Friday, July 16, 2010

Das Ende des Jahres

My year in Germany is over. I've been home for about a week now. And I'm still not sure what to think. I've called my home in Germany "home" for quite some time now, and it doesn't feel right to just automatically call my home in New Jersey "home" again. That's adjustments that will take a little bit longer, but it's coming slowly but surely. It's weird to think I was saying good-bye to my German family a week ago. And two days later, I was greeted by my parents.

English was not too difficult for me to speak again. Some words came to my mind in German before the English equivalent came to me. Some phrases or prepositions I say are wrong because I'm thinking in the terms of German. I find it funny to have to ask for someone to correct me in my native language. But overall, I don't feel like my English has gotten horrible since everyone can still understand me. It's been harder re-adjusting to how Americans look and react at certain things. Some things I've temporarily forgotten. (The toilets (too much water) and clothing styles are most striking to me.)

Seeing my friends and family again didn't prompt or provoke extreme joy or excitement. My coming home parties (one of which was a surprise) felt sorta like I picked up where I was a year ago, like nothing special had happened. Everyone was/is genuinely excited to see me; that is the people that have showed they DO care about me. But it feels like Germany has now become a distant memory. Perhaps because of geographical locations, since Germany is about 4,000 miles (6,000 km) away. But this numb feeling has really deprived me of a very clear feeling towards being home. I'm not overally estatic to be on American soil, but I'm not depressed that I'm not in Germany anymore. After speaking with Barbara, perhaps she had explained it correctly.."it feels like just getting back from vacation, and you have to get used to the 'normality at home'". I can relate this huge transition to something very similar.

There is so much that has affected me this year, and I have a lot of stories and life lessons that I'd love to share, but how to I start to share...? Do I start from the beginning or just share simple anecdotes? It's pretty much impossible to share everything, so what should I choose? I feel like I'm still sorting a lot in my head. I just got back from Germany...Where did the 10 months go? How do I keep contact with those in Germany? How do I re-contact with my friends and family at home? What do I need to do for college in 6 weeks? Got to prepare for my upcoming swim season. etc.

Life is definitely continuing...I feel like time has gone on ticking, and I'm still in the moment. But how did I get back from Germany to the USA so quickly? That's boggling my mind. Germany, the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange, was the experience of a lifetime. I was blessed with the best family for me. I had a great school, town, and community. I miss that a lot but have realized I'm just as lucky to have that all in NJ too. I took advantage of every opportunity I had and did all that I possibly could during my time abroad. I don't even know if I can list all that I've learned, grown from, and acquired. This exchange year has made me grow as a person...for the better. (Reminds me of the song "For Good" from Wicked.) I will definitely go back to Germany. But with such an experience of a lifetime...I can only look back and be happy. Not every moment was wonderful, but these moments led to better ones and vice versa. Each moment helped me: with my German, to understand something new, to communicate better, to tolerate more, to agree to disagree, to have fun, to smile, to laugh, to cry, to think and reflect. This list could go on for much, much longer. Human beings always continue to evolve, and I know this chapter has closed, but college is right around the bend. This is just another step in growing-up. But this time, I have to study a lot more.

I hope to do more with other exchange students. I would strongly encourage an extended time abroad. I think it's a great experience to host an exchange student. And even the simplest thing: Try to be a friend to an exchange student or someone new to the area. It will make them feel a lot better and more comfortable in a surrounding they don't know. And being a helping hand, helps more than you think. I'd like to thank all those helping hands and compassionate souls that guided and helped me. It all really worked out in the end! :-)

This is my 100th and concluding post. Thank you for reading and allowing me to share my experiences.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen,

