What Stands Out About the UK?

When I traveled to Birmingham in the United Kingdom, I expected the university and the culture of the city to be different from here in Pittsburgh. However, once my group arrived, two things were different to me right away. The first one was that even though the university was in a city, it was a more vibrant and colorful university compared to the color and vibrancy here in Oakland. The second one was how the interactivity between the younger and older generations in everyday life felt like it was more real compared to back home. 

Locals Know Best

Interacting with locals is the easiest way to learn how a new place functions, but is perhaps the most difficult fear to overcome. Being an “American” abroad often involves the preconceived notion that we are loud, stand out like a sore thumb in public, and are unable to integrate into the society we find ourselves in. While it is accurate that Americans are generally more opinionated, will share said opinions, and do so loudly, it is possible to blend into a crowd due to the shared language.

To the Soul through the Stomach

Not only is food the window to the soul, food is the backbone of culture and will define your experience abroad. Every culture develops a cuisine influenced by the environment and tastes of the people and cultural groups who call the area home. While we often think of things like barbecue and burgers as “American” cuisine, a trip down any street will display a variety of restaurants and eateries with roots all across the globe.

What to Pack and What to Bring Back

When planning to travel abroad, the essentials always come to mind first. Whether it's your favorite pair of socks, a specific kind of toothpaste that you always have to use, or a hoodie that holds significant value to you, everything has its place within your suitcase. Things like your passport and ID will always travel with you, but I’ve found that it’s mental preparation that catches you off guard before something you forgot to pack.

Discovering Diverse Food

As a picky eater for the first nineteen years of my life, I would agree that food is the window to the soul. My particularity about what I eat definitely reflected my stubbornness and specificity for my life choices. Like with my food preferences, I was always a bit rigid and stressed out easily when things outside of the norm occurred. I am so glad to say that this experience in Berlin changed that. I felt that as I grew to be a more open and flexible person, my food palate also expanded. Something that remained the same, though, was my affinity for eating out much too often.

Growing in a New City

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.

First Time Abroad

As someone who had never traveled abroad before, I was a bit concerned with the types of challenges I could face. Germany is so different in terms of culture, workplace environment, and daily activities such as going shopping. Though I did not have to speak a different language because most people in Berlin speak English, their interactions are very different. One experience that I can say became less challenging throughout the program was grocery shopping.

Walking Around Town

One of my favorite things about Belgium, and Europe in general, is that their cities and towns are largely built around walking or cycling. We spent hours walking around Leuven, Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges, and it was so easy. Sure, you needed to look out for the occasional car or bike barreling down the street, but it was otherwise smooth sailing. You could see any landmark you wanted just by walking around the city.

So Much To See, So Much To Do

Ever since I was a freshman in high school, I have wanted to travel the world. That year, I took my first French class, and I started really getting into European soccer. I was already fascinated by Roman and Greek mythology from history and literature classes as well, and I loved my world cultures class in middle school. Freshman year was when I truly recognized how much I wanted to see of the rest of the world.

Talking to Belgians

I was really nervous about talking to people in Belgium because I had never been abroad. Plus, I didn’t really know their languages too well. I took four years of French classes in high school, but that wasn’t terribly helpful because we were mostly in the northern part of Belgium that spoke Dutch. However, there wasn’t really anything to be afraid of.