Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Last Saturday

One week from this very moment I will be landing in Chicago, and even though I will have to endure yet another flight before finally making it back to the freezing wilds of Minnesota, I will effectively be home. And, after half a year away, home is exactly where I want to be. Of course, it’s never as simple as walking onto an airplane, plugging in your iPod and enjoying the ride. First, there is the packing.  

Now, I generally consider myself to be a pretty good packer. I’m quick (it took me less than 3 hours to pack for 6 months in Germany), I’m efficient (I am a hardcore list-maker so once I’ve decided what I’m bringing all I have to do is throw it in the suitcase and check it off) and I’m compact (I regularly travel with little more than a small backpack in tow). Additionally, I am not by nature a “shoe person,” which I understand is a weakness for many women, and since shoes are heavy and take up a lot of space, I see lack of a footwear fetish as an extreme advantage in the packing realm.

A clear winter day in Hamburg
I am not, however, a very good re-packer. In fact, I am a terrible re-packer. At the end of a trip I will wait until the very last minute to frantically toss my unfolded clothes back into my suitcase, shoehorn any souvenirs into the open spaces and then squish the ends together and pray that the whole thing zips. Of course, this mad dash to the finish inevitably ends with me leaving something behind when I go. I’ve left sunglasses in Texas, mittens in Paris, my favorite sweatshirt in London and half of a bathing suit in the Turks and Caicos Islands. By now I pretty much expect to come home missing something I never intended to get rid of.

And yes, the rational side of me realizes that if I just thought things through a little more and packed my bag the night before instead of the morning of my departure, I could avoid the lunacy. Yet, here I am, twenty-four years old and a fairly seasoned traveler and I am doing everything in my power to avoid repacking the things I carted with me to Germany. To make matters worse, when I was cleaning my apartment yesterday I also came to the horrifying conclusion that I have accumulated an awful lot of crap in the last six months and shoving it into two suitcases is going to require some serious finesse and one of Mary Poppins’ magic carpet bags.

Hamburg Rathaus (Town Hall)
So, on my last Saturday in Germany, when I ought to have been organizing my life and hauling my suitcases down from the rafters, I ignored the intelligent plan of action and took the train into Hamburg one last time. I window shopped, bought myself ice cream even though it was freezing cold outside and said a few nostalgic goodbyes to the people and places that have become so familiar in the last six months. I even happened upon an English bookstore and bought a 1,300-page novel, which I am hoping will keep me occupied as I traverse an ocean and seven time zones next week.

It was a good day, a happy day, and as I boarded the train back to Stade I was glad I had decided to avoid the disaster zone that has become my apartment for a few hours. Of course, no happy day in my life is complete without a crazy story and this was no exception…

 As soon as I got on the train I knew it was going to be a long ride. The cars were full to bursting and so I ended up standing. As more and more people squeezed their way on I was pushed further and further to the back of the car until I was standing with my back against the wall. In front of me was an old woman with a black ski cap who kept yelling at anyone who tried to get on the train (and while I appreciated the sentiment, she was making quite a fuss). Next to me was a man and his dog (it is quite common for people to bring their dogs on buses, trains and subways here). Somehow, in the midst of the chaos and the yelling the dog ended up sitting between my feet. Now, I like dogs and this one was cute and seemed well-behaved so I didn’t think much of it… until he started licking my pants (Remember that ice cream I mentioned earlier? I may have spilled some of it on my jeans). So now I am squished between dozens of strangers with a strange dog licking my pants, scrambling to find something to hang on to as the train zips out of the city. And all I can think is that this utterly bizarre experience is the perfect end to my last Saturday in a country that has made me laugh and cry and dance and scream…


  1. Next week at this time I am sure there will be a strange dog licking your pants and everything else you bring back with you. But this dog will be strange, the situation will be normal...for this dog anyway
    Scout and I are waiting impatiently until then.
    I love you

  2. Glad you made time for one more adventure and one last memory. Sounds like a great day! Your arrival is anxiously travels. Many hugs await you. Connie

  3. You make me smile :-) I love your spirit!

    Safe travels, and may the packing force be with you! You and I will have to return to Europe...I have shoes to pick up in Italy! Love, Aunt Julie

  4. You have a clever way of always making me laugh as I read your blog.

    Christina, I hope you take time for yourself during your last few days in Germany to take in the wonderful memories you've accumulated these last six months. I know you will. I'm sending you good packing vibes and wishing you well as you travel home. I can't wait to see what will be next for you! Are you going to keep up on your blog so us Frenchies can be up to date ;)

  5. Hi Christina! I've read almost your entire blog today. I'm leaving for Germany to be an Au pair this summer and your blog has really helped. I was wondering if you have any advice on homesickness ? This will be my first time away from home and all those college homesickness horror stories I hear kinda help, but the experiences are totally different and it would be great to get some good advice from someone who has lived abroad :)
    what is the hardest part of being homesick, and did you ever, while feeling homesick, regret your decision to go ?