Friday, July 9, 2010

10 Monate Erreicht

Albert Einstein had said, „time is relative.“ That’s the simplest way to explain my year in Germany. I’m currently in the plane on the way to Washington, D.C. If feels like only a few days ago, I was in the plane headed to Frankfurt (that was September). That’s right...this adventure has concluded. I’m somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, and we’re all in preplexing labyrinth of emotions: How can this already be over? Many have sched tears, myself included when we (with my friends and family) said our final „farewall“. Some CBYXers are very excited to be going home, and others didn’t want to leave at all. I find myself really stuck in the middle of this emotional confusion. I’ve met a lot of great people and have been blessed with a wonderful year, but I do miss my friends and family in the US. There are times where I wanted to come to this point sooner, but now I’d like to kick myself for having thought of that. Although, I bet that I’ll be eventually homesick for Germany, as I try to settle back into Jersey life. It’s all a part of the process, but trying to stay optimistic is hard at times. I do have wonderful memories of the places I saw and of the people I spent time with. But on Wednesday, I had my going away party (Abschiedsparty) it occurred to me that these people really like me and accepted me as one of them. (I sometimes felt uncomfortable when I didn’t understand something, or I felt sometimes just like as outsider. But these people were able to look past that.) On Wednesday evening and Thursday (my last day of school) my classmates and family and teachers were all extremely sincere wishing me all the best, and they hope that I will come back as soon as possible. My fencing club, friends, and family all gave me presents to help me remember them. They were also kind to make the gifts lighter due to the weight restrictions for the plane. I’ve come to realize that my community not only accepted me, they treated me like one of them, they helped me during tough times, or more often when I made a language mistake. Marie-Claire made me a t-shirt that says, „Unser Lieblingsami ist jetzt ein Fischelner.“ (Translation: Our favorite American is now a Fischelner. Fischeln is a section of Krefeld. Fischelner is a person from there.) Overall, my last week felt relatively normal, even though I felt the clock ticking. We had project days from Wednesday to Friday. Unfortunately I found my group incredibly boring, so I didn’t hang around there for too long. I chilled with my classmates instead, which helped me enjoy my last day of school. I always felt because I travelled so much, the time that I spent with my school friends wasn’t enough, but it didn’t end up to be true at all. Some classmates told me they felt like I was always a part of the grade and that I should stay; it’ll be different without me. With all these realizations, I really, really felt loved. I’m really going to miss everyone, but I have taken 11,781 pictures to help me remember on all the great thing I’ve experienced this year. Of course things won’t be „the same“ when I come back, but I’ll be happy for the time I had. Life goes on and things change. Things will be different now at home in NJ. That’s’ll go on with or without you. I’m not looking for a pit stop yet. I’m grateful for my amazing year and all that it included (the good and difficult times). This has helped me grow as a person, and therefore, I’ll always have a piece of Germany with me. I’ll be back in New Jersey tomorrow. It’s going to be interesting to have to readjust to being in my hometown, where everyone speaks English. I think I’ll (try to) write a reflection on my year a week or so after I’m completely home. But in closing, Germany was a fantastic year and I wouldn’t want to change anything about it.

Bis dann,

P.S. A sign that I had to go home is when my bed broke yesterday. I sat down and the mattress fell through. I slept comfortably on the mattress on the floor. And I had major culture shock with the American toilets...too much water. Germany has definitely had an influence on me.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Almost Full Circle

My last weekend in Germany has now concluded. I spent the weekend visiting my extended host family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins) in Saarland. I had met these people on Christmas and then I saw them one other time in March. We had spoken on the phone occaisionally (every few weeks), and still...I feel like they are my real family. And they ARE a part of my German family! The energy of my younger host cousins was exhausting, but I'm still going to miss them. And I feel lucky to have spent the time that I had with them. They will always be a positive memory and aspect of my experiences from this year. It was particularly a challenge to say good-bye to my Omas (grandmas). I promised that I'll write them, so I'll have a few pen pals when I get home. This weekend is another example of how blessed I am with two families: one in the States and one in Germany. I only took one picture this weekend. But I feel like this weekend will stay in my memory for a while; I hope forever. Conversations, like the ones I've recently had with my family, aren't something you capture in a picture; perhaps a moment of body language, but that can't tell the whole story. I had fun understanding and trying to speak Saarländisch; a dialect that my family can speak. A funny moment was when my Omas and Opa noticed right away that I've gained a little bit of weight. Opa said, "Matt has a belly and butt now." I've come to call my extra weight, "Austauschspeck" or "exchange fat" since it's typical to gain weight when you spend an extended period of time abroad. But just a warning: The older German generation will usually comment on your weight. (My Omas and Opa are happy to know that I'm eating well; and I hope I don't have anymore Austauschspeck in the States. That's why I'm looking forward to swimming.)

But overall in these last few days, I will need to pack my things. Continue to wish everyone the best; and hope to see them sometime again. I imagine the reality and emotions will strike me on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday morning (it also took that long in September for the reality of a year in Germany to sink in; I mean: It didn't feel real till I was actually in Germany. I imagine it'll be the same way for me in reverse in the plane flying to Washington D.C.). The World Cup is continuing and I'm hoping for the final game to be Germany vs. the Netherlands. My going-away Party is this Wednesday, and we'll be watching the semi-final round: Spain vs. Germany. It's not too hard to figure out what team I'm cheering for. ;) I have a fencing tournament tomorrow within the club, which will probably be the conclusion of my fencing career.

I hope to type up a blog post in the plane, but I can't make any guarantees. But I will promise a reflection on my year will be coming shortly after my return in the US of A. Thanks to everyone who read and supported me through this year!

Schöne Woche! Bis dann!
Matt :-)