Ruby Donahaye: “I think the experience of studying abroad is really what you decide to make out of it”

Programs for this blog post

Open Campus Block

Authored By:

CIEE Berlin

In this opportunity we were able to talk with Ruby Donahaye, and get to know more about her experience abroad in Berlin, Germany. She is originally from New York City and currently studying Psychology and Cognitive Studies with a certificate in Gender Violence at Tulane University, in New Orleans. She is part of the CIEE Semester Global Internship program, where She had the chance to take some courses and also gained international work experience through an internship at MIND foundation,  where she has been able to learn a lot and connect with local professionals in Berlin. 

We invite you to read the following interview below!

• Could you tell us more about your experience in Berlin during this semester?

I’ve really fallen in love with Berlin. The winter has definitely been harsh at times, but I’ve felt surprisingly comfortable and at home here. It’s a place where you are encouraged to embrace the less conventional parts of yourself and there’s a lot of emphasis on freedom and no judgement, especially in the nightlife culture. I feel like I’ve become more myself here and less inclined to fit myself into certain stereotypes or expectations. I’m hoping to move back here after I graduate for a gap year and maybe even for my Master’s, and I’m also really hoping to stay involved and connected with my internship.

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

I’m interning at the MIND Foundation, a non-profit promoting psychedelic research and therapy with the goal of creating a healthier and more connected society – Bewusstseinskultur, or a culture of consciousness. We do this through a number of different trainings, programs, and workshops. I’m working with the Augmented Psychotherapy Training program, a two-year training that prepares psychotherapists and other medical professionals to utilize psychedelics in their treatment practices. In this role I support the APT team during the week-long intensive workshops that we host and through various administrative office tasks. Working with this program has been really fulfilling for me because I get to see real implications of the work that we’re doing and learn from people from all over the world as they train in our office. I’m constantly surrounded by conversations about the therapeutic value of altered states of consciousness, harm reduction, the best practices for treatment, and so many other topics that relate to the career of a psychotherapist. Even when working on more administrative tasks, I’m always working with interesting content and materials and have been really lucky to be given access to such a thorough education in such a unique and important field. The intensive weeks are the most interesting for me, during which we can sit in on the psychotherapy trainings ourselves and also witness the participants go through self-experience trainings such as ketamine treatment and breathwork workshops. 

• What has been the best moment or experience so far?

My favourite experience here has been the breathwork days at work. As part of the APT program, each training group comes into our office every six months for a week-long intensive in-person workshop, for a total of four intensive weeks throughout the course of their training. During each intensive week we have a breathwork day. Breathwork is a breathing practice that can induce semi-psychedelic states without the influence of any substances. During breathwork workshops, the participants lie on a mattress with blindfolds and blankets as they begin the breathing practice while we play trance-like music loudly on speakers throughout the room. Once they begin to enter into the breathwork state, things can get really intense – many people cry or laugh, dance around, kick, stretch, yell. It’s one of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen and it’s hard to believe that it’s induced just by breathing a certain way. It also feels like a really intimate and personal experience to be in a room of people going through something so intense, and it’s something that I’ve really appreciated and that feels really special about my time here.

• What would you tell a student that is thinking on studying abroad, some advice?

Don’t be afraid to spend time alone. The most impactful part of study abroad is the opportunity to explore a new culture, and especially with a campus like CIEE Berlin in which essentially all students are Americans living in a dorm, it can become really easy to get stuck in a bubble. Making sure to explore the city and meeting people from outside the program is really important rather than just falling back into your comfort zone. One of the most rewarding experiences for me has been solo traveling, and even though it can seem intimidating at first it’s a great way to explore new places and meet people from all over the world in hostels. Traveling with friends can also be fun, but I’ve found that traveling alone opens the door to so many experiences that you would never come across when traveling with other people and also teaches you a lot about yourself and your own life. Lean into discomfort. 

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

I’ve actually found working in Berlin to be really comfortable. My office is very international and works in English mostly so I haven’t had a lot of issues with language barriers, and I’ve found that being surrounded by German psychotherapists has led to a fairly laid-back work environment with an emphasis on self-care. That being said, I have also noticed it is really important to be self-motivated as my work day is less structured/guided that I initially expected. Things can definitely get stressful at times and I do see the standard German perfectionism and directness in my office, which is something that takes some time to adapt to. I think the experience is really what you decide to make out of it.