Kerstin (28) from Germany just returned from her internship in the U.S. and besides her itchy feet & a couple of awesome D.C. insider tips (read them below!), she came back with a lot of helpful advice for your next stay abroad – especially when the odds seem to be stacked against you!
HTD: Kerstin, you have earned your Masters degree in Media and Communication a couple of months ago at the University of Vienna (Congratulations!) and you were just ready to “conquer the world”. With an interesting internship in your pocket, you could truly expect “the time of your life” very soon ahead. But as life goes sometimes, truthfully all kinds of unpleasant challenges turned up just before you were supposed to leave to D.C.. And even though they seemed to be real obstacles to your stay in the States, you decided to hang on and to go for the unknown on the other side of the Atlantic. Why?
It honestly was a very tough decision. Things didn’t exactly turn out the way I hoped they would, which happens a lot in life. I talked to my friends, trying to figure out if it still made sense to go. My plans fell through and I only had one week to decide, “should I stay or should I go?” (Insert The Clash song here). But since I didn’t really have a plan B, I figured I might as well just go and try to make the best of it. Plus, because I have such difficulties making decisions, I threw a penny and let fate decide what to do. So basically, I went to the States based on a leap of faith and what the penny told me to do. It turned out to be one of the best things that happened to me.
HTD: What would you recommend to anybody in a similar situation and why?
I know I probably made a big deal out of the whole thing before I left, but I never went somewhere completely by myself before, not even for a few months. So although I knew, it was only for a limited period of time, I was scared. There were risks involved, too. My living situation fell through and I didn’t know where to stay over there. My only option was to move in with two guys in a flat I found on Craigslist, my room being the only one without a door and in a less than desirable neighborhood. My parents were not thrilled. But, one of the many perks of being catholic is that you find many other Catholics around the world. So, three days before my departure, I reached out to everyone I know who might have contacts in the DC area. This is how I got set up with some amazing people who helped me out a lot when I first got there. In retrospect, I still can’t believe how everything worked out. I stayed in complete stranger’s homes, who were kind enough to take me in. Sometimes for three days, sometimes for a couple of weeks. The last place where I lived was an all girls house. They became very dear friends. This whole journey taught me, a person who needs to believe she has at least certain control over life, a lot about trust. Trusting that things have a way of working out and that even unexpected and unfamiliar circumstances may lead to something really great. Now, when faced with a similar decision, I would always opt for going abroad, even if the challenges make me feel uncomfortable. Those are the days you learn the most about yourself.
HTD: Even if you had to face a couple of bigger challenges while being abroad, you stayed positive. What helped you to enjoy your time so much and what could you learn from that?
At first, I felt pretty lost, vulnerable and alone in that huge city. The city and my situation overwhelmed me somehow. When going to a new place, you don’t necessarily leave your personal questions ‘at home’. And neither did I. But I chose to take one day at a time and before too long, I adapted to the rhythm of this dynamic city and actually really enjoyed it. Little things would make my day, like the cheerful train operator, who always wished the commuters a great day over the speakers. The friendly mentality of the people in general was very uplifting. My newfound love for everything fried, like donuts and bacon. Getting to see my favorite monument, the Washington monument, on my way to work every morning. Having great coworkers. Over time, I started to feel really confident about the fact that I somehow managed everything just fine, my living situation and doing my internship. Since I didn’t really know anyone in the city, I had to be open to meeting people and making friends. And I was so blessed in that aspect. I met a lot of people and made really great friends from all over the world there.
HTD: What would you recommend to somebody who has already been abroad for a couple of weeks and whose rather hard situation doesn’t seem to improve?
Like I said, I took a day at a time. I read somewhere that you should take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself and, like a sponge, absorb and learn. Even if it’s a very unpleasant experience, you will always learn something about yourself. But, luckily, in this day and age, it’s also possible to always jump on the next plane home. That’s what I kept telling myself, sort of like a backup plan.
HTD: Which have been the faculties you could gain and discover about yourself within these three months (also thanks to all the difficulties)?
I’m pretty capable of managing just fine. I’m brave enough to take a leap of faith. Taking risks can actually be very rewarding. I’m optimistic that things will work out. People, over all, are good.
Well, DC has a lot to offer. There are a ton of museums over there and they are all free! So it really depends on your interests. I recommend the National Gallery, the Holocaust Museum and the Spy Museum. You should also visit Georgetown, a fancy neighborhood with European architecture. Plus, renting a bike and cycling around the monuments is fun, especially on summer nights. Old town Alexandria and the waterfront are also worth a visit. And the National zoo, too!
HTD: Do you also have some D.C. insider tips for our readers?
Sailing or canoeing on the Potomac river, grabbing drinks at the roof top bar at the W Hotel and having either breakfast, lunch or dinner at Steak ‘n Egg Kitchen (yay diner-food).
HTD: Thank you very much, Kerstin, for sharing your thoughts and really motivating experience! Just the very best for your upcoming adventures! (ger)