Tuesday, September 16, 2014


How, How, HOW has it been 6 months since my last post? My mind is officially boggled. My bike is lying on its side in shock above. A lot has happened in 6 months I guess. The half marathon, trips to Sofia, London, France, Switzerland, Soest and Doha, visits from my mom and a few friends, a friend's wedding and reunions with friends from Lannion and Tübingen, and that whole Germany winning the World Cup thing. Plus a boy/heartbreak situation I won't go into here, but will say was equally lovely and heart-wrenching.

World Cup Final: That was fun
Yet despite all the above, the majority has remained the same, leaving me feeling a littttttle antsy. A few weeks ago, in an attempt to mix things up, I tried to do one thing differently every day. Well I meant to try one thing differently every day but lost steam around day 4. Though to be fair, sharing this "failure" with you all is "different" for me - usually I would ignore it completely since I didn't officially finish what was a very unofficial project to begin with. Anyways. I tried things like taking different routes to work on my bike or biking to new parts of town, taking a spontaneous weeknight evening stroll through the Tiergarten, and going vegan for an entire day. Nothing crazy obviously, just minor efforts to show myself that I can make things different if I want them to be different.

It kinda worked I guess. I saw, experienced, and learned new things. Like what gears I should ride my bike in, locations of a few cute new cafes, and that not all tortillas are vegan. Like I said small things (though the bike gear thing was a revelation). But perhaps those changes weren't grandiose enough. It's surreal sometimes to think back at what this city meant for me as a tourist and what it means now, almost 3 years after living here. Routines can (and usually) settle in anywhere, and even though I'm still completely enthused and inspired by this place, it's usually the case that my days look somewhat similar. But I won't lie - I've been feeling a little like a spoiled brat having these thoughts in the first place. Are most of you just totally happy where you are, doing what you're doing? Or am I destined to live a perpetually confused and antsy life if I continue this transnational business? At this point I'm pretty sure it's a done deal either way though. A move anywhere else will surely leave me yearning for Berlin, which - in its own way - has been equally lovely and heart-wrenching.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Honeymoon Phase

When you move abroad, you expect it to be difficult at first. Leaving family and friends behind, dealing with new forms of bureaucracy, learning or improving your language skills, making new friends, in my case even finding a job. But it doesn't just start out difficult and get progressively easier with time. Reality is not linear. It ebbs and flows, comes and goes, and sometimes you find yourself wondering how as soon as things seem "figured out," you hit a rough patch.

At least that's been my experience. For me, moving to Berlin was the easy part. The door was wide open with possibilities but I also knew I could made a sharp turn at any time and go right back across that ocean. I was all sorts of excited, but not at all invested.

For the first half year or so I frolicked and explored and made wonderful friendships and ate an obscene amount of Goezleme. The whole not having a job thing was certainly stressful at times, but things eventually worked out and soon enough I had my Berlin bears in a row. I signed a contract, flew to Puerto Rico for my first work trip, celebrated with my Berlin buddies, and then flew home for a few weeks to spend time with the family. A happy whirlwind, indeed.

When I got back and started my job, in June 2012... that's when I hit my first rough patch. That summer was a tough one: adjustment in a new office and position, close Berlin friends off traveling, pitiful weather, and a fear that I had just committed to something that I wasn't 100% sure I wanted.

Come fall the anxiety had mostly faded, I was getting the hang of my job, and I'd established something resembling a routine. By the same time next year, Collidoscope was born and I was increasingly pleased with the direction my life was taking.

Now I'm close to the 2.5 year mark, and almost everything seems figured out. The job, the friends, the hobbies, the running, the traveling. But nonetheless, I find myself in rough patch #2. Nothing is wrong per se, but there is a nagging feeling that some of the excitement has waned and the comfort is settling in.

Hold on! This doesn't mean I'm planning on leaving, nor does it mean that I love the city any less. In fact, through all my self-analysis these past few months I think I've come to realize that I may now love the city even more. Is this possible? Is this what true love is?

I'll never be 100% sure as to what's going on in my overly-analytical-and-hyper-sensitive mind. But I've come to accept that Berlin is not the problem, I am. The reason I am increasingly nervous about what's "coming next" is because of all that I've built for myself here and how invested I've become.

The honeymoon phase is over. Berlin is no longer a risk I'm taking. It's a life I would be leaving.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Before January's Over

Reflections on a Berlin Canal
Despite my vocal and written proclamations to the contrary, I seem to be making resolutions pretty regularly these last few years. Truth is, I do find it enjoyable to look back, review and reflect, and pat myself on the back or rekindle my desire to reach a goal. I just don't need it to be in a January-January time frame, which I find a bit silly. But steadily working towards something that makes me a happier and healthier person... that I can get behind.

So how am I doing on my goals? Here's what I wrote last year: 

1) Travel to three places just for fun.

