Editor's note: Miles from Muncie is a Ball State Daily News series profiling Ball State students and their study abroad programs. If you have any suggestions as to who we should feature next, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Representing risk, creativity and freedom of expression, senior telecommunications major Mia Marrero said she would always remember the graffiti decorating the walls, bridges, doors and tunnels in the heart of Berlin.
“Graffiti and street art have much different connotations [in Berlin] than in the U.S.,” Marrero said. “Art in itself has become a big part of the city’s unique culture, especially in the past century or so … It was eye-opening seeing things from the perspective of those in the community.”
Arriving July 12, Marrero spent nine weeks studying abroad at Humboldt University, one of Berlin’s oldest institutions. There, she said she met other international students from Singapore, Italy, England, China and South Korea. She said this made her courses “even more interesting and dynamic” because her classmates brought their different backgrounds, upbringings and experiences into each discussion.
Between classes and touring Berlin, Marrero said she also traveled to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Geneva, Prague and Warsaw in Poland.
One of the most memorable mini-vacations for Marrero was visiting several filming locations from the Marvel movie, “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” which she got to view at a cinema in Germany.
“In the movie, the characters are traveling to a lot of the same cities and landmarks I [went to] throughout the summer,” Marrero said. “It was a great once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially since I’m studying film and screenwriting and I’m a huge Marvel fan.”
While experiencing new cultures and countries, Marrero said seeing how Berlin is healing from its history of hardships gave the city a “unique and powerful atmosphere.”
“It’s so inspiring to see how the city has grown since its past and has flourished into a sort of haven for artists and creators to express their experiences and ideas,” Marrero said. “I think it really sets Berlin apart from anywhere I’ve ever been and probably will ever be.”
Throughout her three months abroad, Marrero said she learned so much more than she could have in the U.S. alone.
“I’ve learned so much about myself as a person and what I’m passionate about, as well as gained a lot of valuable experiences and skills that will help me in my future,” Marrero said. “I will always recommend Berlin to study abroad or just to visit.”
Separately from Marrero and for a shorter period of time, junior entrepreneurial management and theater major Gwen Baer also traded Ball State’s campus for the streets of Berlin.
“I decided to study abroad in Berlin because of the exciting, forward-thinking culture and the rich historical past,” Baer said.
Along with students from across the country, Baer applied for The American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) program, and she was accepted to take two classes at Humboldt University.
During her sociology class titled “The Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany,” Baer said having a German professor was invaluable to her because he shared “personal stories, family history and the German mindset” with his students.
“He shared with us that even though he was born in the 1970s, he still feels guilt for his family’s participation in WWII, even though he had no part in any of those activities,” Baer said. “This personal conversation in the classroom is something I will always remember and why I think discussion with other cultures and societies is essential to growth.”
The class also took a trip to Sachsenhausen, a Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany.
“We had a tour of the camp, including details of how this particular work camp was used to murder thousands of Jews, LGBTQ+ and many other communities Hitler ordered were ‘sub-humans,’” Baer said. “This was a chilling and truly unforgettable experience.”
Outside of class, Baer roomed with five other U.S. students, and together, she said they settled into Berlin’s daily lifestyle.
“When you’re in another country for the first time, with little to no knowledge of the language and culture, it can be extremely scary,” Baer said. “[My roommates and I] stuck to each other like glue during our four weeks in Berlin to push each other outside of our comfort zones and try new things together.”
The girls stayed in an apartment near Berlin’s city center, and they would usually picnic at the park and visit a variety of different themed nightclubs.
“Nightlife in Berlin is unlike any other city in Europe,” Baer said. “They are known as the techno capital of the world and play it in every club … These clubs were much more intense than anything I’ve experienced in America, almost a bit intimidating. To be able to experience how much they value that social aspect of life and take it so seriously was amazing.”
Baer also said she visited historical sites like Checkpoint Charlie, which was the crossing point on the border of East and West Berlin where the Berlin Wall stood during the Cold War.
Additionally, Baer traveled to Amsterdam and Warsaw, Poland, which she said was a definite stop for her because she is 60 percent Polish. In Warsaw, Baer said she experienced the highlight of her study abroad trip: taking a traditional pierogi making class.
“The flight [to Amsterdam] was only an hour and a half and only cost 100 Euro, which is extremely affordable in the big picture, which was one of the amazing things about Europe,” Baer said. “We were only there for four days, which was not enough time to truly take in all of the culture and history.”
Since returning from her study abroad trip, Baer said she learned that “invaluable relationships and a more positive worldly outlook” can come from having an open mind toward different ways of life.
“After only 24 hours in Berlin, I realized how big our world was and how small we really are in the grand scheme of things,” Baer said. “Berlin has a special place in my heart as a place of growth and clarity, showing that if you have some German confidence and my American dreamer mindset, anything is possible.”