Germany has been great this first week! It has been a lot of fun exploring Berlin. There are so many cultural and historical sites that make this city such a unique place. I did not expect all the street food across the city to be so cheap! However, many of the main tourist destinations have food that is very overpriced.
Even among the excitement of being in Berlin, the one thing I do miss is not being an outsider. As students travelling in a group, we often are labelled as a tourist group and I feel that this affects how others in public interact with us. Despite the occasional misunderstandings caused by being an outsider, I am very excited to keep practicing speaking German in public and trying to blend into the cultural norms and language. When we travel in smaller groups we are able to connect better to the culture and blend in. I find it very rewarding when I can understand something asked from me in German and reply without any confusion on either side.
I think Americans can learn a lot from Germany and German culture. The value of cross cultural engagement allows us to challenge the norms of our own culture which we take for granted. As we are exposed to new ways of doing things we can think about the ways systems that we are familiar with can be improved. In many ways German culture is much less reliant on consumption of resources by having a stronger focus on public transport, producing less goods and single use items, recycling and bottle refunds. I believe these systems greatly reduce our impact on the environment, but it requires a change in how we structure our daily lives. I have noticed that I produce much less waste from my daily activities due to reusable cloth hand driers and less plastic and paper wrappings for goods. I have also had a much lower carbon footprint by always walking and taking the bus and train. I think we can all learn a lot while living in situations like this where our daily norms are challenged.