I wish the clock wouldn’t run so fast. It’s now 2:40am (eek!) but I’m trying to get all of this out before I head to Slovenia, because I’m sure I’m about to get to the city tonight and realize..what in the world have I just stepped into? While my German isn’t perfect, it is at least comprehensible as compared to the Slavic language which I’ll soon learn. Honestly, I can’t even count to ten in Slovene! It is funny how some things foreign can suddenly feel like home. This doesn’t mean that I’m not excited though; as much as I have enjoyed Germany, I also recognize that this is the end of my journey here (for now) and I am ready to take on the next challenge/adventure. I’ve moved around a lot plenty in the last few years, so starting fresh almost feels par for the course. And honestly, who wouldn’t be excited for a country whose every photo looks like it should be in a nature magazine?!
When I studied abroad in Peru, I took that year as an opportunity for considerable self-reflection and self-growth . Okay, so that wasn’t my original intention, but that was certainly the outcome! (And thank goodness I finally grew a fashion sense.) In Germany, I feel confident about my sense of self; this time abroad, my focus has turned to engaging with others. Whether it’s joining a sport, baking a cake, seeking out other Spanish speakers, or calling up an old friend, I’ve had many opportunities to build or retain relationships here. Whether we’ve met once or a dozen times, the people that I’ve met here have been incredibly friendly and always willing to sit through conversations with me, even with my broken German (okay, so maybe it’s not that bad anymore). Before I came to Germany, I had heard that Germans often have few people that they consider good friends, but those people are friends for life. Having lived here, however, I don’t think that idea is quite true. I have seen people embrace others after just the first encounter, and are always happy to catch up again. I’m honestly surprised at the number of people who hug me after meeting me only once! It seems as though people are always happy to make new friends; it’s just a matter of reaching out.
Living here has also provided me with a greater insight as to the importance of being a cultural ambassador. Whilst here, many people have commented on how surprised they are at my ability to speak German. They don’t often expect Americans to have studied the language. In fact, one of my roommates told me the other day after he said he wanted to speak more English with me: “You’re a bad American! I didn’t expect you to come and want to speak German!” Even if I can’t follow every conversation, and I’m stuck using charades for plenty of words (but let’s be honest, almost everyone I know here speaks English), every German that I’ve met here has appeared very appreciative that I’ve taken the time to learn their language. Having this ability allows us to break the ice and more quickly establish trust. I have also been told by people that they are happy to hear that an American is taking an interest in seeing various parts of the world. I can, of course, understand why many Americans haven’t traveled outside of the country; I mean, it’s three times the size of all of Europe! But to display a vested interest in the people of another country helps to create an image of the American people as open-minded and invested in building relationships with others. I will gladly continue this role as I head for Slovenia.