Sunday, August 13, 2017

June 16

Today was a day of departures and arrivals for many of us. It was the departure from the program, as this was the first full day after the program had ended. I found myself driving through the mountains of Lebanon, Some found themselves in the train station of Amsterdam, some exploring the hill of Ireland, walking the streets of Prague, landing in Barcelona, reuniting with old friends, or finally throwing down their bags after surviving the ten hour flight back home. Regardless, we all had some hours of travel to reflect on our time in Berlin. 
This trip was about negotiating identity in communities. We had gone to explore how Germany was negotiating its national identity and what it meant to be German with the arrival of so many new people, and the existence of an already strong community different from what was considered typically German. We all saw the intricacies of this negotiation. We learned about all the different layers it involves from policy to culture to social recognition to citizenship laws, and compared how our identities are defined and ingrained in US culture. We all took something away from this trip that has peaked our interest in terms of what identity is and what it means to create and change a national identity, and how communities adjust and try to integrate or push out change (which you can read more about in our individual blogs and our upcoming publication), that, for some, will continue to drive their education and their lives in the future. 
This question of identity is not simple. The question of community is not simple, but it is one Germany, and the rest of the world must address with the new changes the refugee crisis and this new era of migration and international citizenship bring. Germany is an important case study of how one system of integration and citizenship works, one we can learn from and one that will continue to change and adjust and with each year, just as we must learn, change, and grow in our approach as well.

June 15

Today was the last day in Berlin for many of us. It started by slowly waking up and packing (last minute packing on my end). We then slowly dragged our bags down to the lobby to check out and grab a little breakfast. Ally, my lovely community partner buddy and friend, and thankfully gotten coffee for the both of us and handed it to me as I finished the checkout process.after the key was returned, and my bags were placed in luggage storage until it was my time to leave, we sat on the familiar lobby couches and waited for more of our crew to descend. Plans were light for the day, some were heading out to do a bit more exploring, others planning a last lunch with the rest of the group, I was part of the latter group. We decided on going to one of our favorite Indian places one street up from the hostel. We all had a few more euro than we would like to be left with, so we treated ourselves to some extra food and enjoyed our (well some of our) last meal Berlin. Over plenty of curry, rice, and naan, we discussed the trip, our future plans, and speculated on what the rest of the group was up to. Some of us were spending a few more days in Berlin, some were off to other countries like Spain, Ireland, Amsterdam, and me to Lebanon, and some were headed home. It was a bittersweet moment. We had gotten used to seeing each other every day and spending most of our time with each other. I think for everyone there was a part of them that was going to miss this. 
After our extravagant and very delicious lunch, we headed back to the hostel for a few precious moments of wifi and relaxation. Soon, it was time for me to be off. I said my final goodbyes to the hostel and to my wonderful Berlin travel mates, got in a taxi, and drove to the airport. On the drive there I had the time to think and reflect on the past month we had spent in this wonderful city. I think for all of us, this was an experience we won't easily forget. We forged a lot of memories in these streets. We made friends, created inside jokes, learned a lot, were forced out of our comfort zones, and had so much fun. Berlin has given all of us so much to be grateful for and so much to look back on. I know many of us plan on returning as soon as we can (hopefully with a few more German language skills in tow).

Monday, July 31, 2017


Parting is such sweet sorrow…

Despite having complained about the wi-fi and hard water for the past month, I awoke this morning shockingly reluctant to say goodbye to Die Fabrik. Although I’m more than ready to decompress after this intense experience, it still feels like I’m leaving a little piece of myself behind in Berlin. And I think that’s because I am. We all are. None of us are the same person who stepped off the plane in Germany, and it’s due to the fact that every single one of us stepped up to the challenge of exiting our comfort zone so we could grow not only academically, but as human beings.

I can honestly say that I have learned just as much from my colleagues about myself and how I want to interact with the world as I have from the program. Insightful discussion transcended the classroom and was carried on over “cheap pasta” (and ph, döner, Hünerhaus, etc.) as we shared our perspectives on everything from the politics of race and gender to merits of various literary works. To borrow from course material, the opportunity to view things through several different lenses has definitely refined my ability to recognize when I’m projecting my own values or ideals onto a given topic or situation, and inspired me to be a more active participant in fighting for tolerance and inclusion on a global scale. I feel so lucky to be leaving with all of these brilliant new friends, and am grateful for the personal contributions of everyone in the group for making this experience what it was. From our first walk around Kreuzberg, to our last dinner at Die Gärtnerei--it’s been real.

