Friday, January 8, 2016

Study Abroad | One Year Later

8 January - 16 June 2015

It's been a year to the day since I arrived in Germany for a semester-long study abroad exchange program. At the time I was woefully under-prepared; I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Armed with an intermediate understanding of the language, two overstuffed suitcases, and one person I knew, I boarded a transatlantic flight to Europe and after 33 hours of travel, made it to Mannheim, my home for the following five and a half months. By the time I arrived I was completely sleep deprived, with a missing suitcase containing everything except my clothes, a missed check-in appointment, a stolen identity mixup resulting in a canceled credit card, a dead cell phone battery, and no food. I met other international students throughout the following week and realised I wasn't the only one struggling, and it was only up from there.

In that time I learned how to live completely independently, successfully traveled to and through nine countries, had the loneliest and most isolated days I've ever felt, discovered new senses of purpose in my life, and made some of the best, lifelong friends I could have ever hoped for.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times as Dickens put it, and no better phrase fits my German experience.

I miss the spontaneous adventure that weaved its way through everyday life, the sense that nothing was certain, the idea to take advantage of every opportunity because it's such a unique period and it's gone before you know it. Memories of things I never expected to miss hit me often: the view from my window in my little flat on Carl-Zuckmayer-Stra├če, the cold and quiet rides on the 60 bus, leaving for class early to grab a coffee at EO or Backecke, the slow conversations in German with impatient baristas who'd rather be watching How I Met Your Mother with German dubs, long evenings spent in Cafe Vienna with biers and heaping plates of pommes frites, walking along the Neckar on crisp spring days, lazy afternoons in town that ended in a stop at Cafe Sammo for a Cafe des Tages zu mitnehmen, bitte.

I miss my tiny flat in its dingy yellow building, the small difficulties that everyday life brought with the language barrier, the anticipation of visiting new countries/cities on weekends, the international friends I made. And, surprisingly enough, I miss Mannheim. Germany's second ugliest city was a far cry from the picturesque German villages on postcards, yet I grew to love its understated personality, its crazy efficient recycling, the seemingly endless stream of schoolchildren on the 7:40a bus, the Turkish district, the brusque grocery clerks, the gossipy old women on the 60 bus. The culture shock hit me hard once there, yet I grew used to its unspoken rules and customs, and I dream of being back constantly - something I didn't think I would say while I was there. It seems strange to miss the small things more than the big things, yet it's the small things that made ordinary days interesting.

I will always hold a special place in my heart for my exchange semester, its adventures and strange stories, the hilariously bad transportation problems, and my first real home away from home. Mannheim, ich werde sie immer lieben.

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