prenzlauer berg

Bison Abroad: Ausländerin in Berlin

prenzlauer berg
Once a hot party scene, Prenzlauer Berg has since settled into an ideal residential neighborhood, still centrally located within Berlin.

After two years editing and contributing to this lovely university paper, a semester abroad didn’t feel like enough of a deterrent to keep my byline out of the regular rotation.

So I write from Berlin, for both myself as a personal check-in and equally for potentially interested readers. In semesters past, the “Bison Abroad” column has served a variety of roles depending upon who’s authoring the section.

I have struggled to decide how the pieces should be angled. Based on my short two weeks of study abroad experience, I can’t say I feel qualified to offer advice on the topic. And a purely anecdotal approach might prove boorish. But bear with me nonetheless, as I dissect the emotional tornado of my first 14 days in Germany.

For starters, I am Fargo-born – rooted in the Midwest for my first 21 years of life. Despite light travel in the U.S. and a brief stint in Europe, my lifestyle has remained stationary. This was turned completely on its head in the time following Christmas, when I found myself in NYC and eventually departing for Berlin.

kunst-werke institute
The Kunst-Werke Institute houses multiple, one-time-only exhibitions in its stark, but beautiful, Mitte location. Pictured: detail of Batia Suter’s photo collage for her show titled “Sea of Ice.”

I am confident this type of lifestyle jostling is exactly what I needed; that does not however, mean it’s necessarily simple. Transitioning from reading about and longing for these locations, to then having them at your fingertips — at the expense of typical, personal comforts — as a complex emotional experience.

And Berlin is undoubtedly a complex city. During pre-departure discussions with both peers and advisors, students are commonly advised not to approach the study abroad experience with expectations. This is important advice, but not completely possible.

From my perspective, the choosing of a location for study abroad harbors its own baseline level of expectations. Each city will provide a specific opportunity, and it depends on what the student wants from their experience in order to make the final decision.

Berlin has shown itself to be a multi-faceted, diverse and wickedly exciting city. But it is also unromantic in many ways, with a sense of exclusivity for newcomers.

The capital city is spread out and not architecturally constructed in a vertical manner, opposite of the hyper-romantic New York or Paris. Structures often take on a clinical, postwar energy.


Berlin’s vivid history creates idiosyncrasies worthwhile of a permanent stay – the challenge is getting acclimated to where the surprises can cater to, rather than stifle, the experience.

Berlin, I love you, but I would also like to discover the unlit, basement club three floors down, two doors in, with a doorbell, knocking code and sign language sequence to get in. Not that I know of this place specifically, but I can’t say I would be surprised.

But when you win, you win big. Berlin makes you earn your place, then heartily rewards the diligence. Think all-night dance party at the historic Lido, on the Spree, accompanied by cheap German beer and Bowie tunes.

Through all the highs and lows, I have pinpointed one specific flaw within my approach to studying abroad. Policing my emotions is a trait not specific to my German experience, but has proven more problematic since moving here.

Especially in the first few days, the internal battle between how I thought I should feel, and how I actually felt created more distress than the original disconnect. If I can offer any advice, it would be to allow yourself to analyze your emotions in a gentle way, and to take it a day at a time.

You aren’t an un-adaptable, shitty American. You’re probably just jetlagged.

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