I'm finally home!! As I write this, I’m sitting in a Starbucks in my small town of Stanwood completely overwhelmed by the things I missed about America. Ice in drinks. Free refills. Free water. Sidewalks that don’t make me trip every two steps. And people speaking English. I’m truly going to miss struggling my way through ordering a coffee, which usually turns out to be the wrong order, or just not very good since I’m a typical Washington coffee elitist. These past 6 weeks have been unforgettable. I’m trying to put my feelings about the end of the program, traveling, and learning about myself, but I’m ultimately failing. It’s a mix of nostalgia even though I left only yesterday and tearing up thinking about all the amazing experience and friends I made over the trip.
Overall, I was very impressed with the study abroad program. I thought almost every speaker we had was interesting and engaging. I loved the excursion and private tours of amazing historical and urban sites. Some stands out were the Young Islam Conference and Lecia Brooks. Prior to this trip, I was never interested, or even thought about, the role of education in society and identity. It was just something you needed to have. But the speakers and class visits showed me how interesting and complex the idea of education is in a community. This program also showed me that I can be independent both socially and academically. I feel confident that I can navigate almost any airport or transportation system. I also know that I interact with people from different cultures with different languages. I also that if I want to know something, I can go out and figure it out by myself through reading or interviews. I feel comfortable being uncomfortable, and I’m incredibly grateful for that newly developed trait.
My understanding of (re) interpretation and reenacting identities through German and American lenses of history and narratives has drastically changed from spring to now. I have realized “identify” is a dynamic concept that changes depending on who you talk to, where you are, and when you ask. Frankly, I still don’t quite understand it, but I don’t think that was the main goal of the program. To me the main goal was to open my eyes to the concept and allow me to use this knowledge for the rest of my academic and personal life. A significant part of my research is trying to quantify and walk the borders of appropriation, and dive into this identity, which I’m excited to do. It was interesting to see American Identity through the eyes of a foreign country. I’m still shocked by how the American Studies Master’s students completely stereotyped us, asking how often we went to McDonald’s (never) or how many guns we owned (none) or why our education system was such a “rollercoaster”. I would have thought they would have been more aware and educated about Americans and I was impressed watching my fellow students handle these some times inappropriate comments.
A huge part of this program for me was learning about representation and how that affects national identity. In my previous post, I talked about who is being represented and how are people being represented through communication and expression. We saw this clearly through our research regarding minorities in Germany. I was completely unaware of the hurdles that students and workers with migrant backgrounds have to overcome. For example, the education tracking system that over represents minorities in the bottom two tiers, the Realschule and Hauptschule, which is frequently due to a language barrier. Also the situation with refugees being unable to learn German so they can’t integrate into society is another example of minority issues. To me, these systems seem inherently racist, which is a huge “no-no” or trigger word in Germany. In one classroom, I asked if there was racism present between German and minority students and the teacher completely shut me down and denied it. It was a very interesting encounter that we later talked about during the Young Islam Conference. To me, these are all factors that contribute to a countries national identity. Disclaimer: I don’t want to seem like I’m throwing stones because the US also has huge issues, which I intend to learn more about since my interest is sparked over these types of queries.
Another experience that impacted me, was the “Indians and Cowboys” exhibition in Radebeul. I was surprised by how uncomfortable I felt seeing “America” was being portrayed in such an inaccurate and “bad” light. It felt wrong to see special Native American artifacts in a small town in Germany. And I was shocked at the small children running around with their faces painted in a way that was supposed to represent native American war paint. The history appropriation shocked and kind of of angered me. I tried to analyze why I felt these feelings and could only come up with “it felt wrong”. I wondered if this I was how Germans felt when seeing something like Leavenworth, a faux German town.
I’m excited to connect my research to these overall program topics. The main ones I’m going to focus on are identity labels, Narratives of identity and its dynamic reformulation, identity construction, Art and performance as forms of resistance to deflect identity tropes, and overall appropriation. I’m also going to take a critical theory lens so I can quantify and create a framework in which I can analyze identity. My topic fluctuated as the program got deeper into certain concepts. Talking to Manuela and Catherine were invaluable resources. I was so impressed and intrigued with everyone’s research topics and I can’t wait to read some of the conclusions that people reached. I think that alone will be a continuation of my learning.
As I wrap up my post for today, I wanted to state how incredible grateful I am to this program and to Germany. This trip has given me opportunities and connections with fellow honor students that I will never forget. I truly feel like I’m more a part of the honors community due to the program and that’s something I’m thankful to be able to experience. Farewell Berlin.