“So, are you looking forward to going to Berlin?” my dad asked me the day before my departure. I thought about it, wanting to reply genuinely, but the only answer I could come up with was “I don’t know.”
Of course I wanted to go, but I wasn’t like a little girl on Christmas Eve dying of excitement and impatience. Why? The thing is it is hard to build castles in the air when you don’t know the base on which to erect them, and I simply didn’t know what to expect. I had no idea what the professors and students would be like, and with whom I was to share a room – I could have looked her up on Facebook (common nowadays) had I known her name, but I didn’t.
I had seen a list revealing people’s first names, many of them impossible for me to pronounce, and the only thing I could conclude from this was that this summer school would bring about encounters that I would not have had, had I spent my summer in Copenhagen.
Because of my lack of expectation, it is impossible for me to say whether or not my first week at ECLA can be classified as a disappointment or a success. I can only reflect on what it felt like, and it felt good. Actually, it was a bit reassuring because no one, with a facial expression of “I DON’T UNDERSTAND YOU!”, asked: “Why the hell do you want to waste your summer away? What’s so interesting about Prussia?”
Everyone is at ECLA because they want to learn and in one way or another, we all have some interests in common. Quite a few activities during our first weekend at ECLA helped to create a base of common experiences and got us to talk to each other because what are you supposed to do besides talk when you sit next to someone on the train, with whom you will be spending the next five weeks? Stay silent? That would be awkward.
The first days here were intense: the many new faces, the tours around Berlin, the many pages to be read – and all of these at the same time. I felt constantly divided between wanting to hang out with the people I was slowly getting to know and the knowledge that back in my dorm, there were hundreds of pages waiting to feel the presence of my attentive eyes, and this, I admit, made me feel a bit stressed. But now, as a daily routine has formed, studying here seems less stressful than what I’m used to, but that doesn’t mean that I think the course will be a piece of cake.
The fact that everything is within a five minute walking distance, that all meals are prepared, that I only need to think about myself, my books and my laundry (ECLA has not yet hired someone to take care of this – too bad), has led me to the conclusion that ECLA is less stressful than what I’m used to – in a good way. ECLA is a place where I can devote myself 100% to learning, but I have realized that I will not only learn about Prussia, but also something about my own time.
For some reason I haven’t thought about, before coming here, that I would be given an insight into different cultures and what it is like to be a student somewhere else in the world. Maybe I was just simple-minded, but now, after the first week, this intangible insight I got feels like a great gift, and I know that when summer is over I will be leaving Berlin enlightened in more ways than one, and hopefully I will also carry with me friendships that I couldn’t have gotten elsewhere – those are my expectations for the rest of the summer. So I might have arrived without distinct expectations but now, with interesting lectures and good company, I have certainly got some.
by Christine Toft (ISU’11, Denmark)