You could be mistaken for thinking that moving to Berlin would not be a radically new cultural experience from the UK. Like any other large, Western capital city, the English language is frustratingly prominent. And there is still an abundance of hipster-run coffee shops furnished with the same mismatched furniture. It’s basically the same place as the UK, just without those wholly unnecessary pleasantries we English preside over.
Berlin, a wonderfully diverse melting pot of cultures, felt quite intimidating to navigate at times. Particularly in a second language (not always German) when it was required. For context, in my neighbourhood Neukölln, 44 per cent of the population were estimated to be of migrant origin, with German as their second or third language.
So much of Germany’s national identity has been based on a process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with the National Socialist past). This poses a challenging environment for migrants, unable to relate to the country’s complicated history. Seeing the modern city through witnessing these cultural interactions was fascinating.
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As mentioned in a previous blog, I found the German university system a relatively anonymous experience. It dawned on me how much of my own identity has come from being a student. In the UK, that is relatively easy. Being a student sort of justifies your existence as a young adult. But in Berlin, being a student didn’t feel like it carried the same meaning.
Nevertheless, university did at least excuse me from doing too much work. In fact, the idea of having to find my work ethic again certainly seems daunting. Perhaps only then will the challenge of reintegration feel more real – and then appreciation for the year abroad appreciation will strengthen.
If studying abroad has taught me anything, it is that I would rather pursue a career in the UK. I guess it is only through spending a significant amount of time abroad that you are forced to reflect on everything you have at home.
I appreciate that this makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy my year abroad. I did – it was fantastic. But I can't really put my finger on why I didn’t fall in love with the city. Sure, the -15°C winter days didn’t help – but Berlin is still my favourite destination for fun. It’s just not enough to make me want to up sticks and make a life there.
Since then I’ve become acutely aware of my attachment to the UK. I feel an inexplicable connection with the UK that, despite its increasingly evident flaws, channels a sense of belonging in me.
There is a silver lining to all of this self-indulgent self-reflection (well, for me at least). I won’t be “that” year abroad guy – trying to link every conversation back to the year you spent finding yourself at Monash, in Bali, or Basildon or wherever.
Read more: The best ways to prepare for studying abroad