As I reflect on my first week in Germany, I cannot help but think about where I was only a week ago: I was sitting nervously and excitedly at my gate waiting for my flight. I remember getting so anxious because the people around me were speaking German, and I was barely able to pick up anything they were saying. I began to question my abilities and felt like I would never be able to understand the German I would need to be able to communicate in Germany. After so long of having studied German, I was expecting to understand everything easily. I later learned that nerves can really affect this, and I learned how important practicing speaking a language as often as I can can really be.
When I first arrived, I was having a lot of difficulty communicating with those around me. Oftentimes, people would switch to English to talk to me, so I decided to set some small goals for myself – first I wanted to be able to communicate without the other person switching to English. To my surprise, by my second day in Berlin, this happened. It wasn’t easy, as I would still get nervous about speaking and messing up, but all the people I met were so kind and understanding. They were so willing to slow down their speech and were so patient. Despite my fear of saying something wrong, I continued to practice my German any moment I could. When I did this, I noticed my German getting better. Sometimes I was saying more complex sentences correctly without thinking about it like I used to. It surprised me how much I was able to improve after being in Germany for such a short period of time.
Along with this, I learned that one of the best ways to gain confidence when speaking to other people is by speaking with the other students from the Temple program in German. We all live in the same building and plan activities together, so we see each other very often, giving us all the best opportunities to work on our German together. I love how supportive everyone in the program is and how willing they are to help. We all are willing to answer each other’s questions and help one another with vocabulary and grammar. I feel like I have gained so much through my peers already, as they have been amazing people to learn from and practice with. I have then been able to apply all of this with interactions I have with others.
I have seen so much growth in my understanding of the German I hear. In class, on public transportation, or in any public place, I have been able to understand what people are saying much more quickly and overall better. This just goes to show the value of being fully immersed in a language, which was something that I was hoping would happen when I came to Germany. By always hearing the language in any context, I have found that my understanding has really become stronger.
It can be easy to feel self-conscious about your language skills in a new country, and sometimes, as I experienced, it sometimes just feels like it would be better to try and communicate in English, especially when someone you are talking to begins to speak English to you to help. This is sometimes a part of culture shock, and can be challenging to cope with. However, the more I have continued with speaking German, and the more I persisted through, the better I felt about it, and the more I have wanted to speak German any chance I get. Speaking a new language can be scary and intimidating, but from my experience, everyone is so encouraging and helpful, and I found that the improvement I have made once I worked through the self-consciousness has been so significant and really has helped me.
Study abroad has so far been one of the most amazing and most rewarding things I have been able to do, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be able to participate in this program. I have been able to work on my German and really use it in more practical situations, I have been able to see all the cultural aspects I learned about in class, and I have been able to meet so many amazing people. I think that despite my initial challenges of speaking German and speaking with confidence and clarity, it is important to think about how much that has helped me to grow already. I have learned, through this experience, the importance of trying and practicing my German any time I can.
I cannot wait to see how much more I can improve in the next few weeks!