After having been back in the States for two weeks now, I’ve finally come to face the question I must have asked myself a hundred times already: How do I go back to Indiana after all this?
With a summer full of constant activity behind me, I don’t really know what to do with myself at the moment. There’s nothing to study for, no field trips to jet off to, no new places to eat, no reason to take pictures, and no one there asking “So what’s the move? What’s next?” It’s a little… dare I say… boring?
I would argue that coming back is just as hard, if not harder, than leaving. At least when I was preparing to go, I had already braced myself for what I knew would be one heck of an adjustment. I was up against a new culture, independent living, and a foreign language, among other things. I went in knowing that Germany was going to knock me on my butt. Coming home, though, I thought it would be easy. After putting a bookmark in my life for eight weeks, I expected a seamless transition right back into the comfort of home, which would be waiting unchanged for me to pick up right where I left off. I had conveniently pushed aside the fact that my life in Germany and my life in America are such completely different entities that being back home would take some getting used to.
I think I powered through the initial culture shock in Germany like a champ, so I guess it makes sense that it finally caught up to me, although this time on the way back. It’s pretty much a textbook case of reverse culture shock: it’s unsettling to see all the little things at my house that have changed while I was away, it’s hard to articulate my experience to others (especially without sounding like a pretentious jerk), every “genau” I let slip is met with looks of confusion, trying to reteach my body when to be hungry and when to be tired is exhausting, I miss Freiburg, and I hate that I can’t hang out with my program group anymore. To be honest, it kind of sucks… but I’m trying to tough it out with the same resolve I brought to Germany two months ago.
I haven’t been out in public much yet, but I’m already dreading that first “So how was Germany?” Boy, what a loaded question. It’ll probably render me speechless, as much as I’d like to think I have a way with words. What is there that I could possibly say to help people understand what I’ve been through these past eight weeks, everything I’ve done and seen and felt? The only people who really get it are, of course, the ones who went with me, but now when I turn around to reminisce there’s no one there. I don’t know that that part will get any easier.
So as I sit here writing my last blog post, I dare to let myself wonder… was it worth it? Now that all is said and done and I’m broke and bored and lonely and Europe seems like just a crazy dream… was it worth it?
Before I left the country, I had always thought that there was nowhere on earth I could love as much as my hometown. What I’ve recently come to realize is that I never thought I could miss anywhere but Indiana because I never gave anywhere else a chance. For the first time, I’ve got somewhere to call my second home, and I think a piece of me will always be there. Freiburg will always have a place in my heart because in a way, it pushed me into adulthood. I did a lot of growing up in Freiburg, and I’ve come so far from that girl who was afraid to go get her passport photos taken. It blows my mind that that same girl just flew across the world and back.
I will say this: leaving my parents at the terminal that day on May twenty-third was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I left that airport, but it really worked out in the best way possible. I lost one family, but I gained another.
I have a lot of love for Freiburg itself, but what really made the experience was who went on the journey with me. I didn’t go into this expecting to make friends… that wasn’t the goal for me… but I will forever be grateful for the process that allowed me to meet ten of the most interesting individuals I’ve ever had the privilege of calling my friends. And it’s cool to know that wherever we end up in our lives that are spread all across the country, there’s one incredible experience that we’ll always share.
Now I’m not going to say that I didn’t spend my first night in my apartment curled up on the bed fighting tears. I’m not going to say that the classes were a breeze. I’m not here to tell you studying abroad isn’t hard. Because it is. Leaving is hard, and coming back is harder.
But if I had the chance to do it again? I would in a heartbeat. If I could go back to Freiburg with that group every summer for the rest of my life, I’d do it. That’s how much this amazing, stressful, crazy semester meant to me.
So to Vaille, Torie, Bryan, Aditi, Nick, Jack, Emma, Allison, Jordan, and Jeremy, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for supporting me through all my firsts. Thank you for keeping me too busy to get homesick. Thank you for putting up with my accent, my attitude, and my general ignorance about the world.
Thank you for giving me the best summer of my life.