When people discover that I’m studying abroad this summer, the first question I’m asked every single time is “Where?” Once I say “Berlin,” I get a variety of responses that mostly include confusion and misunderstanding. For most people, images of study abroad include the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The capital of Germany doesn’t seem to jump to many people’s minds. However, once I explain why Berlin is my city of choice, it all makes perfect sense that I go.

Receiving the Goethe Award for excellence in German Studies in high school

Receiving the Goethe Award for excellence in German Studies in high school

I studied German for five years in middle school/high school. My last name is German, and my great-grandfather immigrated to the United States from Germany as a teenager. I have so many ties to Germany, and having never been, I have always wanted to visit. When I found the Germany: Public Policy program online, I knew that it would be a perfect fit for my Public Policy Studies Minor, and also that it could fill this need I have to travel to Germany and discover my heritage. It may mean dusting off some old German language textbooks, but I need to go.

The program doesn’t begin until July, but already I’m mentally collecting the items I need to bring with me. I’ll have a carry on and a suitcase, but I know I’ll be bringing back so many souvenirs, I can’t pack those to the brim. This trip will test my ability to embrace simplicity and re-wear clothes, something I’m embarrassed to admit I avoid. It will be difficult and stressful to make a list of what I need to pack, buy the necessities, weigh everything carefully to avoid being charged for extra weight. But I need to go.

I’ve been in a relationship for a year and a half now, and though we’ve spent the summer apart before at the start of our relationship, the two of us have grown extremely close since then. It will be unbelievably difficult to be apart for an entire month. There’s FaceTime and messaging and maybe an occasional phone call (if I can afford it), but I’ll miss him. Not just him, I’ll also miss my family. I usually spend my summers at home with my parents and little sister. When I’m not at home, I call every Saturday morning to catch up with them, and we text throughout the week. It will be a complete lifestyle change to be out of contact with my immediate family. I’m expecting some withdrawal, maybe even a few tears. But I need to go.

I need to go on this trip. I need to experience the world and expand my universe beyond the few states I’ve visited. In an increasingly global world, one that’s extremely connected and interdependent, it is a necessity for me to become more connected myself. I want to see Checkpoint Charlie, tour the DDR Museum, walk through the Tiergarten, and experience so much culture that I no longer limit my viewpoint to my little hometown. With this trip, my heritage won’t be some abstract concept dictated by the letters in my last name, but finally I will be able to connect with my ancestors on a level I never could have achieved if I just took some online summer courses. Despite the setbacks and discomfort I know I will experience on my short study abroad trip, I also know that, without a doubt, I need to go.