A special shout-out to Julie, Kathryn, and Manuela, who had the vision and facilitated this process. We got to do so many cool things, and it was invaluable having ‘insider’ knowledge on how to navigate not only the city, but the culture (I swear I will be 15 minutes early for the rest of my life, and will never stand in the bike lane).

Some of us are off to travel; some are back to work. All will be finishing up research projects and looking forward to our next meeting. Until then, I leave you with a photo of my favorite piece on the Berlin Wall at the Eastside Gallery:


Today began appropriately chaotic, as some of us scrambled to say goodbye to our community partners before heading off to Humboldt for our final presentations. By 3pm we had gathered with our special guests to reflect on the service learning experience and outline our research focus moving forward. It was pretty cool to hear how far we’ve come since a similar presentation of our Community Engagement Research Proposal’s just 6 short weeks ago; personally, since I’ve been in Berlin I’ve totally reframed my topic—as I think most of us have. To finally learn of the context behind what other groups are working on was really enlightening, and left me excited for fall when our papers will be published.

As each of the students identified their major, I was reminded what a diverse set of skills are present within this group. From Geography to Journalism; Political Science to Comparative History of Ideas; Economics to Computer Science; Pre-Law to Aerospace Engineering, and seemingly everything in between. I think the variation in our backgrounds is the reason we didn’t hear 15 of the same presentations today; we each brought something different to the table, and that was reflected in the way we each took something different away from this experience.

After hearing from the groups at Kotti e.V. (Katie, Hannah, Bryan and myself); the Youth Museum (Zosia and Clayton); Empati (Nikki and Justin); Neopanterra (Ally, Laurette, and Catherine); and Muanana (Sophie); we collectively headed to Die Gärtnerei for Sophia, Ying, and Becca’s presentation and one last meal together. Part of the assignment was to create a community asset map, and what these ladies produced was pretty impressing. I had to include a photo because they were actually able to leave behind a tangible contribution for the community to enjoy. 

As the Die Gärtnerei group wrapped up, Kathryn took control of the kitchen and put us to work chopping, mixing, and grilling. We ate a deliciously fresh, healthy dinner together in the garden before saying goodbye to our instructors. Those of us leaving on Friday hurried back to the hostel to pack so we could hang out on our last night in Kreuzberg. The evening ended with a chicken (and fry) stop and a late walk through Görlitzer Park (not as scary as it sounds). Although I was unsuccessful in getting a group photo before we went our separate ways, I did get this shot from the garden and felt that it was an appropriate enough send-off.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Berlin Daily Diary July 11-12

With the realization that our time in Berlin was approaching its end slowly dawning, we began to take on a new urgency and focus in our work. We approached our community partners with ever increasing diligence. The desire to continue our meaningful work with the programs and communities which we had come to love was strong.
The three working at Die Gartnerei rushed about with art supplies in hand, working to finish an interactive visual map of the garden for its many visitors; those partnered with the youth museum gave their final tours to elementary students. The three at Neopanterra painted images from their time at the organization while the Kotti students rushed to sit in on meetings and lead final art projects with students at the local elementary school. Those at Empatti toured the seemingly endless shipping containers at the Tempelhof airfield edge, and I wrote the English flyer to be placed on the facebook page of my organization, Muanana. With all energy focused on completing community partner work, group activities were largely abandoned for these final few days, save for frenzied periods of final presentation preparation in the hostel lobby.
One priority for many of the students was to visit an obscure self-labeled anti-fascist shop off Gorlitzer Bahnhof entitled, “Disorder Rebel Store.” The main item of attraction in this store was a simple black tee shirt boasting the phrase, “Kein Mensch ist illegal,” which translates in English to “no human is illegal.” Relating to the nature of our work and learnings, this shirt and its simple message felt an incredibly prudent memento of our time in Berlin.
As I pulled the oversized shirt over my head before setting out for dinner at the “Ballhaus,” I mused over the meaning of the phrase: no human is illegal. It seems such an obvious concept, that legal status ought never to supersede an individual’s humanity, yet so often in this past month we have been reminded of how this seemingly logical notion is forgotten. I thought of the men involved with Muanana Refugee Sewing Project, my community partner, how they, on account of not possessing the near-unobtainable German work permit, are forbidden from most jobs in Berlin. The social repercussions of one’s legal status-- especially in the case of refugees in Germany-- are vast. Some individuals, unable to secure work, plunge into poverty, while others turn to illegal means of making income. It is often difficult for those who have not experienced the struggles associated with the title of “illegal” to recognize the desperation felt by so many, even in a country considered wealthy by global standards. This challenge of recognition across lines of legality can be attributed to the poor treatment so many refugees face in Europe and beyond.
Refugees are humans. Their legal status and the immense pressure said legal statuses imposes upon them, cannot change this. The only way these legal confines which today so strip refugees of their humanity can be changed is by first recognizing the humanity of the refugee. It is a cycle difficult to break.

