It’s a cliché, but it’s also true: my life in Germany has been a roller coaster. And not one of those pansy-ass roller coasters that children ride. No, this has been a Six Flags roller coaster… the kind where they strap you in so tight you can barely breathe and your life is flashing before your eyes almost before you’ve made it around the first corner. This is one of those roller coasters that make you want to puke your guts out, cry for your mother and shout with joy as your cheeks flap crazily in the 100mph wind. It’s the kind of roller coaster adrenaline junkies eat for breakfast.
The problem is that I am not an adrenaline junkie and the one time I road Superman at Six Flags in Illinois I was saying The Lord’s Prayer under my breath the entire time. And so, in an effort to regain some sort of equilibrium, I have been thinking a lot about what it is that’s throwing me off balance. Sure, there’s a significant language barrier to contend with and an ocean between me and everyone I love, but it’s more than that, somehow. After all, I’ve lived abroad before and… (momentary pause for internal contemplation and then cue light bulb)… I’ve lived abroad before and have expectations about Germany based on my time in England.
And, really, that isn’t fair.
The semester I spent studying abroad in England was, hands down, the best four months of my life. It was also the first time I had been out of the country or traveled independently. I was nineteen years old and I had never been on a train (unless you count a 3-hour sightseeing tour in Canada), never seen a building older than Independence Hall in Philadelphia, never used currency that wasn’t the American dollar. I love England because I grew up there. I arrived as an American teenager and I left as a woman who knew she was going to make something of her life.
England was my coming of age story and, as every great author knows, you only get one of those. Germany cannot be a repeat. Indeed, I do not need to “grow up” again. I am two weeks short of my 24th birthday. I have finished college, completed a year of national service, lived on my own and even considered things like retirement plans and health insurance.
I am no longer a study abroad participant. I am a community member who is trying to juggle a job, language classes, foreign banking, travel plans and a whole host of other things. I am learning to use the library, joining a German church and becoming a regular at the local supermarket. I’m building a life here and while I cannot say that it is everything I had hoped for or dreamed of, it is still good, still meaningful.
|Thanks, Mom-- you're pretty awesome yourself!|
And, on days like today, when I have to head down to the customs office to claim a package sent by my parents and the burly German customs agent laughs when I open the box for the security check and we find a note from my mom telling me that I’m awesome, I can laugh, too. I can throw the semi-embarrassing moment into the pile entitled “Stories for the Grandchildren,” and when the agent compliments my German as I am on my way out the door, I can smile a genuine smile and be thankful for a new chapter in my life.