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    Posted March 14, 2014 by
    Appleton, Wisconsin
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Why study abroad? Ask Michelle Obama

    Finding Confidence 10 Meters Underground


    First-hand experience is the best way to learn that what you know about life is not the normal. It is not typical. Not only does everybody have certain ways of thinking, but cities and countries do as well. The best way to understand life is to surround oneself in conflicting views, to start to working on a fuller view of what it takes to be a global citizen. What walls are there, tangible or intangible, that are still hindering us? One that I'd like to talk about is how I found my confidence when studying abroad in Germany. In the first couple months I was there, I was getting used to the differences between their "U-Bahn" system and the metro in D.C. One day, I found myself watching a pair of 7-year-olds as they were talking about what they had done in school that day, and I realized they were alone. In Germany, it's natural to see this, as it is customary to be confidant that your child can navigate a city's subway system on his own by such a young age. Later I had trouble even explaining this to my host-mother because she did not understand what I meant by "alone." After much discussion and confusion, I found out that she meant that, as a pair, they could not being described as being alone. I explained to her that I meant without an adult. I could only hope to be as confidant as these 7-year-olds navigating the city's sprawling subway system. In comparison with DC, it has about twice the amount of stations and lines within a smaller space. How was I supposed to learn that so quickly? Over time, I learned the lines I rode often and started to branch out. I played a game where I would ride, either alone or with a friend, and get out at the first station I hadn't heard of. I'd explore until the next train came (about 10 minutes) and then I'd continue. I knew I had found my confidence to navigate the U-Bahnsystem when I knew it even better than most of my friends who had been living there for all of their lives; people who had grown up like those two 7-year-olds I had initially seen.


    Sean currently is a Sophomore German-major at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. He hopes to study abroad again in Salzburg, Austria. He visits Berlin every chance he can, usually once per year.

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