A Summer Abroad: Berlin

A Summer Abroad: Berlin

The beauty, history, and challenges that marked the beginning of my first Eurotrip.
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The first time I flew on a plane, I was seven-years-old and headed to Disney World with my family. It was a pre-9/11 world, but flying still frightened me enough that I burst into tears as we prepared to take off. I still vividly remember a flight attendant handing me a plastic winged metal to mark my first time in the air, all smiles and cheer. I haven’t been scared to fly since.

Still, I said goodbye to my family and crossed through the TSA on June 19th, 2016. I was bawling by the time I found my gate. Some things don’t change, I suppose.

Eight months ago, I got one of those “golden opportunities” that everyone likes talking about. The kind that don’t happen to people, realistically anyway. The CEO of a indie publishing website I had long inhabited offered me a community management job. I often joked that this job was “$11 an hour to play on Facebook all day”, but I managed the entirety of the company’s social media, most author-related projects, and generally kept their community happy. Big job, and it got even bigger when I was invited to spend two weeks working at the home office in Berlin. Another two weeks to do whatever I wanted in Europe. A few months of extensive planning later, I had flights and hotels lined up for Berlin, Rome, Paris, London, and Dublin. I was traveling abroad for the first time, and I was going it alone.

“Are you sure about that?” I got asked this question (and variations of it) a lot. I got asked if my longtime boyfriend couldn’t join me. I got disbelieving looks, because I’m 5’2, a young woman, and generally considered what we would call a "country mouse." In the small percentage of Americans that travel abroad, less travel alone and even less of those are women.

I remembered that while I sat at my gate, wiping my eyes as I blared Amanda Palmer over headphones and watched the plane I was about to board.

“Am I sure about this?” The answer was no. I boarded my plane anyway.

Since that first flight two months ago, I have become hopelessly in love with transit days. The in-between days of trains, airport transfer buses, and plane seats. They are slow, and draggy, yet enthralling for the simple act of travel. The anticipation of a new country and an imagination running wild for what you’ll see when you get there (you are always wrong, and it is always awesome). When I finally made the hop from Newark to Berlin, I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn't know Berlin was so diverse, beautiful and so very huge. My first stop in Europe, with the least amount of English of all my stops. Two weeks there on my own. No pressure.

The first three days were the scariest. I quickly discovered my former employer was disinterested in helping me navigate the basics of living in Germany, so early hurdles such as the U-Bahn (Berlin’s metro system) and figuring my way around signs dotted my time in the city. To a tune of wicked jet lag, I worked long office hours and commuted back and forth across the vast city. One night heading back, the German writing in the metro turned me around and I ended up on the opposite side of Berlin around midnight. The metro shuts down at 1am. It was a rather unnerving adventure getting home. I also had the pleasant experience of finding out that my train ticket, which my employer picked for me, was only worth a week’s worth of U-Bahn rides, but only after after a 60 euro fine and an anxious trip to the German equivalent of the DMV. I had never gotten a ticket in my life: this one makes for an interesting story, at the very least.

At the same time, I quickly discovered how beautiful Berlin was. Majesty and creativity marry beautifully in the streets, where street art dots anything it can touch and history seeps out of the city's pores. Brass stolperstein mark Jewish lives on the cobblestone. East Side Gallery sprawls around its block with flooring imagery. I went to Brandenburg Gate on the same day as a football match, so the whole are had been transformed into a viewing area, complete with a truck-sized screen and food vendors. There was a thrill about joining the crowd of a thousand Berliners, passionate and joyful for every goal their team scored. Germany won the game, too.

There is a peace to Berlin, too. Due to its central position and polices, Germany has one of the most diverse populaces of any European country. Every day at my flat was a new one, sharing a building with college students from Germany, France, Haiti, Norway, Russia, South Africa, and yes, even America. We exchanged stories in the elevator, held doors, and offered helping hands where needed. I was offered food and, more often, beer when coming in at night. I found the same in the office, where my co-workers had flocked from all over the world. Our neighboring restaurant was run by a Russian family, who spoke only their native tongue and German. They called me the “pretty North European girl”, and smiled whenever I came in to order lunch with rough sign language. I also frequented a kiosk down the street (which are like gas station stores in America): the Turkish man that worked there had come from Istanbul two years before, with his young daughter. Our exchanges were awkward and messy until one day, when I apologized for my bad German while buying ice cream.

