Category Archives: Student Blog

Turkey and Germany – Culture Shock

Culture shock always seems to appear in little, unexpected places. Of course, there’s always that feeling of wonder when you first arrive in a new place. Everything looks new and different and exciting and you want to take it all in. You’re comparing the place to what you imagined in would be like and chances are you have no bearings within the new place so you have that feeling of being completely lost. Anything could be out there waiting to be explored.

This is an amazing and exciting feeling, but I wouldn’t describe it as culture shock. These are the wonders of traveling – you expect to see a new place, new architecture, new foods and see new languages. Seeing a new language and new city when arriving in Berlin wasn’t shocking to me, that is what I was most looking forward to. Instead, it’s the little things that amazed me.

In Berlin, people never jaywalk. It doesn’t matter if they can tell the walking sign is about to turn green and there are no cars coming for miles, they wait for the crossing signal to change to walk. Coming from Boston, this amazed me. They also don’t have turnstiles to get into the subway; it is a system based mostly on trust. Speaking of subways, their subway doors don’t automatically open. They dip their french fries in mayonnaise. These are the things that amazed  me. These are the things that showed me that I really wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Turkey and Germany – Travel and Safety Secrets

While traveling anywhere, staying safe is usually a matter of staying aware, trusting your judgement, and using common safe. Neither of the cities I traveled to during my dialogue were inherently more unsafe than Boston, but you do put yourself at risk when you travel anywhere that you are unfamiliar with. In general, I always tried to stay in groups, in well-lit places with a lot of people.

If you’re considering going on a dialogue, you shouldn’t be worried about safety. Each of my professors were from one of the cities I visited and I also had a local TA in each city so I was always surrounded by people who knew the environment. The professors made sure to go over all the basic safety tips with us first thing in the beginning of the dialogue. We were also kept very aware of our environments. For example, there was a terrorist attack in Turkey (very far from Istanbul) when I was there. We were immediately alerted of this attack and told which areas to stay away from in order to stay safe.

In general, the rule I’ve always followed while traveling aboard is not to flaunt that you are an American, that you have any significant amount of money, or that you are alone in vulnerable. If you act as if you belong, you are more likely to remain safe. One important traveling tip I picked up on in Istanbul is to make sure that your taxi drivers are licensed with a taxi company, use their meters, and actually get paid the amount on the meters. Some taxi drivers will try to charge you more than the meter price if they know they can get away with it.

Germany and Turkey – Typical Day

I’m lucky enough to say that everyday help something vastly different for me during my dialogue. From traveling to Berlin from Turkey, to the different excursions, to just the breadth of lectures we had during my dialogue, everyday I learned something I wasn’t expecting. Despite this, the two weeks I spent in each country was long enough to get familiar with my immediate surroundings and fall into a sort of routine. When I left my hostel in Berlin after two and a half weeks, the receptionist hugged me and said it was like losing a friend. There’s a certain comfort in getting to know a place, even if it’s very far from home.

In both the hotel in Turkey and the hostel in Berlin, breakfast was provided and most of my classmates woke up early enough to eat it – not me though. I usually rolled out of bed five or ten minutes before my lecture in Turkey where the lecture was in the hotel or thirty minutes before lecture in Berlin where I had to take the subway one stop to reach lecture. By “lecture” I could mean any of a vast number of things – we went on city tours, to museums, to film screenings, to site visits, and had a lot of just plain old lectures with local experts. Usually lecture would begin around 10 am, we’d finish around noon, and we’d have lunch until 2 pm when we’d have another lecture to around 4 pm. After that, the day was mine. This was the time I spent doing my field research, going sightseeing, making friends, eating dinner, and, a lot of the time, taking naps.

Turkey and Germany – Local Living

I was lucky enough to make a very great group of local friends in Berlin. My research in Berlin is on lesbianism and feminism, and I have spent my whole dialogue looking for lesbians and feminists to connect to. I was finally successful when I visited the Young and Queer group in Berlin. This is a counseling group for young queer people hosted by the lesbian organization Lesbenberatung meaning Lesbian Counseling. The group of people I met there was extremely welcoming and even invited me to hangout with them after the group and translated the group in both German and English to help me understand. I found out one of the members will be studying in Massachusetts next semester and we are planning to hangout!