No human is illegal. It is amazing how easy it is to forget. As we gear up to leave Berlin, however, “Kein Mensch ist illegal” shirts in hand and memories of community partners in head, I can only hope we will be different. We will be the ones not to forget, the one’s to help break the cycle.  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

July 10

Today was our last official day of class before our presentations on Thursday; over the weekend, we prepared outlines and today we shared them with the group, Manuela, and Kathryn. So far everyone’s presentations are sounding great, and I’m excited to find out more about what the other groups have been up to for the past three weeks. A common concern seems to be that since we're just wrapping up with our community partners, most of us haven't really organized our research. Regardless, I think the the presentations will be interesting for everyone since we’ve all been investigating such diverse questions. I also can’t wait to get more of an overview as to what each organization has specifically been doing, since even though we’re all connected to immigration and refugees in some way, the ways we’ve been engaging are actually quite different.

After class, a group of people got lunch at the local Lebanese place in Kreuzberg (which is super tasty!) and then the rest of the afternoon was free. I stayed for office hours and then got lunch at a local cafe; I highly recommend the “Vanilla Quark” dish that is available most places.

"Vanilla Quark" at Estate Coffee near Schlesiches Tor
Some people visited their community partners today, but the majority continued working on presentations and maps since the class session this morning provided us with more direction and ideas. A lot of groups seem to be playing with the idea of making a digital map, or printing out maps from google and annotating them, although Clayton and I are trying to do ours by hand. In class today Manuela recommended a big art store by Moritzplatz, and while it's not the cheapest, it's definitely still fun to go into. I went there in the evening with Justin to pick up some supplies, and then ran into Sophie and Nikki on the way back in front of the “Rebel” store not that far from Görlitzer Bahnhof. It's a great store, and a popular item is the T-shirt that says “Kein Mensch ist illegal” (No person is illegal). After getting the cheapest colored pencils I could find, I spent the remainder of my evening working on my map with Clayton. A few people went out in the evening; Justin and Sophie went to a show with a variety of musical styles in Neukölln. All in all it was a relaxed but productive day!
Shirts like this one are from the "Rebel" store near Görlitzer Bahnhof


July 9

Today is Sunday, July 9th, and it is the last day in the free three day weekend. Some people have been or are still currently traveling; Clayton, Justin and I just got back from Prague yesterday, Becca is currently in Dresden, and Amanda went to Barcelona. Those who didn’t travel are out and about, working on their research and presentations or enjoying the weekly flea market at Mauerpark, like Catherine and Justin. I spent the morning in a cafe with good wifi (Estate Coffee, I recommend it!) getting caught up on assignments, and then had lunch at Hünherhaus 36 on Skalitzer Straße, which is one of the best places to eat on a budget. Like me, Sophie and Ying spent the majority of day also working on assignments. This morning Nikki got coffee at 5 Elephant, which is apparently pretty good although not the best Berlin has to offer.

The 1/2 Chicken with Rice at Hünherhaus 36
 The afternoon at Mauerpark

Unfortunately, by now most of the group has come down with the cold that has been going around; I had it a few days ago, and Sophie and Justin are just coming down with it. The weather today is actually beautiful, and it sounds like later some people have been tempted to finally visit the Badschiff, although I still think it's a little cool for swimming. Most groups have started thinking about presenting on Thursday; our outlines are due tomorrow and it’s crazy to have to start synthesizing all the information we’ve gotten out of Berlin into something concise enough to explain in a few slides! It’s finally starting to sink in that things are wrapping up. I think the community partner experience has been pretty interesting for most of us and it definitely stands out as making this program unique. Now that we’ve all had some time to get used to it, staying in Kreuzberg has actually been amazing. I don’t know a single person in the group who doesn’t like it here; it’s so dynamic and different. Even just adjusting to the store hours has been an adjustment for most of us; I know I'm not the only one who's made the trek to REWE just to find out it's closed. From what I’ve seen today, it seems like everyone has a lot of cool research to share in their presentations and I'm excited to hear some more ideas tomorrow in class. Overall it was a nice, calm Sunday and I'm looking forward to Monday.