite place to read in all of Berlin. I surprised myself with how independent, confident, and comfortable spending time alone I am became during this program. Berlin will always hold a special place in my heart for expanding my horizons and teaching me about myself.