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Going, Going, (but not quite) Gone

February 25, 2016

Customers started saying goodbye to me last week, not knowing if they’d stop in before I left for Germany. I was lucky enough to pick up a job at a local café  (shout-out to all the amazing amazing amazing people who work there!!!) to compensate for what I imagined to be an immeasurable time I was going to be home this break. I’d met the regulars who came in to get their coffee, and just as I was getting to know them, they were saying goodbye as I told them I was headed off to study abroad.

That was definitely a surreal experience; up until the two-week mark prior to leaving, the amount of time I had left until I was supposed to go was inconceivable. In fact, I’ve been home since mid-December, and I calculated that my winter break is officially longer than what my summer one will be. Now, I’m merely counting down the hours until Friday, February 26, at 6:35p (18:35 if you will) when my flight takes off.

The anxieties associated with leaving my quiet life (perhaps too quiet; more on that later) at home in suburban New Jersey to move to another country briefly are all too familiar. My school, Skidmore College, teams up with IES Abroad every year to bring a small group of students to London to study there for their first semester of college, and I was one within a group of 31 who was incredibly lucky enough to have the opportunity to go. So, here goes round two of studying abroad with IES Abroad, and as much as I’d like to think I’m a veteran of the whole dropping-everything-to-live-in-a-foreign-country kind of thing, my brain chose to think of every worst-case scenario that could happen as I was trying to fall asleep the other day. I’ve found that if I’m ever overcome by a panic like that, writing a list of exactly what I’m worrying about really helps, as if my anxiety takes on the form of the ink I write with where it remains on the page, and I can sleep in peace. I’m thinking about things such as who’s going to be on my program, how and if I’ll find friends, and not only learning German but also transcending my self-consciousness and actually using it. I know these are the kinds of things that eventually work themselves out, but it’s hard not to worry about what you can’t quite control (at least for right now).

Now, back to the time thing (which will be a common theme throughout this blog, I can tell). I feel as if I’ve become quite acquainted with these long breaks. My first extended break came between my high school graduation and leaving for London. My second came between London and studying at Skidmore for the first time. My third came between my freshman and sophomore year, when I thought I had things figured out. Now, it’s this break, which feels as if it’s been the longest of all; not necessarily because of the length, but because of what this semester will mean to me. I chose to study in Germany because of my dad. He grew up in a small town in southern Germany called Tettnang, close to the Lake of Constance (der Bodensee). Charming to say the least, Tettnang is the kind of town where everyone knows each other by name, but blink and you’ll miss it driving by. He came to the United States in his early twenties to begin a new life, but kept close ties with family and friends. Because of that, we’d go back quite often as family, and I always felt it was a sort of second home to me. At most, we’d go for three weeks, but I was struck by how homesick I’d get when we got home for a place I’d never actually lived in. I’ve never been to Freiburg before, but this is the reason I’ve chosen to go back to Germany: to rekindle that feeling of being in a place that feels like home.

At the same time, this is the first semester of college I’ll be without my closest friends (you know who you are). Not long ago, my best friend pointed out it’d be the first semester we weren’t going to be together. It’s bittersweet though, because while my tiny heart aches that we’ll all be apart, I am once again enraptured by their courage to gain new perspectives from the most interesting places: Serbia, Austria, London, Australia. I can’t wait for the conversations we’ll have when we all come back together.

But there’s no point in dwelling on the fact I won’t see my friends. A central incentive of studying abroad is getting out of my comfort zone, creating new relationships, and attempting to gain a greater understanding of who I want to be (here I must acknowledge my privilege in having the ability to do this by both attending college and studying abroad). I’ve written about my parents’ contrasting backgrounds in the past (native-German dad + native-Texan mother = me). How and when they grew up made them almost as contradictory as two people can be; yet being raised by opposites has lent me the ability to simultaneously recognize and appreciate differences in people, understanding how environment affects identity. Yes, I recognize that Freiburg is in a developed country in the Western world, but as it is its own country with its own unique culture, it can still offer me the experience of immersing myself in a wholly different setting with people I’ve never met or seen before. Through the little exposure I’ve had outside of the East Coast, I’ve discovered that relationships with people from different backgrounds are some of the most valuable, not only because of the knowledge you gain from them, but also because you slowly learn that we are all just humans trying to navigate this chaotic world we live in.

 

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