He shakes his head and says, “In my country, we say that when you eat and drink in a place, it is your home too.”

I think I visited him every day after that.

The instant understanding and compassion of Berlin was incredible, and humbling, because I kept thinking back to my home. Back where there had been screaming over immigrants from Mexico and Syria, whichever was the latest ‘threat’ to the American public. I thought about that as I wandered around this big city with little to no German experience, in a culture vastly different from my hometown of 10,000 people. I thought about the challenges I had living in such a place, on my own, for a mere two weeks. And then I considered what it would be to move here- to pack what I could carry and settle where no one spoke my language or knew my customs. Where everyone screamed for me to ‘go back where I came from’.

By the time my two weeks in Berlin were up, I had seen and done a great deal in the city. I had experienced so much of the beauty and strength of the city, and still, there was so much more left to experience. It was worth every second, difficult or otherwise. Given the chance, I would love to return to Berlin one day, and I'm so glad it was my first European experience. It helped set the stage for my next stop, Rome, and helped prepare me for the next two weeks of incredible travel!
Cover Image Credit: Caitlin Jones

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Your Wait time At Theme Parks Is Not Unfair, You're Just Impatient

Your perceived wait time is always going to be longer than your actual wait time if you can't take a minute to focus on something other than yourself.

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Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios "unboxed" on June 30, 2018. My friend and I decided to brave the crowds on opening day. We got to the park around 7 AM only to find out that the park opened around 6 AM. Upon some more scrolling through multiple Disney Annual Passholder Facebook groups, we discovered that people were waiting outside the park as early as 1 AM.

We knew we'd be waiting in line for the bulk of the Toy Story Land unboxing day. There were four main lines in the new land: the line to enter the land; the line for Slinky Dog Dash, the new roller coaster; the line for Alien Spinning Saucers, the easier of the new rides in the land; Toy Story Mania, the (now old news) arcade-type ride; and the new quick-service restaurant, Woody's Lunchbox (complete with grilled cheese and "grown-up drinks").

Because we were so early, we did not have to wait in line to get into the land. We decided to ride Alien Spinning Saucers first. The posted wait time was 150 minutes, but my friend timed the line and we only waited for 50 minutes. Next, we tried to find the line for Slinky Dog Dash. After receiving conflicting answers, the runaround, and even an, "I don't know, good luck," from multiple Cast Members, we exited the land to find the beginning of the Slinky line. We were then told that there was only one line to enter the park that eventually broke off into the Slinky line. We were not about to wait to get back into the area we just left, so we got a Fastpass for Toy Story Mania that we didn't plan on using in order to be let into the land sooner. We still had to wait for our time, so we decided to get the exclusive Little Green Man alien popcorn bin—this took an entire hour. We then used our Fastpass to enter the land, found the Slinky line, and proceeded to wait for two and a half hours only for the ride to shut down due to rain. But we've come this far and rain was not about to stop us. We waited an hour, still in line and under a covered area, for the rain to stop. Then, we waited another hour and a half to get on the ride from there once it reopened (mainly because they prioritized people who missed their Fastpass time due to the rain). After that, we used the mobile order feature on the My Disney Experience app to skip part of the line at Woody's Lunchbox.

Did you know that there is actually a psychological science to waiting? In the hospitality industry, this science is the difference between "perceived wait" and "actual wait." A perceived wait is how long you feel like you are waiting, while the actual wait is, of course, the real and factual time you wait. There are eight things that affect the perceived wait time: unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time, pre-process waits feel longer than in-process waits, anxiety makes waits feel longer, uncertain waits are longer than certain waits, unexplained waits are longer than explained waits, unfair waits are longer than equitable waits, people will wait longer for more valuable service and solo waiting feels longer than group waiting.