Mission accomplished, and I doubt anyone's surprised. Though this may seem like "cheating" to people who only make unenjoyable resolutions, the goal was for me to take advantage of the time and freedom I currently have to explore rather than racking up countries on my list. Where did I go? Copenhagen, Croatia, and Sri Lanka (could also add a new part of the Swiss Alps and Madrid to the list). Copenhagen was a long weekend trip with my best gal Kelly, Croatia was the first time my mom and I have taken a trip just the two of us, and Sri Lanka was my first experience in South Asia with the lovely and adventurous Anna. All fantastic experiences. All, as usual, making me feel like the more I see the more I have yet to see.

Croatia, you beautiful devil, you

2) Follow through on a side project.

Can I get a HELL YEAH on this one?! Kelly and I revealed Collidoscope Berlin back in April and are still going strong with our xenophilic baby. While we post much less often than we did in the beginning (down from 3 a week to 1 every 10 days or so), we've added Facebook (like us!), Twitter (follow us!), events, and more to our side-project docket. While sometimes it's difficult to get ourselves to just sit down and write already, we're always so pleased with the product and the progression the project has taken. As always, we're open to ideas, comments, and connections if y'all have any!

3) Date more.

Oh, dating. When I wrote this one last year I was giggling at the idea that this could even be considered a resolution, but now I can say with certainty it was the most challenging of the lot. I took some RISKS in 2013 that ranged from giving online dating a shot to trying to use Collidoscope to hang out with my cute and ethnically ambiguous dentist. I had some fun, I turned many a boy down for a second date, and I had some disappointments and rejections. But even at the lowest of these moments, it was good to feel like I was putting myself out there. Now I feel I can take a bit of breather and hope that I've laid the groundwork that will catapult something into fruition this year.


4) Work on my German grammar.  

A hard one to measure objectively but I'd say I was pretty successful on this one. While I didn't take a class or crack open any grammar books, I did start paying way more attention and forcing others to correct me. I've finally learned some basics as well as been hit in the head with the realization I've been making some rather ridiculous mistakes for the past 20 years (so it's really "Hälfte" instead of "Helfte" and "inzwischen" instead of "entzwischen" and salt is neutral but pepper is masculine?). But that's what you get for growing up hearing a language but barely ever writing or reading it.

So what's on the proverbial list for this year? 

To be honest, I'm not sure I'm totally feeling the resolution thing this year. I want to continue to make progress in the above categories and have started making some small shifts in other areas of my life that I'll give more attention to in 2014. These include trying to do one. thing. at. a. time. (I increasingly blame the internet for ruining my attention span... I can barely get through an article without being distracted by an email, work task, song, recipe, or god knows what else anymore). I want to learn to cook more vegan meals (In Berlin I eat almost entirely vegetarian but I want to go a step further on occasion). I want, nay, NEED to read a bit more in German (not my favorite activity). I want to travel somewhere on my own, even if it's just a weekend. OH! And writing more on the ol' blog here, because I hope you guys still enjoy it on occasion (anyone out there??), and because I know I will down the line.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


A year ago I wrote my first Berlinniversary post and ended with the thought, "Wonder where I'll be writing from next year!" On a train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it turns out. And then from a Jerusalem café eating my morning bagel, on the train back a couple days later, and then finally back in my apartment in Berlin. While somewhat indicative of the travel cycle that is my life, it's more indicative of the problems I'm having articulating what the past year in Berlin has meant to me.

That doesn't mean I haven't thought about it. Au contraire my friends, I think about it a ridiculous amount. Every jog or stroll past the Brandenburg Gate and I'm struck with the same thought: "wow, I really live here." A routine gathering with friends over a glass of wine and I find myself looking around the table admiring them, thinking, "wow, these are really my friends." At yoga class I glance over at the instructor and marvel at how I've known her since my first day in the city. Moments like these are very common for me, where I ponder where I am, how I got here, and how much has changed. I'm not sure if this is an expat thing, 20-something thing, or Sophia thing... am I just more introspective than most?

Don't get me wrong, a lot of the time I'm on auto-pilot and go through the motions of everyday life. Everything is zoomed in and there isn't time or energy or desire to peer at it from the outside. But most days, even if for a very brief moment, I zoom out and inspect my Berlin life from somewhere else. Like when you post something on Facebook and then re-read it 10 times to make sure it's still there, that you still like it, and to see what it looks like to other people (again, do other people do that?). When I "refresh, edit, 'view as specific person'" my own life, I generally "like" what I see. I see the standard stuff: job, friends, coworkers, apartment, travel, favorite restaurants and cafés, particular streets or corners, my running route, Gözleme etc. I also see myself navigating through all of it: a braver, more independent, and more passionate person than I know from the past. I see myself stumbling and failing probably more often than I used to, but I also see myself taking lots of risks. When I'm zoomed in I usually can't see where I'm headed. Zoomed out I'm still not sure, but I'm somehow assured that I'm on a path.

Regardless of whether I stay another 2 or 20 years (and whether it takes 1 hour or 5 days to write this post), this is what Berlin will always mean for me. Berlin has coaxed a different side out of me. My relationship to the city feels reciprocal, and I'm thankful every day for what Berlin has given me. Now that I think about it, that's probably why I'm so set on giving something back to it, whether it's taking visitors on impassioned tours of the city where I don't shut up about how awesome it is, to writing about it on Collidoscope.

So cheers Berlin, here's to year three of you and me!

