A wondrous opportunity occurred in early spring of 2009 when I received an e-mail from my cousin Chad inviting me to spend the last quarter of the school year with his family in Berlin, Germany. I would spend two months there as an official student of the John F. Kennedy Schule–where Chad teaches–and as a member of my cousin’s household. As a fifteen year-old from northeast Ohio, this trip would open my eyes to the world.
I had been to Europe once before at the age of 7, but had no idea what to expect. I was to be immersed in a new school, using a different language, and without any immediate family member for moral support. I would soon find out though that the students were all the more welcoming, and that they could all speak English fluently. Many of them were American-born, while others were of German, South Korean, Japanese and English descent. Chad’s wife, Nobuko, was in fact Japanese and I was able to pick up a taste for Japanese cuisine and some cordial phrases. Chad and Nobuko’s sons, RenÃ© and Momo, also attended the school and proved helpful translators and tour guides of one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe.
I came to love Berlin for what it offered outside the walls of JFK as well. The history behind the city is so rich with stories and memories and the museums such as Checkpoint Charlie and Libeskind’s Jewish Museum truly brought that history to life. Berlin is a city that had been torn apart and rebuilt so it does not offer the grand architecture of a Rome or Athens but that is a testament to how modern Berlin truly is. The food, especially the Turkish-influenced dishes, was absolutely contrary to what I would normally ingest at home but nonetheless full of unique flavors and ingredients. Even whilst I attempted to find the cheapest deals on food I was able to enjoy the likes of schnitzel, dÃ¶ner kebabs, bratwurst, and the best cereal west of the Eastern Hemisphere, Nougat Kissen.
Leaving my frugality in the dust, I took some Euros out of my pocket to purchase tickets to a Hertha Berlin soccer game. This was arguably my most memorable experience because soccer is a deep passion of mine. To my delight I was able to obtain a Hertha Berlin flag which I still cherish to this day. I walked through the gates of the fabled Olympiastadion and took my seat, observing the greatest spectacle that I had ever seen. 70,000 people united for ninety minutes all singing the same songs and cheering with a passion that is so contagious. I found myself learning the lyrics and joining in on the magical celebration followed by a Hertha goal. In all of the commotion I even managed to spill ketchup on my prized flag which, however distressing, left a memorable stain.
These experiences among many others that I enjoyed in Berlin have affected me as a person, opening my eyes to the world. From the liberalism of John F. Kennedy Schule to the cleanliness of the environment, I saw a different side of the world that not many are fortunate enough to experience themselves. From the South Korean contingent that showed me the ropes at school to the German maps that did not help me find my way, I realized that diversity is found everywhere and is as normal as life and death. I have come to appreciate the world with a much greater understanding, and what is more important than that?
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.