As a student studying abroad, I'm probably expected to write about what an awesome semester I'm having. A beautiful European city, a plethora of museums to visit, endless events to attend, embarrassing yet endearing mistakes with the language, a great homestay family—all would be more than suitable topics for this staff note. But I'll spare you the fluffy descriptions of cobblestone streets and dramatic stories of the cultural lessons I've learned. It's not just the culture that's been on my mind. Since I've been in Berlin, I can't stop thinking about time.
Personally, I feel like time is running out. I'm over halfway done with Duke; I've spent four semesters on campus and only have three remaining when I return in the spring. It's strange to think that I've already walked past the Chapel more times than I have left to stroll by it. My time abroad is thus important on multiple levels: it is a time marking the middle of my college career, and it will probably turn out to be one of the best times of my life.
Before leaving for Europe, my interaction with others on campus always seemed to be marked by forthcoming absence. Be it “we can start going to Wilson together again in the spring!” or “don't worry, Tandoor will still exist when you come back in 2018,” I was often reminded by friends that my time at Duke would take a long pause. Like a novel missing a chapter, this break in my time on campus makes the entirety of my “Duke Experience” more confusing. Studying abroad is a milestone in my college career, raising questions about what came before and what will come after. Have I spent my time on campus correctly? What will I do with the three semesters I have left? Will my perspective on Duke life change now that over half of it is over? During the one semester I have away from Duke, I'm left thinking about my experiences under the gothic arches of the Rubinstein rather than those of the Marienkirche.
I question, too, the meaning of my time in Berlin. By all accounts, a semester abroad is often the best time of students' college careers—if not their lives. After a full month here, I can see that being the case for me as well. But can I make more of my time here? How many art galleries and cinemas can I fit into the next three months? How many pretzels can I eat? Even if I had all the time in the world, I doubt I could do everything in Berlin I'd want to do. So how can I make each day here the best it can possibly be?
My questions on time are daily answered by the city. Although all cities have a past, Berlin's history can be read on each of its buildings and all of the faces of its people. Here, time is felt rather than passively lived through. Few cities have gone through as tumultuous a history as that of Berlin's, and the impacts of each era can still be sensed across the city streets. While most European cities feel overwhelmingly Old, Berlin's many rebirths have made it feel New—and still defining itself. Although time hasn't been good to the city, the city is good to time. From streets named after medieval regions of Berlin to modern memorials, history is not forgotten. The city's good and bad times are laid out plainly, to learn from and build from.
Living in this vortex of time, I'm daily reminded of my search to define my own personal zeitgeist—what this time will mean to me in the larger context of my life. Just as how Berlin as a city has been and will always be defined by time, I will never be able to fully control time's impacts on my life. So, shouldn't I just let it happen? My time abroad and at Duke will come and go, leaving me with memories of the past like Berlin's street signs and reconstructed buildings. I know these memories will be made, so long as I worry less about the time and more about the moments. As to what those moments will be—only time will tell.
Jessica Williams is a Trinity junior and Recess Media Production Editor.