Introducing: Observations of an Outsider


Before I came to the U.S. for the first time as an exchange student in grade 11, I had to attend a week-long seminar that was supposed to prepare us for the American culture waiting for us on the other side of the ocean.

I very vividly remember one of the volunteers telling us that the biggest problem they had with German exchange students was something they called der deutsche Diskutierer, which translates to “the German debater.” We were told not to argue so much with our host parents, to not discuss politics at the dinner table and not to constantly express our opinions about the rules that our host family set for us.

But here I am, 6 years later, again an exchange student, still always up for an argument (or “discussion,” as we like to call it), still constantly expressing my opinion when no one wants to hear it. Imagine my joy when I was offered to write a bi-weekly opinion column!

In my first few weeks here, I have already observed many things that are foreign to me. Many of them I do not know how to feel about, others make me angry or annoyed, yet others make me think about how things could be better at home. I have many opinions and questions on dorm life, sports and competitiveness, class and wealth, politeness and etiquette, academic life and of course the political situation on campus. In this column, I want to try to get these thoughts written down in a somewhat coherent way that, if I succeed, also make you think about and question some of these things.

When you are abroad and away from home, it is very easy to slip into a default mode of thinking everything is better at home. I am guilty of that. I keep talking about the parliamentary democracy, Berlin techno, flea markets, recycling, vegan food options, public transportation, tuition fees and grocery stores in Germany. The other day when it was raining, my lovely fellow German exchange student and I were walking and complaining about “why Americans cannot manage to design and put down the pavement in a way that avoids the creation of puddles.” Words more stereotypically German have never left my mouth. I always think it is interesting how much better home seems when you are far away from it. When I am in Germany, I instead keep talking about how much further evolved certain discourses are in the United States, how much better I like the high school system, and how involved students are.

What I am trying to say is, I am aware of my own biases. I am well aware of the dangers of slipping into essentialist, generalizing, universalizing rhetoric and I will try my hardest to avoid this. In the end, this column is only my subjective observations about a country that I do not know nearly everything about and about a campus that I know nearly nothing about. That is also why the full name of this column should probably be “Observations of a Not So Neutral Outsider.”

My next piece will most likely be on all my feelings about small talk or having English as your native language, unless something more interesting happens to me in the meantime (hard to imagine, I know). Thank you for reading, ciao and bis bald.

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