Our perceived wait time for Alien Spinning Saucers was short because we expected it to be longer. Our wait for the popcorn seemed longer because it was unoccupied and unexplained. Our wait for the rain to stop so the ride could reopen seemed shorter because it was explained. Our wait between the ride reopening and getting on the coaster seemed longer because it felt unfair for Disney to let so many Fastpass holders through while more people waited through the rain. Our entire wait for Slinky Dog Dash seemed longer because we were not told the wait time in the beginning. Our wait for our food after placing a mobile order seemed shorter because it was an in-process wait. We also didn't mind wait long wait times for any of these experiences because they were new and we placed more value on them than other rides or restaurants at Disney. The people who arrived at 1 AM just added five hours to their perceived wait

Some non-theme park examples of this science of waiting in the hospitality industry would be waiting at a restaurant, movie theater, hotel, performance or even grocery store. When I went to see "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," the power went out in the theater right as we arrived. Not only did we have to wait for it to come back and for them to reset the projectors, I had to wait in a bit of anxiety because the power outage spooked me. It was only a 30-minute wait but felt so much longer. At the quick-service restaurant where I work, we track the time from when the guest places their order to the time they receive their food. Guests in the drive-thru will complain about 10 or more minute waits, when our screens tell us they have only been waiting four or five minutes. Their actual wait was the four or five minutes that we track because this is when they first request our service, but their perceived wait begins the moment they pull into the parking lot and join the line because this is when they begin interacting with our business. While in line, they are experiencing pre-process wait times; after placing the order, they experience in-process wait times.

Establishments in the hospitality industry do what they can to cut down on guests' wait times. For example, theme parks offer services like Disney's Fastpass or Universal's Express pass in order to cut down the time waiting in lines so guests have more time to buy food and merchandise. Stores like Target or Wal-Mart offer self-checkout to give guests that in-process wait time. Movie theaters allow you to check in and get tickets on a mobile app and some quick-service restaurants let you place mobile or online orders. So why do people still get so bent out of shape about being forced to wait?

On Toy Story Land unboxing day, I witnessed a woman make a small scene about being forced to wait to exit the new land. Cast Members were regulating the flow of traffic in and out of the land due to the large crowd and the line that was in place to enter the land. Those exiting the land needed to wait while those entering moved forward from the line. Looking from the outside of the situation as I was, this all makes sense. However, the woman I saw may have felt that her wait was unfair or unexplained. She switched between her hands on her hips and her arms crossed, communicated with her body language that she was not happy. Her face was in a nasty scowl at those entering the land and the Cast Members in the area. She kept shaking her head at those in her group and when allowed to proceed out of the land, I could tell she was making snide comments about the wait.

At work, we sometimes run a double drive-thru in which team members with iPads will take orders outside and a sequencer will direct cars so that they stay in the correct order moving toward the window. In my experience as the sequencer, I will inform the drivers which car to follow, they will acknowledge me and then still proceed to dart in front of other cars just so they make it to the window maybe a whole minute sooner. Not only is this rude, but it puts this car and the cars around them at risk of receiving the wrong food because they are now out of order. We catch these instances more often than not, but it still adds stress and makes the other guests upset. Perhaps these guests feel like their wait is also unfair or unexplained, but if they look at the situation from the outside or from the restaurant's perspective, they would understand why they need to follow the blue Toyota.

The truth of the matter is that your perceived wait time is always going to be longer than your actual wait time if you can't take a minute to focus on something other than yourself. We all want instant gratification, I get it. But in reality, we have to wait for some things. It takes time to prepare a meal. It takes time to experience a ride at a theme park that everyone else wants to go on. It takes time to ring up groceries. It takes patience to live in this world.

So next time you find yourself waiting, take a minute to remember the difference between perceived and actual wait times. Think about the eight aspects of waiting that affect your perceived wait. Do what you can to realize why you are waiting or keep yourself occupied in this wait. Don't be impatient. That's no way to live your life.

Cover Image Credit:

Aranxa Esteve

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Yep, Another Post About An American Girl Reflecting On Her Time and Studies Abroad

Seriously, again?

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I don't know exactly what I did to deserve it, but I recently became part of a highly misunderstood, marginalized, and dare I say, stigmatized community. Quite frankly, I think it's completely unfair.

