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Study Abroad and Domestic Study Away

Notes from Abroad: Lillie in Germany

Lillie Therieau ’21, an Art History major, studied at the Freie Universtat in Berlin, Germany.

Hi! My name is Lillie Therieau and this fall I had the unique opportunity to live and study abroad in Berlin, Germany. I am an Art History major, and as such, I was thrilled to be able to visit Berlin, a destination that is brimming with culture and unique history. I studied at Freie Universität, one of the largest and best schools in Germany, taking Art History classes focused on German and Western European artistic traditions. I visited some of the world’s best museums, and travelled around Europe on my own for the first time. I made friends from all over the world, and I did a lot of growing up and a lot of learning. However, what I value most about the experience of studying abroad was the total perspective shift it gave me. For the first time in my life, I understood the feeling of being foreign and lost and struggling to understand a new place. When I first arrived, I was shocked at the differences between my home in Chicago and the culture of Germany. People in America had assured me that Berlin would be very familiar, as it was also a large, international, multicultural city. I assumed that I would get the feel of it almost immediately, and that my total lack of German would be no barrier to my ability to communicate. After all, the internet said that everyone in Berlin spoke English! My apartment was in the far Northwest side of the city, in a suburb called Reinickendorf. It wasn’t very young and hip, and there weren’t a lot of bars and clubs. My neighbors were mostly older folks who only spoke German. At the beginning, even navigating the aisles at the grocery store down the block was impossibly daunting. However, as the semester went on, I grew to love my experiences in Reinickendorf. Every time that I was able to use my blossoming German in an interaction, and every new piece of German culture that I began to understand felt like a huge accomplishment. For the first time in my life, I enjoyed my language class, and paid rapt attention everyday. It felt so useful, and so relevant. In my everyday life I tried to embrace the feeling of confusion and uncertainty Being an exchange student and an American abroad was very different than I thought it would be. It did a lot to decenter my idea of my identity and of unconscious universalizing of American culture. I think that overall, my semester abroad was humbling. I had to rely on other people helping me, and I had to accept that I just did not know what I was doing most of the time. I feel like a better and more kind person because of it.