After meeting this group, I would definitely say the best way to meet local people is to reach out to local communities that best fit your needs and interests. For me, this meant reaching out the lesbian feminist organizations, but if you’re into sports, try a sports group or go to a park; if you’re into salsa dancing, check out the local scene! No matter where you are you’re going to make the best friends when you find people who have similar interests.

Being on a dialogue also means that you’re spending time abroad for a long enough period that you should definitely be keeping a budget. Make sure you always convert the amount you’re paying into dollars or whichever currency you know best in your head or on your phone so you know how much you’re paying. Also make sure to shop around and haggle if that’s part of the local culture. I’ve paid triple as much for the same food in a more touristy shop as a local one just down the street. Don’t let yourself get caught in those traps.

In the End

Going abroad was always on the top of my college to-do list. I knew it would be an experience like no other but I was not expecting how much confidence and excitement it would instill in me. From the second I walked off of the plane in Berlin, I was swept away with how amazing and huge the world is. Berlin is like no other place I have ever been before and I was surprised at how comfortable and at home I felt there. It really shifted what I thought my priorities were in life and I am dying to see the rest of the world as soon as I possibly can. Berlin was the perfect place for me to go as a graphic design student because the city is so fundamentally based in art and design. Posters plaster every surface, graffiti takes over every wall, and the people just breathe creativity. I was so inspired by the entire city and cannot stop looking back at pictures I took because it was so unbelievable there.

Now that I know I can survive abroad in a place where English is not the first language, I definitely want to either co-op abroad during my time at Northeastern or work abroad right after graduation. There are such distinct styles of design to every city and the opportunity to absorb these different ways of design thinking while I’m just starting my career is just too huge to pass up. I would love to be abroad for much longer than the one month because working and learning while immersed in a different culture would further broaden my skills and experience.

I remember being so nervous in the weeks leading up to the program’s start because I did not know anyone who was going on the trip and I did not know a WORD of german. I was afraid of the stereotypical stern stereotype of germans and the overall feeling of annoyance usually spoken of against americans abroad. But I found the opposite to be true when I ventured out on my own. People laughed with me when I stumbled through trying to order food and they taught me the correct way to say things. Others offered help when I looked lost on the buses, and countless people were happy to chat while we were in line somewhere. The people I met in Germany had a much different way of looking at the world and all that it has to offer. Their focus was not solely based on monetary success but rather success in having a full, happy life which was so incredibly refreshing. Getting caught up in the day to day worries of school, work, and the little things in life so often gets in the way of the simple and enjoyable things in life. I definitely will take a breath and absorb what’s around me much more this semester.

You could say that the best thing about studying abroad was the food. And the people. And the beautiful sights. But the absolute best thing about my time in Berlin is what the city gave to me. Somehow it helped me grow up a little bit more. It gave me this huge sense of self worth and confidence because I survived. I did it! I was plopped in the middle of Europe and learned an insane amount of things from both class and just walking around on my own. It is true that the best way to discover a city is to get lost in it, and I got lost a lot. I got lost way more than I’d like to admit, but I embraced it and found the best things when I stumbled upon them.

So have you ever thought about taking the plunge and going abroad? Do it. Absolutely, positively do it any way that you can make it happen. And when you get there, do not freak out. It is inevitable that you will, but it will get so much better really quickly. There is so much out there to see and there are so many people to meet. And of course, there is so much food out there that you need to try.

The next place on the list to study or work would definitely be Italy. Berlin was amazing because of its funk, grit, and grime, but Italy is amazing because of its beauty. It is a much different lifestyle and culture in Italy that I would love to experience and it would be somewhere still incredibly different from where I have been before. But we will see what is in the cards for me next year.

All the best and more from a broad (formerly) abroad!


WEEK 4: Typical Day

Every morning at around 8, my alarm goes off and it is time to get ready for class. I usually walk with my roommates to the UBahn train stop which is about a five minute trek from our apartments. From here, we take the train for about a half hour with one transfer in between. It is always rush hour when we are commuting to school so the trains are packed with people on their way to work. Once we are off the train, I usually stop at our favorite pastry shop called Crobag and grab a new pastry that I have not tried before.

