So I’ve finally had some time to digest a lot of the changes that have happened over the last few weeks, which has allowed me to reflect a little more about my trip up to this point. When looking at the calendar last night, I realized that I’m actually closer to the two-thirds mark rather than the halfway mark in my project. It was a sobering and surprising realization. I’ve done all sorts of things to try and remember my attitude and feelings during my first few months, including re-reading some of my old blog and journal entries. Of course, some things are impossible to forget: my struggle with learning and speaking a new language, figuring out my role at the high school, and navigating new social and familial habits with my host family. These are all very typical experiences for someone living, studying, and teaching abroad, and although they were all “German,” anyone would encounter those challenges studying anywhere. But as I was reviewing my old writing I kept coming across all these little notes about small, almost insignificant things. For example, I remember being absolutely delighted when my host mother started regularly making and buying soft pretzels for breakfast. I also recall being surprised the first time I saw multiple people (who didn’t even look homeless) walking around with beer bottles before noon. The examples go on and on, but I think it just goes to show that some of the most memorable things during my project have been, as Vince from Pulp Fiction puts it, the little differences.
After nearly six months, I have gotten used to speaking and hearing German regularly. I’ve become accustomed to German weather and climate. I have a better understanding of the school system and how to run a small-group English lesson. I even feel like I’m beginning to get the hang of those more advanced linguistic skills like joking, flirting, haggling, and arguing. But for the life of me, I cannot get used to the fact that I need to quickly bag my own groceries at the grocery store before the next customers’ groceries get mixed up with mine, or that you have to separate your garbage into 5 different containers. Initially, it was the common, every-day things that made me nervous, excited, confused, and thrilled. But that period only lasts for a while until you realize that Germans are humans just like Americans and they need to eat, sleep, work, go to the hospital, have children, etc. Once you can communicate in those situations, a bit of the charm wears off. But as soon as life is beginning to seem normal again, you start to notice and pay more attention to the smaller things. Your view naturally becomes more subtle as your familiarity with every day life increases. And in the end it’s the tiniest of things that stand out the most.
If my plans work out as I expect them to (and if there’s anything I’ve learned over the last year it’s that this is rarely the case), I’m going to make a concerted effort to take note of and describe more of these little differences that I experience in my day to day life. And who knows, those observations may even lead to a good blog post or two.
Hope you’re all doing well.