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Story Of The Day: A Glimpse At The Life Lessons I Learned As A 17-Year-Old Living In Berlin For A Month

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April 30, 2021

Traveling the world opens you up to so many new cultures, people and experiences. Berlin is the capital of Germany and has the perfect amount of cultural significance for learning new things. 

There is no doubt in my mind that people who are able to travel are some of the luckiest in the world. Although I have only traveled abroad once, that was enough to see that there’s so much we can learn from others. 

In June 2014, I took my first 12-hour international flight straight to Frankfurt and traveled by train to Berlin. From culture shock to gaining independence, read more to see what I learned about life from living in Berlin for a month. 

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Leave Your Expectations At Home

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Preparing to leave home for a month can be extremely nerve-wracking, so you do all the research you can. Unfortunately, even though the internet can be resourceful, it can be just as misleading as well. 

Being South African meant that I was used to a culture of warm greetings and smiles from strangers on the street. I had learned online that German people are cold in comparison, which could make one feel unwelcome. 

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Fortunately, this wasn’t the case at all, as I was greeted with as many friendly smiles as I would’ve back home. Unfortunately, this experience didn’t take away from the anxiety I faced from my concerning expectations. 

This taught me a great lesson on expectations and how they can ruin many experiences for you. Staying open-minded can help you enjoy experiences much more than you would when expecting the worst. 

Representation Matters

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While Berlin is one of the more liberal cities in the world, there surprisingly weren’t many people who looked like me. Thankfully, this was expected since Germany is a European country, so it wasn’t jarring. 

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What I didn’t expect is to be so affected by the billboards and media texts around me. On my first day back, I noticed the black people included on the Coca-Cola billboard on the highway. 

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My eyes welled up with tears as I realized I had not seen someone like me in the media for a month. This made me recognize that representation is critical for feeling like you belong, feeling safe, and feeling like you matter. 

On the flip side, seeing more openly queer and experimental people showed me it was okay to be different. Even the way they reinterpreted graffiti as art in the city was a liberating way to see things. 

It Happened Even If You Didn’t Take A Picture

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I carried a DSLR camera, my smartphone, and a tablet during the first two weeks of my trip, and it was strenuous. Trying to capture every moment was exhausting, especially since I was riding a bicycle everywhere. 

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Related

Many Instagram enthusiasts live by the rule that something didn’t happen unless there are pictures. I am here to tell you that it probably didn’t happen because you were so focused on taking pictures for social media. 

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Once I left the cameras at home, I could truly take in everything about my experience. I still remember the sounds of college students enjoying a summer day at the lake and the aroma of sizzling kebabs on the streets. 

These are all things that you cannot capture in an image but stay with you forever anyway. So take those pictures when you want to, but be in the moment and take as many mental images for a well-rounded experience. 

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