Berlin Classroom- December 12
I holed up in Berlin for two weeks after my school in order to finish writing an article. However, the longer I spent in Berlin the wider I felt a juxtaposition rise within me. I became fascinated by the contrast within the non-locals in other words, the difference between those who had come to Berlin by choice and those who came not by choice: expats and refugees. As an American who only speaks English, I began to overhear stories in English about traveling around to various European cities for the sake of weather and observe the roaming workforce of laptops in coffee shops. At the same time, I volunteered with a group and met some refugees from Syria who spoke of missing their country and longing for place. My Airbnb host was in a similar situation with minimal economic opportunities where he lived, yet felt a deep yearning for where he came from.
Meanwhile, I was basically living the life of an expat because I was hearing about the ramifications of Trump and the terrorist attacks occurring near my house, yet I was so far away. This distance isolated me as I had no source to vent my frustrations and concern for my own country, America. I had trouble, which is not uncommon with a sense of patriotism for my country. America was not great, we had history and numerous presidents to prove it. However, meeting Germans, I felt a sense of kinship with the tainted patriotism.
This strange patriotism was simply a sense that I could speak about America from one American’s perspective perhaps was more a sense of confidence with knowledge than anything else. Though even this sense of knowledge I realized was slipping away, America is insular and my knowledge of America is insular. I felt like I was struggling to come up to the surface after living underwater for so long. In other words, I was hearing about the world and about America from the non-American world community. “America is the criminal and the judge.” Though it was no shock to hear these comments about America, as many of my friends in college were American Studies majors, it was refreshing to be surrounded by this perspective without the burden of the identity. Being American while critiquing America.
Identity pivots as you change your scenery often because you are who you are in reference to others. While I was traveling I was American until I met another American then I became a New Yorker and so on and so forth. American problems do not look inward when you are abroad they look outward. When abroad, our history gets compared with the history of others and our action is compared to the actions of others. “America in many parts is like a third world country, right?” “America never went through the three phases of human rights that other European countries went through. You skipped one.” Though listening to the critiques of people from other cultures with a different center culture to orbit their identity around, I could catch glimpses of America through an alternative lens
Through being in Berlin the city and the people within it became their own educational experience. Overall, I am still trying to process what it means when the world increases in being a collection of global wanderers without a root to a place, but also how America fits with all the interconnections of the global world.