Should I really be disappointed in my Berlin semester?

My Berlin Semester is over, even though I do not leave the city until next year. The date is December 26 (2018); I fly to Buenos Aires on January 1 (2019).

When I checked in with how I am feeling now about the semester (aka, as I reflect…), I am both surprised and unsurprised at the tinge of disappointment I feel regarding my level of connection to the city, my immersion into Berlin.

Unsurprised, because

  • I, like many of my Extraordinary© peers, have a history of discounting my accomplishments, marginalizing my progress, and having incredibly high (ahem, unattainable) standards for myself. Thus, of course I am disappointed in myself, because
    • a) I don’t know what other ways of being are like
    • b) from what other constructed source, if not disappointment and a need to improve and prove myself, would I draw my motivation? (*for those reading at home, insert a dry, sarcastic tone here*)
  • I have a lofty vision of cultural immersion (*cue sparkly music*) as I once spent a year going to agricultural trade school in small-town Panama, in a town with no internet and few English speakers, when I was 16 years old. It’s hard to beat that level of immersion.

Surprised, because

  • Berlin wasn’t supposed to be a semester of creeping disappointment––for once, language and culture were not such great barriers, unlike in South Korea and India. This time, the barriers were internal: I did not (want to) prioritize anything city-based above my academics.
    • Example: Four months in Berlin and I never went to a club, because (along with being way too smoky for my sensitive throat) I did not wish to disrupt my sleeping schedule or lose time that I could be spending on homework. This does not explain why I did not go to every single museum Berlin has to offer. (See what I mean about hard-to-achieve-self-set-standards?)
    • Example: I had the opportunity to volunteer with this really cool organization I scoped out, but when we both got really busy and they wondered if it was feasible, I said Let’s part now as friends instead of reprioritizing my life and becoming flexible.

I suppose the first question somebody could ask after hearing all this is, “why should you feel disappointed? Who says you had to immerse yourself culturally, make a billion close friends, wander the streets at every moment of the day, etc. etc. etc.?”

And to that, I would say, “ha!”

Because the answer, of course, is nobody and anybody.

On one hand, it’s one of those things where people don’t really care, like those situations when your mom tells you, “nobody will notice that [you spilled a little pasta sauce on your pants] because of everybody is too busy thinking about themselves, don’t worry about it.” People will ask how Berlin is, and if I can conjure up just one adequate small story, they’ll say “ooh! What a school. Amazing! You know if that program were around when I was in undergrad…” and stop asking about Berlin.

On the other hand, the disappointment in myself comes creeping when situations like this occur: somebody will ask if I did X, Y, Z thing in the city (most recently, X = Bikini Berlin, a fashion mall), and if I say “no,” they immediately cry, “did you even go to [the city]?!” or “then what were you possibly doing all semester?” Homework feels like a rather lame answer just then… never mind that they themselves were only in that city a few days, or have never actually been.

What’s the takeaway? Maybe a question I’ll need to figure out for myself: to guilt trip based on others’ standards or to accept my life + try my best + move on?

 

Thoughts, as always, are appreciated in the comments or email me directly at phoebeaway@gmail.com. 🙂

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Improving quality time

My friend Shiao-li and I are trying out a new way to hang out. In the past we’ve tried studying together, but I often get distracted when I’m around people, especially if I’d rather not do whatever studying needs to be done. It means that there are many times we don’t hang out + reconnect or study together as well as we could be.

Some days, when the workload is low and/or I’m in need of a bandwidth recharge, this doesn’t matter. It’s fun to study together, especially since you get the added boost of exercise (walking to the cafe) and caffeine. Taking breaks while studying to talk is also fun.

But for days when I’m already going at full capacity and feeling motivated to get work done… this doesn’t work well.

So we tried setting a 30 minute period of time, 1-1:30pm, and a location, the patio. We showed up, without our computers or an agenda. We talked for that time, caught up, shared knowledge… and then left at 1:30.

It worked out really well, because we were both 100% tuned into the conversation, and because it meant that I was 100% committed to it the entire time despite feeling stressed about completing all the work I had on my plate. Because I knew it would end in just 30 minutes, which was an amount of time I felt comfortable giving, I didn’t have to worry about what else I could be doing with my time or how to exit the conversation.

How might we find other ways to improve our quality time with one another in an environment of hearty workloads and a poor work-life balance?

The $6 Coffee

[Day 11 in Seoul. Status: Haven’t heard much about North Korea in the last couple of days.]

Today I purposefully sought out a $6 coffee.

(I would have titled this post “The Most Expensive Coffee I’ve Ever Consumed”, but on my way here I ordered coffee in the Shanghai airport and it cost $9, so that title is out. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )

Some universities have their Greek Life culture, others their football pride culture. Here at Minerva, there’s quite the coffee-shop-studying culture, in that you can regularly see students going out to study at cafes and regularly hear discussions about which coffee shops are the best/unusual/cheapest/have blocked us due to extreme quantities of internet consumption and regularly happen upon other Minervans at coffee shops around the city. My point is that, while I’m sure there are lots of students who don’t go out to cafes every day, you don’t often see them for obvious reasons. (#attentionperceptionbias.) It makes you want to go out as well, especially as we don’t have any common spaces in our residence this semester, as our residence is a hotel. (And we have no campus. New reader? Confused? I go to Minerva.)

And so today found me venturing out from our hotel after class and lunch to find a quiet place to camp out for a few hours and get work done.

Seoul is full of cafes. Unfortunately, they all are pretty expensive. While you can get a cheap ($2-3) latte at take-away open faced or two table places, any larger area will charge easily $5 for a simple drink, and ice and milk will raise you another dollar.

The reasoning I’ve heard for this is that in this city, you pay for the privilege of parking your laptop for hours in their space. In the 24 cafes, I’ve even heard of people sleeping at the tables.

It makes sense, although I have to wonder how San Francisco, Tucson, and the rest of the United States keeps coffee shops open and running considering they charge half the price. However, the priciness of coffee shops doesn’t mesh well with Minerva, as there’s simultaneously pressure to go out to coffee shops both as a social and academic thing to do, and a lot of students under economic strain.

More than 75% of our students come from outside the U.S., and all admissions are need-blind. This means that something like 80% of our student body is on financial aid. A push to spend $5 regularly on coffee is not really what we need––or what we can afford.

I come at this situation with a (long) problem statement:

Where else in Seoul can I find free / reduced price wifi, or even just places to be without wifi, as I can pull up class readings ahead of time? And how can we make this a sustainable alternative for those students who would rather not spend so much just to do their classwork and socialize outside of their rooms? 

So let the quest for answers begin!


Elsewhere in time and space…. 

Two days ago was Exploration Day, where small groups of students are sent out across the city for a day of fun and exploration. Here’s the snapstory I created along the way!