Bidding Farewell to Berlin

Bidding Farewell to Berlin

„Die Berliner sind unfreundlich und rücksichtslos, ruppig und rechthaberisch. Berlin ist abstoßend, laut, dreckig und grau, Baustellen und verstopfte Straßen, wo man geht und steht – aber mir tun alle Menschen leid, die nicht hier leben können!“                   —Anneliese Bödecker

“Berliners are unfriendly and inconsiderate, abrasive and bossy. Berlin is disgusting, loud, dirty and gray, with construction sites and congested roads wherever one goes—but I feel sorry for anyone who cannot live here!”

My time in Berlin comes to a close in a blur of exams and farewells and packing.

I structure my days around lasts: last meal with my host mom, last time on the Lankwitz campus, last time spent with the friends I have made here. These moments are a celebration of things I have come to care about here, the connections made, the struggles overcome.

Despite these celebrations, I am quite saddened at the reality of leaving this city. I spend my last few days in Berlin overwhelmed by all the lives I could have lived, all the things I could have seen or done or become. It is the universal, ever-pressing question: Who could I have become, if—?

If I had attended this or that event? If I had said no or yes or some answer in between? If I had sat with different people, made more friends, traveled more, traveled less? If I had overcome fear earlier on? If I had spent my days in this or that way? If I had opened my heart to more of the city and sooner?

There are a great many things I still wish to do and see here. While I acutely feel the finality of these last days and sense some sort of closure, I cannot shake the feeling that I am leaving things unfinished here. I am leaving before the height of the action, sneaking out the back door of the theater during a darkened intermission. Berlin: a smoky constancy of in media res.

Instead of rushing around the city, this drives me to the desire to cherish my moments more, to relish the moments of being here, now, at this stage in my life, given this passing glimpse of the goings on of history, in the context of such a rapid departure. For, in fact, the moments of beautiful pauses were what made my time here so special; these will be the moments that remain in my memory as I move on from this place.

My first weeks here were a struggle of adjustment and culture shock and time change. This is a different kind of adjustment. It is me realizing that the city will move on without me and I will move on without it. We are nothing but passersby in each other’s existences and I am not presumptuous enough to elevate myself to having left an earth-shattering impact. Berlin has impacted me far more than I will have impacted it. This is a moment of perfect truth to me: the sometimes-seeming indifference of the enormity of the world and her struggles does nothing to lessen her beauty or that of her inhabitants.

I do not want to leave Berlin, but leave I must. I am grateful for the months I have spent here and am indebted to all those who have let me share my time with them, who shared their time with me, and who supported me throughout my time here.

Why We Need to Practice Compassion for Ourselves

Why We Need to Practice

It is in the words we use, the words we tell ourselves, that shape our understanding of who we are and where we are meant to go. As such, I quite enjoy reading Danielle La Porte’s writing, which largely discusses love for self as a love that works to build a better world, starting with the self and extending outwards.

Her idea that fascinates me the most is the concept of practicing compassion: that showing compassion is not an at-once definitive act, but instead a practice and a process. This means showing extra forgiveness and extra love in the smaller moments, so that we can love harder and forgive better in the moments we want to the least, but need to show it the most.

I try to keep this concept tucked away in my heart, close enough to the surface that I can bring it into my life as needed and desired. I like to tell myself that this has somehow radically changed my life, and I add it to the list of life moments that challenged me to be more: the infusion of Laudato Si and Thomas Berry, the first words I fell in love with, the hospitality of the Franciscans, an understanding of interdependence from Judith Butler, the loving sarcasm of Anne Lamott. These are the moments that radically altered my worldview and have helped to shape my life and my sense of morality.

Despite this, I have spent the past few weeks in a state of constant failure of compassion: not towards others, I terribly hope, but towards myself.

I am prideful enough to believe that I attempt to be a good person. Yet, when I reflect on how I speak to myself, I do not speak in a way that I would towards any other person. I become endlessly judgmental, critical, and cruel. I do not allow mistakes or spaces for learning opportunities. I do not identify areas of improvement but areas of defeat. I collapse into little failures, each moment repeated proof of the insufficiency of my worth as well as my actions.

One of the hardest things to adjust to when coming to Berlin was the fact that I had no one to take care of. Back home, I have my family and friends and residents. I have a more clearly defined personal mission and am able to carry it out on a moderately regular basis. Here, I don’t. I encounter a radical independence that I love but can’t contribute to in the same ways I have before. I must find new avenues for compassion in the graffiti-filled streets of this beautiful city.

In this time, I realized the need to practice this compassion with myself, to look for the goodness in myself that I choose to see in others. I need to err towards a self-forgiveness that walks in step with self-growth and personal development.

I need to stop looking at the world as a race I need to win. I need to end comparisons of my beginning to another’s end, and acknowledge more soundly that we are all at different points in our respective processes. I must accept that I don’t need to have all problems figured out, all battles fought, all victories won or even strived for.

I need to treat myself the way I try to treat others.