By then its a time crunch to get to the studio so we walk the five minutes from the station to the beautiful workspace we get to use at a quick walking pace. Our school space is on the third floor of a building which includes a working, professional design studio and a hostel. Two days a week we have designated studio days which are spent totally focused on our photo class. These days are always so exciting because we start out with a class critique of our edited work. From there, we have time to revise and re-edit things and then we are sent out into Berlin to explore either individually or in small groups. During this time, we are focused on finding great spaces for shooting new pictures that will fit into our project. We reconvene at the studio space around 4 in the afternoon and finish up at 5.

Molly O'Neill, Berlin DOC Summer 2

If it is a culture class day, our days are usually jam-packed with sights, museums, and lectures. Most of the time we meet in front of one of the teaching assistant’s apartments and go to our first stop on the tour as a group. We meet up with our professor Jan and he marches us around Berlin. We have covered so much ground in just one short month through this class. These days can include up to three museum visits and countless landmarks. Culture days usually end around 6 or 7.

After finishing up a big day of class, everyone usually rides the UBahn back to our neighborhood of Kreuzberg together and people split up on the walk home to either go grocery shopping or stop into one of the cool little restaurants that line the street back to our apartments. There is also a big street festival that is constantly running at Alexanderplatz which is only a five minute train ride from our home. This has been my favorite place to go after class because they have every type of food you can image here, plus there are incredible street performers. I have seen people breathe fire, do double backflips, and balance a large metal ball on their head for an impossibly long amount of time. This area attracts young families and tourists so the atmosphere is very light and fun. I have made friends with one of the shop owners who strictly sells mango orange juice in huge bottles and love going and chatting with him about the day.

In Berlin the sun does not set until around 10 at night so there is plenty of time to explore after class. We usually get back to the apartments around when it gets dark and on a lot of school nights everyone packs into someone’s apartment and watches a movie. We do not have wifi in our apartments which is kind of a pain sometimes, but it also frees up so much time to hang out with each other which is a lot better.

Turkey and Germany – Language

On my first day in Germany, I got the best Vietnamese food of my entire life. I hadn’t eaten anything but grilled cheese, plain pasta, and fries my entire time in Istanbul, I’d just gotten off a flight, and I was starving. I went to the restaurant recommended by my local TA and it was so delicious that I almost started crying. The awkward moment came before that when that when I ordered very slowly and with a lot of miming, used to the waitstaff in Istanbul who rarely spoke English. Turns out that waiter spoke perfectly fine English, as have pretty much everyone I have spoken to here in Germany. The lack of a language barrier has made things a lot easier. Even if the language does cause me trouble, people are happy to step in and help. On the first day I was here, a German woman helped me with the subway ticket machine that was half in English and half in German. The next day, someone helped me differentiate the body wash from the shampoo in the grocery store. Just yesterday, I had someone give me subway directions. Overall, it hasn’t been a challenge here at all. The hardest part has been the pronunciation of German words. Who would ever guess that ß is a double s? Luckily my roommate Clara knows a little bit of German so I mostly rely on her for telling me these things.

This is a huge change from Istanbul where it was impossible to communicate with most local workers. Mostly it involved a lot of pointing and people writing down prices for me. I was really proud of myself for actually getting where I needed to go alone in a taxi (or taksi in Turkish) with a driver who only spoke Turkish.

Turkey and Germany – Field Trips, Museums, and Landmarks

Since my last post, I’ve made my way to Berlin, a city which I am absolutely in love with. I’ve been able to find delicious vegetarian food wherever I go, the food is still very cheap, and the city is much more LGBT friendly than Istanbul. Yesterday, I went on six hour walking tour of Berlin. I was able to see the remains of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and the memorials for the Jewish and Homosexual victims of the holocaust.

Seeing the Berlin Wall was truly amazing. I have a lot of trouble wrapping my mind around how a city could be divided in the way Berlin was during the Cold War, but our tour guide actually grew up in the divided city and was able to give us several anecdotes that explained how this actually played out for the citizens for Berlin. It was also very interesting to hear her explain the positives sides of socialism, and why it failed in the case of East Berlin. In my American education, socialism is always viewed in a very negative light and I always imagined East Berlin as an extremely impoverished place, but that actually wasn’t the case. East Berlin was not an impoverished place, it just wasn’t a rich place, instead, people were all on the general same income level. Obviously there were a lot of problems with East Berlin, but it was really great to learn about the situation without the obvious American bias.