    1. Hello! Congrats on your decision to go to Germany-- in spite of the homesickness, I do not regret living abroad! It was a wonderful experience :)

      I have lived abroad twice and gone away from home for college and I've been homesick every time... but the most important thing to remember is that it gets better with time. The first month is the worst, but by the end you will be sad to leave.

      For me, the worst thing about homesickness is not being around for events (weddings, holidays, birthdays, graduations, etc.). It can be very difficult to hear stories and see pictures of family and friends having fun together and know that you can't be there.

      When I am homesick I always try to get outside and do something. It is really easy to spend a lot of time on Skype, email, and Facebook but that is the worst thing you can do. You need to get out and make a new life for yourself-- take a walk, take a class, go shopping, plan a trip, make new friends, etc. But don't dwell on how sad you are. In fact, you might want to limit how often you check email or Skype with family/friends for the first month or so.

      Of course you don't want to lose contact with everyone at home, but the trick is to find a happy medium :) I hope this helps!! Let me know if you have any other questions or concerns.

    2. Thanks Christina!

      That helps a lot.

      I've heard the 3 month period is the worst, but of course I know what I'm getting myself into. I wouldn't be going if I'm not up to the challenge.
      I have one more question for you :)

      The relationship you have with the host family you have mentioned before in your blog and I was wondering if it's something that gets better with time and the more you get familiar with each other and the routine.
      Or is it always just a little weird ? I mean..yeah you are "part of the family" but they are also paying you.
      Is it always a little strange?

    3. I really think the relationships depends both on your personality and on the family you are working for. I know au pairs who have totally integrated into their host family and feel very much like a "daughter." One au pair even became the godmother to one of her charges.

      Personally, I preferred to keep a more professional relationship with my host family. Of course I did things with them and enjoyed their company (and I was very close to the kids!!), but I am older for an au pair (24) and I had my own apartment, plus my host family really valued their personal space so it worked for us to have more of an employer/employee relationship. I'm not saying the relationship with cold or unhappy, in fact we got along great and really enjoyed each other's company-- it's just a matter of personal preference. If you haven't already, I would ask your host family how they see an au pair fitting into their lifestyle. That will give you a good idea of what they're looking for.

      Where will you be an au pair/ How many kids are in the family?

  6. I just chose a family this week :)
    It was a really hard decision, harder than I thought it would be because I didn't expect to meet so many cool perspective families.
    The one I chose has 4 kids, and lives near Hamburg.
    I really tried to choose a family that wants to integrate me into their life, One that genuinely wants me to part of the family.
    My only concern right now is that the family is a lot different in person than they are over Skype.
    The kids don't worry me, just the parents. I really want to be friends with the parents, because I will be living with them for a whole year. I want bot them and me to feel comfortable, and be able to relate.

    1. Congrats!! 4 kids will be a lot of work (I was running around like a crazy woman with 3, haha), but if you have a good feeling about the family that is by far the most important thing! Of course there will be a period of adjustment and probably a few moments where you have some cultural differences (not to mention the language barrier), but most au pair families really want their au pairs to feel happy and at home. My guess is that if you are open, friendly and responsible, the family will be too!! Best of luck to you! :)

      Also-- if you are going to be in the Hamburg area there are a couple of great Facebook groups for au pairs in Hamburg. Do you know what city you'll be in yet?

    2. Thanks for the advice :) yeah it will be a lot of work but I have worked at a preschool and have younger siblings so hopefully I'm as prepared as I think I am. I'm a little concerned about the language barrier with the kids, because only the oldest kid speaks English.

      Yeah I know what city I will be in, it's about 30 minutes away from Hamburg.
      Do you know if Couch surfing is a good site?