It has been four months (and one day, if we’re going be really precise) since I left those fair United States, and for the most part, I haven’t looked back. Although, to be fair, I am headed back to the land of my birth next Tuesday (got that, internet stalkers?). Germany and I are in a really happy place right now (this makes it sound like I’m romancing the Bundesrepublik, but let’s leave that one alone). I have some thoughts about my experiences thus far, which all tie together in my mind, even if my writing capacities leave some connections to be desired, and here they are.
There is a lot of pressure to have every experience abroad be OH-EM-GEE LIFE CHANGING, but I’ve always struggled with that mindset because it suggests that everything that does not happen abroad somehow means less. Going to the grocery store on this continent might be mildly confusing at first (because milk is not always refrigerated, what?) but figuring out what brand of food I like best in a new country does not qualify as a Life Changing Experience. Finding new streets to run or speaking German when giving directions or discovering a new regular bar or finally having the guts to speak up in class are little victories that are important parts of my life over here, but have they really changed my life?
I think living abroad has been an excellent way to figure out which aspects of myself remain constant regardless of context, and which aspects are interchangeable. Before leaving this summer, I remember lamenting to a friend that I wouldn’t be able to eat the same brand of yogurt for breakfast that I had for the past six plus months (#creatureofhabit and #firstworldproblems, I know I know I know), because by some stupid logic, eating Fage 2% Plain every morning washed down with a grande coffee with two shots of espresso was tied to who I was at that time.
There is a scene in the first season of Girls (a show that I identify with much more than I would like to admit) where Lena Dunham’s character is visiting her parents in Ohio, and she goes on this date and she gives herself a little pep talk beforehand in which she essentially reminds herself that “You are from New York and therefore you are just naturally interesting.” Sorry, Lena, but I’m calling bullshit on that one. If I may paraphrase as means of disagreement, living in Germany does not make me a naturally interesting person; or, if I am indeed interesting, it is not because of my address.
In applications this fall, I’ve constantly been writing about my love for asking questions, and I’ve had a number of conversations in Munich that have gone round and round asking questions about how the world is and how it should be and what I want out of life and what I think I deserve out of life and how Germany fits into that life. What makes people interesting? What makes people smart? Am I in Germany because I am either interesting or smart or both or am I here because I know how to play and win the game of application writing? If I remember my life correctly, this is the fourth time I’ve been to Germany, and I think I can finally sense a shift in what this country means to me. For the longest time, I wanted to live abroad (read: Germany, because I sort of spoke the language) so that I could leave my tiny town and be as far away as possible. 17 year old Rachel was a peach, no? Now, though, I think I have wanted to return to Germany as much as I have because I like who I am when I’m here.
When I am in Germany, it has always meant that I’m doing what I love. Every time I’ve been here, I’ve been doing some sort of combination of traveling or studying, which happens to be what I would do happily for the rest of my life if I never had to worry about money. (If I ever write a memoir, it shall be entitled “If I Had Money: My Life of Perpetual Destitution in Various World Cities”). I have few real-world responsibilities on this side of the ocean, which is both freeing and concerning. I have obligations to the program and to my work and to my friends, but I don’t have real roots on this side of the world.
I love Germany for many external reasons–I love the complex history and the never-ending questions it inspires, I (usually) love the train system, I love the food, I love bikes, I love big churches and old buildings, and I love cobblestones. I’ve met some of the best people–German and American–over here, I love the practicality that is instilled in most aspects of life over here, and I like that I fit in but I don’t necessarily belong in Germany.
I think what I am trying to say with all of this, is that I love being in Germany because it’s where it has been easy to be the version of myself that I like best. And that, dear readers, is reason enough for me to keep coming back.