I definitely have changed so much in the past almost 200 days, personally and culturally. I feel comfortable in my surroundings. I know how to get around the city without asking for directions, and I can even give people directions when they ask me. I don't have Germans automatically switching to English when they hear me speak. I know what stores I should go to for groceries, clothes, electronics, just about anything.
My German has improved dramatically, too. The reading for my classes doesn't seem nearly as much work (well, for one of them. The other professor has us reading something like 100 pages a week, I'm still not used to that workload), and I'm understanding the readings more now than I did at the beginning of the semester. I've even spoken up a couple of times in my classes- a big accomplishment in my book!
I've found I've been able to start thinking in German, totally independent of English. With this, I can now hold in-depth conversations in German without worrying too much about not knowing the German word for something- I'm able to operate within my vocabulary. In fact, it's often not easy for me to switch from German to English, nor English to German. There are always about five minutes of awkward transition with my tandem partner, regardless of whether we're switching to English or German.
The biggest sign, to me at least, that my German has improved was when I was talking to my roommate's friend. She has this one friend who, while extremely friendly, was extremely difficult for me to speak to. She always spoke too fast and I was pretty sure she was speaking in Berlinerisch rather than High German. I always had to say things like, "Can you repeat that? I can't understand you, can you speak slower?" Most of the time when she came over, I would leave her and my roommate on their own and hide out in my room. But last week she was over when I came home from the university, and I was able to understand her perfectly fine. Maybe I've finally hit the "click" former exchange students have told me about- one day, you realize you can understand what everyone else is saying.
I have met so many people here. Not as many German students as I would like, but I've met a lot of international students and have become good friends with them. I have done a lot here that I wouldn't have been able to do if I had stayed in California. I've widened my view, my opinions, and my experiences. Most of all, I've grown to love Berlin, the people, the culture, the sense of history.
I give the most credit to reaching the next stage of culture shock to my travels over the Christmas break. Yes, I missed my family and friends terribly, but I think, in the end, it was for the best. I know people who flew back to California, people who stayed in Germany either with or without family, and people who traveled for Christmas. The people who went back home often came back focused on how nice it was to be in California. They spent two weeks in a place they were completely familiar with and spent time with people they've known for years, if not their entire lives. They came back to Germany and remembered how difficult it was here and how much of an outsider they still felt they were. My two closest friends even decided, after going home for Christmas, that they wanted to cut their time short and leave after the semester is over, rather than stay the entire year like they had originally planned. The people who stayed in Germany didn't seem to change their opinions very much from before Christmas. And the people who traveled realized how far they have come since the beginning of the year and how much easier it was in comparison to when they started.
I'm not saying that I have perfectly assimilated into the German culture, and I still get thrown curveballs every now and then. I was shocked when I went to the electronics store for a new camera and found they didn't accept credit cards. I still complain about how cold it is here, and I still can't speak perfectly. But I think changing my attitude from, "I still don't understand so much! I still have a lot to learn!" to, "I understand much more than I did six months ago," does wonders for appreciating the experience. And even though I'll probably never be able to say that I am a German, I definitely feel I can say, "Ich bin Berlinerin."