Seeing the holocaust memorials was also extremely powerful. As a member of the LGBT community, the memorial to the homosexuals was really intense to see. Although lesbians were not persecuted for their lesbianism during the holocaust (instead they could be persecuted as antisocials), the creators of the memorial chose to include lesbian couples as well as gay male couples in order to symbolize how homophobia plays out today. The memorial for the Jewish victims of the holocaust was extremely abstract, which I think is for the better because it is so difficult to visually portray such a horrific event. Interestingly enough, there is no museum or exhibition at the site of the bunker where Hitler committed suicide for the fear of the site attracting neo-nazis. It was very shocking to me to learn that this was a serious concern.

I’m looking forward to checking out more Berlin museums in the couple weeks and hopefully I’ll post about those as well!

WEEK 3: Language

I have to say that after coming abroad, I have gotten really good at playing charades to communicate with other people who do not speak English very well. Most Berliners understand at least a little bit of the language so I have not run into any major problems, but ordering food is always a tough one. The first week we would all go to meals in larger groups so we could stumble through the menu together and we made it into a fun thing. The people behind the counter usually got pretty annoyed when we would try to sound out the ridiculously long german words that are actually three phrases smashed together.

By the second week I worked up a little more courage to order things on my own, but the one thing that has tripped me up every time is trying to order an iced coffee. In Germany, an ‘iced kaffee’ is a large cup of coffee, two huge scoops of ice cream, and a pile of whipped cream on top. Even though this root beer float kind of thing is really decadent and delicious, it just doesn’t cut it when compared to the good old Dunkin Donuts iced coffee on the way to class. The europeans and Berliners here have been drinking piping hot coffee in the sweltering morning heat while wearing a scarf and jeans. They make it look so effortless, but I just cannot do it.

I love picking up german words and quick phrases. The language is really beautiful and complicated and I am thinking of taking a german language class when I go back to the states. My favorite and most used word here is definitely ‘enschuligund’ which means ‘excuse me.’ On the UBahn, in line for a restaurant, or while walking around in a tour group, this word is essential. It helps you to blend in with everyone else so you are not immediately picked out as a confused or lost american tourist. It is also fun to say so it is the best of both worlds. Even if you are not sure exactly how to pronounce it, if you say it fast enough people accept it as a polite gesture. Politeness and directness are highly valued by the germans.

WEEK 2: Transportation

Molly O'Neill, Berlin DOC, Summer 2 2015a

This week was the first time that we took the UBahn to the studio by ourselves (not in a big mob of twenty-six people). It was really intimidating to face the german population on their morning commute. The stops are announced over the loudspeakers impossibly quickly, and everything seemed really confusing. But we all made it to class on time. By the end of the program we will be pros. The train system is really cool because it is so fundamentally focused on its actual design. Each station stop has its own font, color scheme, and architectural layout and the design of the train cars is extremely intentional. It includes different funky patterns on the seats and floors that reflect Berlin’s feel.

There is definitely a certain etiquette for riding public transportation in Germany. I quickly learned that Berliners stay relatively quiet on the UBahn and don’t really talk loudly on the phone while in transit. When we are traveling in our large group, we always break that quiet rule and cause a huge ruckus. We have definitely caused more than a few glares from people trying to go about their day while a huge group of americans laughs about something that happened the other day. Another time I was riding the bus while on the phone with a friend from back home, and the looks of disapproval were very uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of.

On the weekends at night, Berliners are much more rowdy and open to voicing their opinions about what is going on. They will tell you to move or stop doing something that is bothering them. The weekend also brings trains that are exceptionally packed with people on their way to restaurants, bars, and clubs. It is unbelievable how many people can get packed into the UBahn cars and seem to burst out of the doors at different stops. It is very much a free for all.

On the more lighthearted and fun side of German public transportation etiquette, Berlin is a dog-friendly city and their presence is actually encouraged on public transportation. It has become normal to expect to share a bench with a huge dog for my morning commute to the studio and I love it. Puppies and friendly dogs always get huge smiles from almost everyone on the train and lighten the solemn, isolated feelings of the UBahn.

The UBahn always holds a new adventure each time you walk onto a train car.