Sommer Abroad: Berlin 2017

Last year, I avoided one of the most popular Notre Dame experiences completely. I stayed in South Bend for both semesters while most of my friends and classmates went out into the world, to Perth, Dublin, or London. I had dodged the bullet of Study Abroad, got to experience both a football season and Notre Dame in spring, for at least a week in May.

But, during the spring semester, I got an email. The ND Berlin summer program had spots open. I forwarded it to my parents and filled out an application on a whim, in a whirl of applications for jobs and research grants. With the help of a favorite professor and awesome rector, I secured a spot for six weeks in Berlin.   There may have been a few moments of panic, of reconsideration, and of preemptive homesickness. I managed to ignore all of that and get on a plane less than two weeks after my junior year had officially ended.  And then I was in Germany. With no students I knew. When I didn’t speak German.

The first week there, I learned how to introduce myself in German, how to deal with German public transit, and that both my roommates had just finished their first year at Notre Dame. I met some cool new professors and tried German food.

This is called Spaghettieis. Just ice cream made to look like spaghetti!

Thanks to an awesome friend fluent in German, I went to see a ton of German theater. From a rather contemporary play our first week, which was followed up by Hamlet, I grew familiar with hearing the language and was ever so grateful for supertitles in English.  I saw three more shows, one of which did not have any English translations. So, I learned about Brecht and got some whispered translations during Mutter Courage.

Whispered translations became enormously helpful in large groups. In a grocery store or buying coffee, I would use up my few weeks of German with the basics of a transaction. When asked, ‘Paper or plastic?’ I would end up using one of my standby German phrases: do you speak English? (The others were excuse me and thank you).  I had homilies translated, and spent mass with my head in the book to attempt to follow the mass. Seventeen years of Catholic school and I was completely lost in the mass. At least for a few weeks, but I adapted to reading the parts of mass instead of listening for cues in English.

Living truly independently was also quite the shift. I had an apartment for the first time, with two wonderful roommates, but I had to cook. I have never been in a situation where I had to cook all of my own meals before. I got rather inventive, learned just how long you can stretch a box of pasta and a jar of sauce, and accidentally had some veggies go bad in the fridge. I think that’s a necessary step in learning cooking skills.

Somehow, some way, I got infected with whatever bug it is that makes us all gush about our time abroad. Now I simply can’t stop talking about it. I had the chance to grow as a person, quite sincerely, and I am so thankful for my adventure.


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