Reflections on life in the “lucky country” after dancing in Berlin

| February 27, 2019
At 17 I travelled abroad to study at the Staatliche Ballettschule in Berlin, a goal I had been working towards my entire balletic career.
Unfortunately, after a year at the school and plagued by a series of stress fractures I made the decision to stop dancing, however, my experience in Berlin as a young Australian opened my eyes to a number of differences in culture and living standards.
Reflecting on these has made me both eternally grateful for the quality of life in Australia and acutely aware of some important social and cultural issues that we must address in “the lucky country”.


Returning to Sydney, my heart sang at the beauty of my surroundings and the autumn warmth, something I had taken for granted prior to my German adventure. When I arrived in Berlin, I received a forewarning to stock up on vitamin D as the fast approaching winter would hit me hard.
I was extremely doubtful that “oppressive” weather would knock my unflappable spirit … how wrong I was. The crippling cold and constant, foreboding blackness really took its toll on my mental health. Returning home I was pleasantly surprised at the sunshine’s ability to instantly dissolve my worries.
Living abroad, I realised that our general standard of living in Australia appeared to be quite high too. I was overwhelmed at the number of homeless and “down and out” people in Berlin. My naïve, 17-year old self was also shocked when some of my classmates from Latvia, Italy and the Dominican Republic told me their parents would send them 20 Euros to live off each week, barely enough for a few days’ worth of groceries!
Comparing casual wage rates between Australia and Berlin it seems we also have a distinct upper hand. As a casual worker, I would receive approximately 10 euro (approx. $15-16) an hour working in a café in Berlin versus $23-$25 an hour at a café here.
However, dancing in Berlin I realised how heavily the arts are funded in Germany. The Staatliche Ballettschule Berlin has free tuition which means social class is completely irrelevant when selecting dancers, thus dancers are nurtured purely on a talent basis, unfortunately the same cannot be said for Australia.
Performing arts bring a wealth of benefits to the community and yet Australia hasn’t quite grasped this concept.
Had I finished my schooling at the Staatliche Ballettschule, I would have emerged with a university degree, free of charge! In Germany, the public schooling system is free for domestic and international students.
In Sydney, I am not granted this luxury. After I finish my undergraduate degree I will have a small fortune of HECS debt waiting for me. If I decide to complete a master’s degree, I should expect to add on at least another $50,000…oh the joys of neoliberal attitudes to education!
Living in Berlin made me acutely aware of differences between Germany and Australia’s attitudes to immigrants. Having grown up in Sydney I was groomed to think Australia was a truly multicultural and tolerant society. However, in Berlin I began to understand how Australia flails behind in our attitudes towards “others”.
Difference is celebrated and immigrants are welcomed in Berlin, I was ashamed to reflect on our practice of detaining refugees off-shore, as well as our constitutionally enshrined culture of forcing immigrants to adopt “Australian values”.  
Ultimately, I am extremely grateful for my time in Berlin. Regardless, of the fact that my dancing career didn’t pan out, I learnt invaluable life lessons and gained a newfound perspective on life in “the lucky country”.