I do not speak German. This is the primary thought that is constantly resurfacing in my mind as I prepare to study abroad in Berlin for one month this summer. Other concerns come up as well, for example: how do I finish the required reading for this course when I’m still worrying about my spring classes that only end two days before I take an 11 hour plane ride by myself to the Tegel Airport in Germany?
I recently studied abroad in France as part of the Footsteps of Ernie Pyle class through the IU Media School. We explored London, Normandy and Paris while researching Ernie Pyle and his coverage of World War II. Being able to communicate with the people I encountered in their own language or understanding descriptions in museums made me feel more a part of the country and connected to what I was learning. A particular high point was when other French-speaking visitors to Paris asked me for directions, thinking I was a Parisian, something I gave away immediately when I replied in French corrupted by my Hoosier accent. I am dreading coming across as ignorant or unintelligent for not knowing the local language as I explore Berlin.
But really, I am more excited than worried. Sure it would be nice to be able to talk fluently to the people of Berlin but I’ve never let a language barrier stop me before. I work at Walt Disney World and I can tell you I’ve had hundreds of memorable, albeit mime-like exchanges with the South American tourists who visit in the summer, and I don’t speak Spanish or Portuguese either. Regardless, I have downloaded the Duolingo app in a last-ditch attempt to learn as much as I can before my arrival. So far I know the words for beer (Bier), bread (Brot) and hello (Hallo) so I would classify that as basic survival skills.
I have a few days before I arrive at the hotel in the center of Berlin that will be my home for the month of May. They have told us we are staying in the Mitte district in Germany’s capitol city. Located in what used to be East Germany, Mitte is now considered the hippest area of the city, I will report back on that soon. A large part of the course is looking at how Berlin’s history is represented and preserved, to be observed in the present day. There are innumerable reminders throughout the city of its past; from what remains of the Berlin Wall to the Soviet graffiti in the Reichstag, the home of Germany’s parliament.
Like every student preparing for study abroad I have a passport (complete with a deadpan, deer-in-headlights snapshot of myself), an adapter for all the necessary electronics and a Pinterest board full of articles listing the 115 places I have to visit while I’m there. I am also excited to see how the authentic German food differs from the sauerkraut, sausage and potatoes my dad always made when I was growing up. I’m guessing that Germans don’t cook theirs crock-pot style in the garage for several hours, my dad’s favorite strategy to prevent the entire house from smelling like the pickled cabbage. So I guess all I can do now—besides finishing finals and actually packing—is accept that things are probably not going to go perfectly the way I plan. I’m probably going to be lost more often than not. I’m probably going to have to use a lot more hand gestures than Germans are used to. But as corny as it sounds, I’m probably going to have one of the best adventures of my college career and I can’t wait.