So I never got the chance to write a last blog entry while in Europe, but an entry the day after I get home is as good as anything, right?
This will be my last entry. I can tell you right now that I already feel different. It could be the jet-lag, or maybe just the lack of fatty substances in my digestive system, but home feels different than it used to feel. 36 hours ago I was staring up at the Fernsehturm in Berlin and now I am typing at my kitchen table. It’s surreal. Yesterday I was speaking nothing but German, and now when I accidentally throw a German word into a sentence, I get funny looks of incomprehension. For the last 2 and a half months, it has been exactly opposite. When talking to strangers, I immediately think in German first and then have to manually override to English (I said “danke schoen” more times than I care to admit in O’Hare airport). And when I explain the phenomena to my family or friends, they understandably think it odd.
When I got back last night and realized that I had stories and experiences to share. I had presents to give out. As I was giving them out, I realized that the little Hexe (witch) that I picked up in the Harz mountains for my sister and girlfriend meant absolutely nothing to them. I got a strange look from her, and it took me a second to realize why. She (nor anyone else in the room) had zero knowledge of the history or the culture from the place I got it. Then I realized that the Euros I had in my wallet were unlike any currency my family had ever seen. Then I realized that they had never seen the enormously large drinking glass called a Maß before. I hadn’t told them about the toilets that have two buttons in order to conserve water in flushes or how helpful and genuinely nice the Viennese are to travelers. I don’t think I had realized until last night exactly how unique my experience in Germany was.
Upon arrival in Germany everything was new and overwhelming. After a week I was still noticing differences. After about 5 weeks, I was used to the culture and felt comfortable and after 10 weeks, I did not think anything was unusual about Germany. After one day at home, I am again overwhelmed with the differences and just the sheer knowledge that I’ve gained from studying abroad. It feels as though all of these changes have been immediate, but I know my development has been slow and gradual (and sometimes painfully embarrassing).
In all honesty, I wish I could have stayed longer. My language development went from basic knowledge and an inability to understand a word my German uncle said on the phone to having a passionate discussion about family and life lessons on the last night of my stay in Germany. It’s simply unbelievable what eliminating a language barrier can do for a relationship, and Who knows what another 3 months could have done for me. The sad thing that has been pointed out to me (thanks Michelle) is that this is likely the high point of my life as a German speaker, and yet I feel like I have only taken my first steps. Language is a never ending puzzle, and yet you always feel like you are making progress. I’ll go back, but I have no idea when and I doubt it could possibly be for as long as this one.
My closing recommendations for anyone considering studying abroad (particularly to develop his/her foreign language ability):
1) Do it.
2) Stay with a host family if you can and learn everything that you can from them.
3) Travel alone or with someone you know will make the trip better. Anyone else can take away from the experience.
4) Don’t be apprehensive about speaking to people (specifically in Germany. They will help you).
5) Be open-minded, try everything, and revel in the idea that you could not see/taste/do those things anywhere else.
At the end, you’ll stand once again in your driveway, looking around at nothing in particular, and realize how naïve you once were and how great your experience really was, and then you will think two things: 1) Man, that Sean guy gave some really good advice, and 2) I need to start planning my trip back.