What did my fellow basic globe-trotters and I do to deserve such judgment? It's not as if the majority of our parents had a large part in allowing our travels to happen. It's not as if my parents fully supported me financially after I blew through my waitressing savings as if my ATM card was invincible in the first month of being away.

Some people simply don't realize, gallivanting around Europe (or any other far-flung continent) is seriously strenuous work.

I felt especially misunderstood while I drank from my bottle—I mean "glass"—of French wine (sorry, Mom and Dad) under the Eiffel Tower, or while I ate Dutch pancakes on the canals of Amsterdam, or while I gazed wistfully over the city of Barcelona from Bunkers, or while I lounged in the thermal baths of Budapest. Don't even get me started on the pangs of judgement I felt while I enjoyed a pint of Guinness from my favorite Irish Pub in Ireland, or while I sipped tea at a fancy afternoon tearoom in London, or when I danced on the tables at Spring Fest in Munich with all of my friends. You get the picture.

Needless to say, spending a semester abroad was super hard work!

People who make assumptions and judgments tend to forget we went abroad to study. Perhaps one of my most stressful assignments involved lounging in the local park in Dublin and observing the difference in culture. My workload was tough to manage. True story! Yet the judge-y, not-travelled-abroad-to-study Twitter community often fails to recognize the genuine hardships that we studying-abroad students had to endure during our time away and continues to have loads of fun putting us down. Some of these judgmental people really made me feel personally victimized. See below:Me: wow this sandwich is great. Person who studied abroad in Europe 30 years ago: not as great as the one I had in Barthelona


Funny, Girl, and Monkey: Tori Harkin @tori _harkin Why this monkey look like every girl know studying abroad Get it gurl🙌🏻😍

Seriously, I did the same freakin' pose as the monkey. Partly because I was feeling the glamour of the moment, but mostly because I was in freakin' Spain for Christmas sakes! Sheesh.

It may have appeared effortless, but I personally worked very hard on posing for pictures in front of the most monumental landmarks of the countries where I visited, not to mention the incredible thoughtfulness I put into each and every one of my Instagram captions, too. I would greatly appreciate if the mean-spirited Twitter community would stop kicking a girl while she's already down. It was a tough few months.

Honestly, maybe poking fun at the life-changing experiences I had in Europe is rooted in my desire to troll the trolls who like to blather on Twitter.

Or maybe, just maybe, it's a coping mechanism to not avoid dealing with the fact that I am no longer like the super-glamorous monkey posing on an elevated surface in Barcelona. Maybe, just maybe, that's why my editor gave me a kick in the butt and told me to write an article about my overseas experiences, because my lack of submissions was due to the fact that I couldn't find the words to say about what I learned, saw, ate, drank and did in Europe.

Because in reality, I still haven't fully acknowledged the fact that I'm back. I haven't allowed myself to be sad about leaving. I haven't allowed myself to talk about the fact that for the first time in my life, I was cherishing every moment I had abroad, living in the present, knowing the inevitable expiration date and never wanting it to approach. And now that said expiration date has come and passed, I haven't allowed myself to reflect on my experiences. How every person I met, every place I visited and every little moment that I may never get back have fully changed my perspective on life, and completely changed me as a person.

And if I do decide to fully delve into that suppressed pool of emotion lurking deep in my subconscious, someone needs to run me to the nearest therapist.

I'll probably never transcend the stigmatized community of people who've travelled abroad and fully identified with every stereotype and misunderstanding meme that every Internet troll has thrust upon us. Maybe I will start too many sentences with, "When I was in Europe …" Maybe I'll be one of the brave ones who decides to move back to Europe after graduation (not that I've already started job hunting in London or anything.) In the final analysis, I wouldn't change a thing about my experiences abroad. Finding the perfect words to say anything beyond that is nearly impossible. So, if you get the chance to study abroad and join me and the monkey on the wall of cringe-worthy posed-poses on every elevated surface in every gorgeous monumental landmark in Europe (or anywhere else overseas), by all means, join us in this adverse-filled, misunderstood community. It's the best decision you'll ever make.
Cover Image Credit:

Alexa Campbell

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