When you applied to study abroad, you completed a short activity that asked you to choose some words to describe your different identities, as well as some values you associated with those identities. In the pre-departure orientation, we looked at some different values and placed ourselves and US culture on a spectrum between them. We also discussed what aspects of our identities informed our place on the spectrum as well as how US culture evolved to have certain values. Thinking back to both of these activities and looking forward to your study abroad experience, how does your identity impact how you see and experience the world? Does your identity afford you any advantages and/or disadvantages? What other identities do you expect to encounter abroad? How might the people you meet abroad experience the world differently from you? What advantages and disadvantages do you think their identities might afford them?
A short two years ago, traveling to Germany had never crossed my mind. I knew little about the country, its people, or its traditions, and even less of its language. As far as I was concerned, Germany was just another European country that I read and heard about, and I had no real intention of changing that. A little while later, I took a blind chance and started the Dual Degree Program during my freshman year at Rollins College. Although uncertain about my commitment, I allayed my concerns by reminding myself that I had a significant amount of time to consider the affair before I began my studies abroad. Little did I know that the ‘small’ decision I made to begin the program had set off a chain of events following each other in rapid succession, like beads falling out of a broken necklace.
My German studies led me to Münster in the summer following my freshman year. That fall, my German professor informed of a program by the name of Cultural Vistas, to which I applied and was accepted. In the summer following my sophomore year, I went to Germany with this program to complete a two month internship in Berlin. Now, in the end of August 2019, I find myself beginning my first term at the ESB Business School in Reutlingen.
Through my trips, I’ve spent a decent amount of time in Germany. I have had chances to interact with the people, learn about their customs, and observe different cultures and subcultures. From what I see, I understand that the social situation in Germany (in terms of identity) has some similarities to the one in the United States. There is a wide variety of immigrant communities here, from Turks to Poles, Arabs to Albanians, Croats to Persians. Much like in the States, many of the children of these immigrants struggle with the concept of identity. Though German by nationality, there is a tangible social distinction between ‘German Germans’ and these Germans of Migrationshintergrund, or ‘Migrant/migration background’. I compare myself to these individuals, as I myself am the child of immigrants. However, when I am in the U.S (and perhaps this is due to my own personal upbringing) I don’t feel ‘not American’, nor do I really feel a significant social stigma. In this sense, I gather that the identities of the Germans born to immigrant parents afford them a disadvantage in German society. This extends to me, since I myself come from an unfortunately misunderstood and stigmatized ethnic and religious background. Interestingly enough, however, I have found that my sense of being American is strengthened while abroad. I attribute this to an outsider effect of sorts; being (one of) the only American(s) that the people I meet in Germany know, my nationality takes precedence to my ethnic background. These are aspects of social interaction that I find fascinating, and that I actively try to learn from and use to mold my own identity and perspectives.
I am very interested to see what awaits me in this coming semester. I am excited to explore the beautiful German south, investigate the different aspects of German society and social interaction, and learn as much as I can about life in the changing world around me.