As of Friday, I’m officially finished with my Lumos project, but I wanted to take some time to share a few last thoughts about my trip here. I won’t bother attempting the impossible by trying to summarize nine months of my life in a few paragraphs. Instead, I’d like to go back to my first blog post, “Expectations,” and see how my experiences have compared with my hopes. Back in October I was hoping for a few things: I wanted to see a different side of Germany than I’d already seen in Berlin, I wanted to see what it was like to try to integrate into German society, and I was curious about how these months would really change me.
When I arrived in Enkenbach-Alsenborn, I could tell almost immediately that my experience was going to be vastly different than Berlin. In fact, Enkenbach-Alsenborn was about as different as you can get from an international and busy city like Berlin: E-A had one main road that bisected the train tracks, splitting the two towns roughly into quarters. As the name indicates, E-A used to be two towns, but they eventually grew together into one slightly larger town. I lived in the smaller eastern section, Alsenborn. During those first few months I biked back and forth to the school, took walks in the woods, practiced my German with my host family, and commuted twice a week to Karlsruhe for my language course. It wasn’t a lot, but it was my life and it kept me reasonably busy. However, E-A’s remote location came with a few problems: there were almost no English speakers to befriend, very few places to go to meet people, and not much to do on the weekends. Though I took a few trips during those first few months, I spent the majority of my time in E-A, and by the time the cold, dark months of January and February rolled around I became more and more aware that I needed to change something. Though life in E-A completely immersed me in a community of natives, I still needed the chance to socialize, make friends, relax, and just speak a little English. Thanks to my very helpful and flexible partner organization ELI, and my host family, I was able to work out a new living arrangement in Karlsruhe that put me in closer proximity to the things I was missing, but still allowed me to go on teaching in E-A.
During those first 5 months, I really learned what it meant to immerse oneself in something completely foreign. On one hand, there’s no better way to learn the language and customs, since they’re constantly modeled for you in a habitual and natural fashion by everyone around you. But even when you throw yourself into the deep end of the pool, you need to come up for air every now and then. In E-A, I didn’t have a place where I could go, relax, speak English, and do things that were familiar. I learned in a very immediate way how much language effects what you can do, how much fun you can have, how much work you can do; in short, I learned how completely and inextricably language is bound together with action. The statements of “I couldn’t find a place to relax,” and “I couldn’t find a place to speak English,” became, for me, equivalent.
My time in E-A and Karlsruhe definitely gave me a different perspective on Germany, and especially in E-A I was more or less completely immersed in German culture. And I really tried to integrate as much as possible, first and foremost by learning German, but also by adopting other habits, like eating a large lunch and a small dinner, becoming more direct while dealing with others, and countless other little things. But how did these experiences change me, and to what extent? That was the third question I posed to myself, and I’m honestly not sure how to answer it. In some ways I have definitely changed my behavior, as I’m finding out by interacting with my family and Americans again. But during other periods of my trip, I can recall the experience of recognizing something familiar in how I handled myself; certain challenges I faced seemed to reinforce certain personality traits or habits that I think I’ve had for a long time now. In the end, I haven’t got a good answer to this question yet, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. You can’t force some kinds of knowledge, especially self-knowledge, and maybe this trip has changed me in ways I won’t recognize for years. But I know it has deeply challenged me, broadened me, and made me more resilient and self-reliant. And that is, I think, what Lumos exists to do – to challenge you to grow, learn, and adapt to things you might not have ever experienced.
On that note, I wanted to add a big thank you to all the people who have supported me throughout this project. Of course, I want to thank the Lumos Award committee, Belmont University, and ELI for helping to make all of this possible and tolerating my mistakes and last-minute changes to just about everything :D. Also to my host family in E-A, the Steinmanns, as well as all the teachers and students at the E-A IGS, I give my sincerest thanks and gratitude for helping me figure out how to live and work in Germany. Also, to all the people I’ve met, traveled, partied, danced, sung, and studied with, thanks for making my time in Germany a little more fun. And of course, not least of all, all the people back in the States who have supported me with cards, gifts, e-mails, facebook messages, and everything else. I always loved hearing from someone back home, and you helped me get through this project as much as anyone else.
I hope you all enjoyed reading this blog as much as I enjoyed writing it, and that you felt like it was worth your time.
For the last time,
P.S. – If you have any specific questions about my project, or just want to talk a little bit about traveling abroad, always feel free to leave a comment, and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.