Katie Durow: “In Berlin, the people rebel with outbursts of colour through art and music which cries with exhilarating freedom”

Authored By:

CIEE Berlin

Katie is from an area near Chicago, Illinois. She studies at Arizona State University, double majoring in International Relations and German, an also double minoring in Sustainability and Human Rights. She has been in Berlin since Block I, Spring Semester 2023. Her experience here has been amazing, exploring different aspects of the city. She also has been doing an internship at Enpact, a social entrepreneurship non-profit, learning about sustainability, business, networking, among others.

As She says, ”Not only have I learned about academic topics, but I have also learned so much about myself. I have become more flexible, more spontaneous, and have learned to live in the present”.

-Could you tell us more about your experience in Berlin so far?
I have learned a lot about the character of this beautiful city I'm living in. Berlin is a city of people who were forcibly divided. Now that the Berlin Wall has fallen, the people rebel with outbursts of colour through art and music which cries with exhilarating freedom. I, too, am experiencing true freedom for the first time as I leap into new experiences, embrace new fashion trends, and create my own art. As the saying here goes, “Berlin never is; it is always becoming”. Like Berlin, I am constantly growing into myself, unlearning from past wrongs and unlearning prejudices. I have learned so much about sustainability, history, and cross-cultural communication. Not only have I learned about academic topics, but I have also learned so much about myself. I have become more flexible, more spontaneous, and have learned to live in the present. I am proud of what I have overcome, but I am not defined only by my past, but my present and future as well. I am constantly working to become better, explore new territories, and seek new challenges. Though change has beaten me down before, I have learned to embrace it. I am not the same person I was back in the United States, and I may not be the person I am today again. Overall, Berlin has helped me grow in countless ways. 

- Can you tell us more about the internship you are doing, and which is your role there?

I am working at Enpact, a social entrepreneurship non-profit. I am working with a team implementing Berlin Landing Pad, a program which brings Web3.0 start-ups from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe to Berlin. Program participants get involve in an immersive 3-month program focusing on market entry, networking opportunities, and business set-up. I have assisted in the execution of this program by planning events, attending informational webinars, working on marketing content, and collaborating directly with the startups. My favourite part of the internship is being able to explore Berlin during my commute and through the work we do throughout the city. 

-How has the experience to work in other country/culture been and which would be the main challenges/ opportunities?

There is definitely a large difference regarding workplace culture in Germany and the United States. For example, American workplace culture is more individualistic. American employees are often expected to take ownership of their work and take the initiative to solve problems, and there is a culture of reward for achievement and performance. On the other hand, German companies tend to place a greater emphasis on teamwork, collaboration, and consensus-building, while American companies often prioritize competition. As I have observed organizational culture through jobs in both countries, it becomes clear to me that the collaborative culture observed in Germany leads to better mental health among workers. At Enpact, all of the team members are friends; they love their jobs, they laugh about music at work, and they make an effort to come into the office even though it is not required. In the United States, the competitive environment can lead to burn-out, competitive relationships between employees, and an overall toxic work environment. In my experience, the German workplace culture is much different regarding leadership compared to the United States. For example, my workplace, Enpact, operates within a strictly non-hierarchical structure. This is to the benefit of team members in that it provides every member with opportunities to have their voice heard, and to work on areas within their interest. Additionally, it makes project leaders and supervisors much more approachable and open to other ideas. However, it can be to the detriment of the company as a whole since this system seems to me to be less productive and require more meetings. On another note, there are a variety of different cultures represented in my workplace, as employees come from all over the world. Generally, because the employees are so international, everyone is very respectful of each other and wants to learn from everyone. Overall, in my workplace, the relationship between culture and leadership allows for a truly team-centered work environment. 

- What has been the best moment/experience?

Here are some of my favourite experiences: 

My favourite experiences through CIEE was going on overnight trips to Leipzig, Erfurt/Weimar, and Nuremberg/Bamberg. When studying abroad, it is easy to forget to travel within your host country in favour of more glamorous destinations. It is important to remember that Berlin's culture is very different from the rest of Germany, and it is so worthwhile to explore this beautiful country! In Bamberg, I was able to take a river cruise of this UNESCO world heritage site. It was so beautiful and peaceful, and I loved the break from the city. Additionally, CIEE took me to the Leipzig Zoo, which was absolutely breathtaking. I could not believe that there were real snow leopards about six inches away from me! We also saw a red panda and they had this entire rainforest biosphere where all the birds and bats were just flying around above us. These trips are so fun and worthwhile!

One of my favourite experiences in Berlin was doing the annual Good Friday cold plunge at Lake Wannsee. Every year, this lake in Berlin opens for the season on Good Friday, and offers free admission and saunas for those who are brave enough to test the waters. I took the trip over with my friend Rachel. We ran into the water and plunged; as the water rushed over my head, I thought that I had never been colder in my life. However, my head was so clear and I felt so awake. We enjoyed the best burgers and fries on the side of the lake, and will not forget this experience!

Another one of my favourite experiences was going to the Cherry Blossom Festival at the Gardens of the World. It took a really long time to get there, but it was so worth it. The gardens were so beautiful, and they had food, vendors, and performances from Korean, Chinese and Japanese cultures. My friend Katrina and I ate delicious pork buns and walked around and enjoyed all of the flowers. Instead of taking the bus back to the train home, we took cable transport over this huge park, giving us spectacular views of Berlin and the gardens we had just visited. It was beyond beautiful.

-Which advice could you give to a student that is thinking of studying abroad?

 Every student should absolutely study abroad. I would not change this experience for the world. If I were to give a future student some advice, it would be to always keep track of what you have on you. While I've been here, I have had my phone stolen twice. This was definitely not an ideal experience- but if it does happen, you can buy refurbished iphones from apple, which is a cheaper and more sustainable option! 

In terms of more real advice, my advice to a student studying abroad would be to leap into every opportunity that comes. Don't forget to take time for yourself, but make sure you are getting outside your comfort zone. The moments where you are the most uncomfortable are those which will be the most worthwhile in the end.