Just a couple weeks shy of living here for 12 months, I will return to the US this Friday. I am excited to see my family, to start law school, to begin the next phase of life. At the same time, it is utterly unvorstellbar that, next week, I will not ride the SBahn, not return to the Freie Universität, not be able to text Anne, my best friend here, and go swimming at Wannsee together the day after. Oh, the bittersweetness of moving on!
Future DAAD-ers, be warned! If you come to Germany, you might just fall in love. I took it to a literal extreme and met my boyfriend of nearly nine months here, but I’ve also fallen in love with Berlin, with Germany in the summer time, and I have made friends for life. I will stay in touch with my host family and enjoy hearing about my younger host brother’s adentures when he does a high school year in the US. I am already looking forward to seeing my second, adopted host family again. They welcomed both Anthony and I into their lives completely, and we have many special memories together. I know that I will truly always “have a suitcase in Berlin”.
It is always a delight to look back at the end of a good experience and process what I have acquired. Besides treasured relationships, my German is indubitably better. I have attended and fully comprehended German university lectures, church services, court cases, and plays. I wrote two 16-page German papers within three weeks, and it was really only as stressful as the same projects would have been in English. I even survived the heart-thumpingly terrifying experience of giving a Referat in front of a seminar full of 30 native speakers. I have laughed as acquaintances struggled to figure out if I’m from Austria, Switzerland, Spain, or Canada, because they know I have a little accent and they can’t quite place it. (For all my love of the US, when it comes to languages, I don’t take it as a compliment to be pegged as an American.) I can now distinguish between Berlinerisch, Sächsisch, Hochdeutsch, and Austrian German.
I have slowly acquired a few marks of Germanness— a faithful practice of having Kaffee and Kuchen with the family every Sunday afternoon, the love of being surrounded by greenery, keeping every window open to ensure adequate access to frische Luft, the ability to think in Centigrade instead of Fahrenheit, preferring water mit Kohlensauer to ohne, the enjoyment of beer and knowing ahead of time how it will taste when I order it off the list, the dedication to watching every single Germany game in the World Cup, and always carrying a book to read on the SBahn. The first time I visited Dresden, it was as one of 20 Americans visiting every tourist attraction on the list. The next time, it was as a guest of a delightful, hospitable family and my only interaction with tourist sites was to watch the sun go down behind the old city as Anne and I laughed and picnicked with Dresdener friends. That is a beautiful change: to experience a city from the outside, and then to come back and fully experience its heart-blood, the inhabitants.
For all these wonderful, intangible gifts, a few thanks are in order to the DAAD, which funded my study costs, living expenses, and provided generously for travel as well. To the innumerable others who have made this year a wonderful one, from my program director to German and American friends to host families: thank you. It is you that I will frequently and joyfully remember as I move on, and it is you for whom I will come back. Auf Wiedersehen, Berlin!