The thing that’s terrible about leaving a place that holds a fond place in your heart is when you know the next time that you visit it, practically all of the people your memories were made with will be gone.
New Years in Madison was fantastic, a sort of one-last-time-in-a-lifetime reunion of my core group of friends…the thing about having friends similar to you is that they also have wanderlust and consequently, are rarely in the states.
That being said, it gave me a clearer goal of how I want to live the next six months in Gießen. There are already a few people I feel quite close to (Kyra, Rick), but I’m going to consciously (and unconsciously) work on expanding my nice little community of happy people to share my time with. By the end of June, I actually want to be slightly depressed to be leaving Gießen. It sounds a bit odd, but then I’ll know I really had a good time.
About that “time” thing: You might wonder, “What does this lazy girl do only working twelve hours a week?”. Lately I’ve actually been working seventeen hours a week…brutal, I know. I have a steady base of English-learning-clientele and will be adding another student (and an additional four hours/week to my schedule) soon. Given the fact that I have to speak English so often, you might ask yourself, “How does this crazy girl ever get a chance to work on her German?”, which was originally one of the main reasons I applied for the Fulbright in the first place. The answer? I do it in my sleep. Well, sort of. They say that when you start dreaming in a foreign language, you’re “fluent” (I have many definitions for that word…food for a whole other post). I don’t dream all the time in German, but it does always manage to freak me out when I have a dream in which my non-German-speaking-friends suddenly bust out with perfect German and want to talk to me about Angela Merkel’s favorite candies or some such dreamsicle nonsense. French, Italian, and Spanish tend to crop up now and again, but what really makes me question my brain is when languages I’ve never learned play a role in my dreams…I never know if it’s just me making stuff up, or if I remember selective phrases I hear from foreigners on the bus, for example, and try to process them in my sleep.
About that “foreigner” thing: does it make me less of a foreigner if I manage to go through days where no one I meet notices I’m American? Perhaps. Does it make me feel very peculiar when I see the roots of some German stereotypes regarding Ausländer, while at the same time I feel a sort of communal bond of “outsider-ness” with them? Definitely. It puts me in the slightly uncomfortable place of identifying with two groups of people that I love dearly, but who have spectacularly different lifestyles. I can eat in an Ethiopian restaurant, feel the warmth of the food and the vibrancy of culture surrounding it…then on the cold walk home, it’s the rare person who makes eye contact with me on the street. I might have tea or go for drinks with some of the Erasmus/exchange students and when we order, the waiters automatically look to me to translate as “the German” if my friends say something unintelligible. I guess if nothing else, I’m fulfilling the part in my contract about building cultural bridges…
In any case, I’m developing a great deal of fondness for the English language. When I studied in Bonn, I tried to avoid it, but now it’s become a comfort to me. When I returned to the states for my last year at university, I had a major bout of discombobulation/reverse culture-shock and felt like a rebellious teenager (bear with me on this metaphor) whose red, white, and blue-striped parent was keeping all of its stripey claws locked into my life. During this past vacation, I got more of a feeling of being the parent, seeing my red, white, and blue-striped child in all of its flaws, and loving it in spite of them. My students at school are definitely instrumental in my Versöhnung, my reconciliation, with the English language and American culture, and I’m grateful for that.
Funny that Versöhnung came into my head before “reconciliation” though…