As I was finishing my Fall semester at UF, people frequently asked me if I had plans over break or for the new year. My answer was always that I would be preparing to live, work and study in Germany for 2012. Inevitably, I got the “You must be so excited!” response. I would smile and say I was, but really, I wasn’t. I don’t know how to explain it. I knew that I wanted to study abroad, and I knew what a huge financial commitment it was and that I had to be sure before I made the decision. But as the date got closer, I found myself going over the same thoughts. Would my German be good enough to be a Parliament intern? Would my political education in America be good enough to understand the upper level political science classes I would be taking in a foreign language? Would I make any friends? Would I have enough money? Would it be too cold? Would I miss my life in Florida too much? Would my boyfriend forget about me? Would I be able to survive without a car? Would the food be unappetizing? Would I forget anything important in America? Would my parents be too upset I was leaving? Would my kitten remember me when I came home?
So, as everyone looked at me with jealousy and shrieked excitedly about my new international life, I gulped and smiled and prepared for whatever would meet me in the frozen northern European nation that I had never so much as visited. Through my studies, I have taken numerous classes about Germany, wrote my senior thesis on Germany, and learned German. I had developed an obsession with the country, and I knew entering college that the one thing I wanted to do was study abroad. And I had somehow gotten chosen for a Parliament internship. What could be the problem?
The answer: Fear of the unknown. Once I got settled into my new international life, I came to realize that studying and interning abroad were not at all what I had anticipated. Not that I ever knew what exactly to anticipate anyway, but still. Being here, I have gotten to do things that I didn’t even know would be allowed. I have a security pass for the Bundestag and Reichstag, and I can come and go as I please. My German is better than I knew, which came as a surprise. Last week, for example, I attended a meeting at the European House that you must be a member of government to register for. The issue was the eastern European nation of Georgia, and the Georgian Foreign Minister was explaining why he believes Georgia should be given membership to the EU. Then, I went to an SPD party meeting in the Bundestag where the party was trying to create a common platform on the issue of Greek austerity measures. Following this, I attended an intern meeting with the former German foreign minister, who explained to us the changing German education system. I am receiving an amazing education on the EU and German government in my classes, and successfully completing the assignments. This weekend, I attended the opening of a Gerard Richter exhibition at a museum designed by Mies van der Rohe. Richter is the most expensive living artist, and he is the person that designed the modern windows in the Cologne Cathedral that I previously posted. I also purchased a sketchbook and pencils, because I’ve received so much artistic inspiration from Berlin that I needed an outlet. I keep in touch with family and friends, and the food is delicious. Next week, I will have an intensive seminar with my friend from Bonn and we will explore the DDR and Berlin Wall museums and learn about the period of divided Germany. Even things such as the protest of people with Syrian flags outside of the Russian Embassy next to my office’s window are fascinating and educational. I’m overwhelmed with education, support, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
So just remember, if you’re considering studying abroad, it may not be what you imagined. It may be much greater than you had any idea.