Okay, so I kind of stalled writing my last blog post because of the fact that I don't want to admit that my time in Germany has come to an end. But, now is the time where I reflect on how it feels to be home after a whirlwind experience on the other side of the world.
I've been home for about a week and some days now. I'll have to admit, it feels pretty weird. It didn't feel real at all waking up at 4 in the morning on Saturday the 15th for my departure back to the U.S. It didn't feel real hugging my host mother goodbye. No part of that day felt real. It all felt like a dream. But it wasn't. As soon as I boarded the plane, I knew it didn't feel right.
I had time to think about life, considering it was a 9 hour flight and I had nothing better to do. Never once did I ever feel homesick while abroad and never once was I excited about the idea of going home at the end of the program. There was something about Berlin that made my life make sense. I felt like I belonged. Berlin is the place for me. It's where I'm destined to be. Call me verrückt (crazy), but right from the start, I knew that this city was going to be very special to me. I just felt so accustomed to the city life. Riding on public transportation, going to the grocery store, going to classes, it all felt right. For awhile I forgot that I actually go to a real school back in the U.S. and that I had an actual family. Life in Berlin felt like real life. It was like it was home. It was the life I always dreamed of.
So something I was heavily warned about before going abroad was the culture shock. Oddly enough, I got reverse culture shock. This means that I was not affected there, but coming home I was. Honestly, I was ready to experience culture shock there. But after a month in, I realized that I might not experience "the norm". For me, reverse culture shock is real!!!!!!
On the way home, I had a connecting flight in Newark, New Jersey. Although they briefly spoke German on the plane ride, it felt weird that I was going away from that life. Most of the people on the plane were from Germany and they were probably going on vacation in the U.S. But the thing is, they can go back home. It's not like that for me. Germany isn't where I was born and raised. I'm just a visitor and tourist.
Once I was in the states, it was definitely weird to see signs in English. I'm so used to seeing German as the primary language. The announcements were first made in English, then followed in Spanish. In my head I thought, "where is the German?" I felt like such a foreigner. I then decided to go to a coffee shop and buy a water and something to eat. This was the first time since my departure in September that I was holding American money. When I saw that my change was $2.33, I was confused as to why the cashier was giving me 2 dollar bills. I was expecting to receive a 2 Euro coin and some odd cents. I just stood there and looked at the American change I got back in total shock. After I came t o my senses, I automatically said "Danke" out of habit. I then realized that this is not the right place to do it anymore and just walked out of the shop in a hurry. Not going to lie, I found myself a seat to sit at near my gate and started to cry. It was all becoming too real to me that my time is Germany has ended and that it was back to reality.
Waking up on Sunday morning felt very confusing. I woke up a couple of times throughout the night feeling very disoriented. When I walked downstairs, I'm used to being greeted by my host saying "Guten Morgen. Hast du gut geschlafen?" and then her cat would be there meowing like there was no tomorrow. But when I went downstairs, there was none of that. How could it be that just 24 hours ago I was in Berlin eating my last breakfast with my host? It didn't make sense and it was a hard thing for me to understand.
Surprisingly, I didn't have to battle with jetlag. I felt energized all throughout Sunday, but it felt odd being 6 hours behind. Every time I would text my friends in the U.S., I would text them thinking that I was still 6 hours ahead and that it would be 3 a.m. or whatever when they would see my message. I got to experience American grocery stores on Monday and wow, that was a shock. I'm so used to walking into small supermarkets and having to guess what I'm buying is what I actually need. I tried to find a type of muesli I bought in Germany but I was getting frustrated knowing that it wasn't going to be here. Also, I forgot what it feels like to not have to stress and panic about shoving your groceries into a bag like you only had .3 seconds to do so. I felt more capable of buying groceries in Germany than I do in my own country.
For a job, I work as a cashier at a retail store. My job is basically spent half of the time interacting with customers. I went back to work on Wednesday because traveling really emptied my bank account (I blame the foreign fees and not my outrageous spending). With my first customer, it took everything in me not to say "Hallo! Wie gehts?" I basically wanted to do the whole transaction auf Deutsch but there were a couple of times where I didn't catch myself and some German slipped out and I had to play it cool. I'm starting to get back in the habit of trying to only speak English, but I'll have to admit that it is kind of hard. I was surrounded by German for 4 months and to have it all be wiped away is a big cultural shock. Sometimes I even catch myself thinking in German! I was in a clothing store and couldn't find the price on a sweater so I said in my head "Wie viel kostet es?"
Don't get me wrong, it feels great being back home. I still can't believe that at just 20 years old I managed to travel ALONE to Europe without knowing anyone. I went to 5 different countries, tried all sorts of random foods, failed at communicating sometimes, definitely failed at public transportation, and more memories I'll never forget. It's all still mind blowing. It doesn't even feel like it actually happened. It all feels like a continuous dream. But sadly, I woke up on the 16th of December back in my own bed. After coming home, I've had to confirm with myself that I actually went abroad. I know it happened because I am constantly being bombarded with questions about my trip from friends, family, and co-workers. It feels kind of weird having to recall memories and being a storyteller for those who weren't on the journey with me, but I don't mind.
Coming to Germany has definitely changed me as a person. I'm not this shy, paranoid girl anymore. I've developed into an independent and confident woman who can do anything she sets her mind to. I feel like I have this constant glow on my face and a big smile that is too big for my face. I have such a different perspective and outlook on life. After seeing all the sights I've seen, there's no doubt that this trip was life changing. It was as if I needed this trip at this point in my life where I emerge into a young adult. I learned how to live on my own (somewhat since I lived with a host family), and how to make do with life being on the other side of the country and away from my family. I'm very grateful and very fortunate that I was able to partake in this spectacular trip. Since I was a student in middle school, I've dreamed of traveling all over the world. What they say is true: if you can dream it, you can do it. And I'm living proof of that.
In my heart, one thing I'm sure of is that I am meant to come back to Germany. Whether it be in Berlin (ideally), or any other part, I know that this is my second home. The feelings I got from there are feelings that make me feel glad I got to experience all of this. The memories I made, the friends I made, and the places I've been to and saw will always hold a special place in my heart. I can't wait to see what the future has in store.
A quote that I think resonates well to end this journey in Berlin is: Man sieht sich immer zweimal im Leben (you always meet twice in life). I've met some amazing people on this journey and there is no way that I'm going to make these people become a memory.
Vielen Dank für das Lesen und Erleben von Berlin durch meine Augen. Ich hoffe, alle haben meine Geschichte genossen!
I'll be back. This isn't the end. It's only the beginning. Bis später!