I have heard that peace starts from the home and extends outward; so does love and compassion. Only through the process of struggling and finding this compassion for ourselves do we have any chance of extending that outward. It is in this space, in the lessons we learn from accepting ourselves, that can we position ourselves to show deeper love in a world so deserving of compassionate goodness.

How can you best practice showing yourself compassion?



Building a Home in Berlin

Building a Home in Berlin
Photo courtesy of sometimes friend, sometimes arch-nemesis Casey Molloy, who takes the pictures I pretend to be too cool to take. This is where the flee market was held.

At this point, I have been living in Berlin for slightly over a month. While I certainly had to adjust to living here, it actually did not take me that long to settle into a routine and adjust to the city in a practical sense.

However, for a while the adjustment I was struggling the most with was feeling deeply here.

Let me explain: of course, I continued to feel excitement for various activities, nervousness for new things, fear and sadness when both were due. Just like anywhere, some days seem more beautiful in the moment than other days seem, and on some days selective homesickness would set in more than others.

For the bulk of my first few weeks here, however, I did not truly feel anything. I lacked the ability, or the desire, to connect—to leave my soul in new places, or people, or experiences. I went through the routine of emotions as well as actions, which made feeling wonder and awe and all the things I need to write poetry that doesn’t remind me of my sappy and needlessly angst-y poems from middle school.

(I obviously don’t want to be reminded of my middle school self in Berlin, though the “anything-goes” attitude here may be willing to accept my previous propensity for wearing Hawaiian leis at all occasions.)

Middle school self thankfully aside, I knew that I needed a way to make a personal connection to Berlin. I was intimated by it, I think—by the size, the cold, the inherent, unapologetic coolness. It took a trip to Munich, actually, to change this. While a lovely weekend in its own right, I spent the train back to Berlin thinking about how much I would enjoy returning to my Berlin home, a bright apartment in a building with a heavy red door and a foyer with checkered black and white tiles.

That moment—this experience of coming home—has dramatically altered the way that I see the city and my place within it. I am now more willing and more able to find beauty here, and use those small moments to forge deeper connections.

There is beauty in Sunday morning strolls through the city accompanied only by the sound of church bells.

In recognizing the man who always plays the accordion on the S1 line.

In late night conversations that overlook the Spree.

In seeing a man in a restaurant that looked just like my Papa, and spending some time in the beautiful melancholy of missing.

In constant restaurant candlelight.

In thrift store Saturdays and new friends.

In the peace of drinking a cappuccino in the dark in a one-screen cinema in Neukölln.

In crowded night time flee markets.

In finding a café with candlelight and bookshelves, so warmed by loveliness you don’t need coffee to feel at home.

These are the moments I’ve come to hold onto: the moments that softly, slowly and without pretention, are building me a home here, too.

What are your moments building you?

Liebe Gruße,


The Bountiful Struggles of Language Learning

The Bountiful Struggles

Real talk: I am passably mediocre in a several languages.

My ten years of Spanish instruction left me with a constant desire to roll my r’s but an unshakeable insecurity about my knowledge of more varied communicative abilities. I can sing Latin feminine noun declensions to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and can assert my constant desire to marry Brazilian sertanejo singer Lucas Lucco in Portuguese.

At present, my German is the best of any of these, which is fairly convenient and timely, given the whole being-in-Berlin-thing. I have studied German for the past few years, actively enjoy studying it, and have tried to practice as much as I can so far.

Despite this, language learning is—shockingly—very hard.

The combination of an inundation of new vocabulary, complicated sentence structures, and problems with proper pronunciation can sometimes make actually communicating in your target language seem like an impossible feat. These impossibilities become harder as you live in the environment you are trying to learn more about because, if you’re me, you tend to rationalize ordering a coffee from a café in the morning as sufficient language practice for the whole day, and instead spend your language learning time browsing through your almost only-English language Facebook feed.

However, gaining the courage to actually extend language learning outside of myself by venturing out into the city I love so much already is something that I still struggling with. Simple acts, like riding the bus or going through the checkout lane at a grocery store, fill me with more anxiety than they need to, as every potential interaction also carries within it the possibility of me saying something incorrectly or misunderstanding what someone else is saying.

In these moments of struggling, it can seem easy to shut down and cease all attempts at trying, resorting instead to the English that so many people here speak so well, the English with sounds that remind me of home. (For instance, I am currently not studying for my German test and am writing about it instead.)

However, in my typical annoying tendency of trying to be positive in moments of struggle, there is also a great deal of loveliness in the pursuit of greater language understanding.

To study a language that is not your native language requires training your mind and heart to seek meaning in new places, to hear beauty in the different sounds and smells and places that make up a place new to you and old to others. It means humbly reimagining yourself as a child, and accepting a lack of understanding of language and social norms. It demands that my perfectionist self let go of the desire to always be correct and in control. I must adjust to a worldview based on the idea of learning as a daily process of small successes and failures instead of an endless pursuit of perfection.

While I certainly aim on becoming better and more comfortable with German over the course of the next few months, I am happy—mostly—to be struggling with it.