Sunday, October 27, 2013



No, not me! I still have a little time before I hit that milestone. I did, however, reach another milestone this year: getting a 30th country under my belt, Croatia. Though far from considering myself a travel expert, I have picked up a few tricks over the years on my travels from everywhere from Cartagena to Copenhagen to Canada. Here are my five personal favorites.

1) Find a hotel

.... if you need a restroom.  Many countries have unfortunately not embraced the idea of free public restrooms, and they are often tricky to locate. I find that hotels are the best bet for a free pit stop as a tourist. They have so many people coming in and out they generally can't remember who's a guest and who isn't, and all of them have public restrooms on their main floors. It's foolproof! Otherwise I'm not such a big fan of hotels: Airbnb, small guesthouses, or better, staying with locals, is always my preference.


2) Say (and learn) "Hello"

No one expects you to learn every language in the world and we all struggle when abroad. Learning a few words (like hello, thank you, please, and how much?) can go a long way. But no matter how much you struggle with language, say "hello" when you greet a waiter, hotel concierge, museum ticket seller, or bartender. Oftentimes these people greet throngs of tourists a day and just demanding what you want (in a foreign language, no less) doesn't go over so well. A smile and a short greeting in the local language can make all the difference.


3) Get up early

...not just for the sunrise. Tourists tend to sleep in (it's vacation, after all!) but the locals are living their normal, every day lives. In busier touristy cities (think Prague, Paris, Dubrovnik) the morning is the best time to see locals going about their business as usual, rather than just your business as a tourist. While your fellow travelers are sleeping, they're heading to work, grabbing a coffee, and taking their kids to school. Prime people watching time.

Or mountain watching time. Alps, Switzerland

4) Don't make special meal requests

There aren't direct flights between Berlin and DC so I always end up transferring in London. During one of my layovers last year I was showing my passport at Heathrow when the attendant glanced over my boarding pass, typed something into his screen, and suddenly asked if I would like an upgrade. After enthusiastically nodding yes and thanking him profusely he leaned in and said, "you know why we picked you? Because you don't have a special meal request. We can't upgrade people with special meal requests because the meals are different in every class." You know, so they won't get sued if you eat something you said you didn't want to eat. What's the point of special meals anyway? Veggie options are pretty standard these days and unless you're allergic or do it for religious reasons I think we can all agree that no airplane meals are particularly "special" to begin with.


5) When in doubt, ask the New York Times

These guys don't mess around. The recent 36 Hours in Berlin article profiled one of my absolute favorite restaurants in the city that is not even that popular (yet). In the last 1.5 years I've followed their guides for Dubrovnik, Krakow, and Copenhangen and haven't been disappointed once. (A bottle of NYT recommended Croatian wine that I lugged from Hvar-Dubrovnik-Berlin is sitting in my apartment as proof.) Of course it's great to be flexible and spontaneous and just see where the wind takes you, but sometimes you want the wind to know what it's talking about. Other than good ol' locals, I consider the NYT my reliable wind.

So there you have it. This coming winter I'll be backpacking around country #31 (unless I get a work travel surprise between now and Christmas): Sri Lanka. It'll be a different type of trip than I'm used to - less planning ahead, more go with the flow, a new region of the world - and I'm bound to add something to this list. In the meantime, there's always the NYT.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Full Circle

A few days before my 1 year job-iversary, a wrap up of my tree season series. The Maybachufer, my favorite work tree... what should be next?

July 2012
October 2012
January 2013
May 2013

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Chance on Collidoscope

Ok, here's the truth: I've been cheating on Kaffee & Suchen.

After almost half a year of conceptualization, planning, and preparation over train rides, Monday night dinners, and strolls through the city, Kelly and I have given birth to our xenophile love child, Collidoscope Berlin.

This website is a collaborative project that examines migration, multiculturalism, and diversity from three angles: anthropology, education, and tourism. We see this website as a conversation-starter, an alternative storyteller, a democratic and inclusive view of the many peoples, spaces, and settings that confound the modern city. It's a response to the absurb claim that  "multiculturalism is dead" and a forum for seeing the city's collision of cultures as a positive and an opportunity for enrichment, rather than just a problem or challenge.

This project is a big deal for us. It represents our shared but also divergent interests: Kelly comes from the more anthropological angle, my perspective is more focused on international education and intercultural relations, which you'll notice in both our topic choices and writing styles. But most importantly, this website represents us taking a chance and electing to be part of the conversation. I'm curious to see what comes out of it.

What you can expect for now is 2-3 posts a week, generally falling into one of our feature categories: Rants & Raves (something we hate or love), Interview (the unstructured structured interview), Lens (our perspective in a story), or Happy Weekend (a "non-sceney" tip for the weekend). 

As it stands, full-time job + Collidoscope + volunteering + social life + travel + regular visitors + the occasional jog = a busy Sophia, so something needed to give. Unfortunately, it will most likely be Kaffee & Suchen for the time being. I'm sticking around, but the posts will become notably more intermittent. I hope you can forgive me, and more importantly, I hope you will keep up with our journey through Berlin on Collidoscope, because it's important that everyone see the city through a different lens from time to time.