Liebe Gruße,


Orienting Myself to Berlin

Orienting Myself

It’s been a while since I’ve had my life shaken up properly. So often we become contented in our routines to the point of mindlessness. We forget the beauty that life contains and build up our immunity to the world like glass cages around ourselves. We become complacent with planners and daily rituals that shield us from the good things that they contain.

This is one of the beautiful things about culture shock, about unfolding your life in a place that is new to you and trying to figuring out how to stand there: it’s really challenging, at first. As I’ve begun to come to know and orientate myself to Berlin, even in little ways, even in the big and small lessons that this first week has taught me, I have both struggled and adjusted.

This week has seen me tripping on my excessive luggage, frozen to the inmost parts of my soul (pro tip: Berlin is cold), lost a little, acting like a tourist, avoiding acting like a tourist, coming to know a city with a complexly beautiful history of tragedy, fear, and progress, and working to develop new relationships in a place far from what I’ve known before.

Despite the differences, it is not too far from home. This is hardly a revolutionary statement, but people are people despite geographical, cultural, political, and all other so-called differences. Even in the midst of this past orientation week, a week of making mistakes and learning so much, a week of intense awareness of this perceived difference, some basic facets of life remain.

These moments of culture shock encompass the endless pursuit of life, I think: to struggle and adjust to each moment as you learn the ways to live in them more fully.

Finding Beauty in Airports: A Layover Story

Photo via Creative Commons


Whilst in route to Berlin, I found myself in limbo-layover in the Newark airport. This limbo lasted for six and a half hours, and, as I am easily bored when required to stay in one general location for too long of a time, this was significantly less than ideal. To entertain my incredibly immature, five-year-old brain and attention span, I came up with a game for myself: to people watch until I found some sort of inspiration for a poem or story or personal journal entry.

I found nothing. Exactly at the moment, the universe decided that almost no one should walk by me, and the few that did appeared vastly uninteresting from a distance.

This made me antsier.

To pass the time, I decided to walk around with my obscenely over-packed carry-on and tried my best to not bump into every person that I passed: an endeavor that remains highly controversial, as the many victims of my deranged bag-carrying are currently emotionally recovering from my misdeeds.

It was here, however, that I began to see some of the beauty of airports.

One of the many beauties of airports is the way languages swirl around you as you walk, carried in the souls and vocal chords of people you have never met and may never meet.

I first thought of them as strangers, periphery people whose lives did not impact my own. It is quite strange, however, to refer to someone that we don’t know as a “stranger”—as someone who is “strange,” “foreign,” “other,” simply because you don’t know them. This seems unbelievably self-centered to me, a perspective that determines and assigns worth to someone else based solely upon our own perception of them and not on their own full and complex existence and inherent dignity, outside of the snippet we see of their lives.

This realization, however, is one of the reason I love cities, airports, and big crowds. It helps introvert Jenna better make sense of the world around her, which is something she needs, and often: that which emphasizes moving out of our own perspectives and into the beautiful conglomeration of beautiful good times, poignant bad times, and all the jigsaw pieces that put together a life and living.

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Photo Credit: Flickr User redlegsfan21 (Creative Commons)

If there’s one thing that I’m tremendously bad at, it’s saying goodbye to people.

Before any major life change, I turn myself into what I consider to be an overemotional, generally silly person prone to bouts of sentimentality and grasping for hidden significance where there simply isn’t, or doesn’t have to be. This habit of pre-emptively mourning the temporary loss of life situations means that I spend the weeks prior to any strongly anticipated loss in a moody haze of heightened significance.

I look for lasts. I manufacture poignancy. I try to elevate each moment to truly wondrous heights. I foolishly believe that these past months, this beautiful semester, these laughter-filled weeks with my family, are the best that life will ever be.

While this strange, anticipatory grief is not always something that I appreciate at the time, it does allow me to find the moments that I will miss as we all progress to our next steps that this new year brings. For me, that will be the study abroad experience I’ve dreamed about for years. For some of my friends, that means moving onwards from Siena, something that has either happened in the past few weeks or will take place at the end of this academic year. For some, it will simply be the beautiful newness that little transitions hold, one year melting into the next with some elusive promise enclosed.

Despite the beautiful anticipation of this newness, I still cling to the memories that the past few months have brought me. I listen to the music that brought my friends and me through the essays and exams of finals week. I let my arms remember the phantom embraces of people I miss, friends I don’t know when or if I’ll see them again. My nose remembers the unique scent of coffee and pickles of my favorite coffee house in Albany, a city that saw me as a stranger until I came to call it my home for the first time in these last months. I feel the peace of sitting and singing with my friends on the last Wednesday of the semester, the whole of the semester coming to a close in that dark and holy space. I think of the smiles of game nights with my extended family, people I love and don’t get to spend nearly enough time with. I see the love and concern of my parents as we take each day as it comes, tackling the tasks of the day with laughter and a hint of stress.

I’m not good at saying goodbye, regardless of how exciting or fulfilling the future likely will be. I can’t help but look backward as often as I look forward. However, this duality allows me to carry the sweet past into the likely sweeter future.

Wishing you well in 2016,