With three months left of my exchange year, I’ve been having a lot of emotions. On the one hand, I’m excited to start university: on the other, I have a hard time imagining my life anywhere other than Germany.
I had a few rough months here, as most exchange students do. Operating in a foreign language, culture, and environment uses a lot of energy. I’ve felt frustrated here, sometimes for silly reasons.
At the beginning of the year, my local coordinator told me that, on her exchange, she woke up one day and things had changed for the better. I don’t know how much I can say that was the case for me – it took a lot of work and a cross country move to get me to that point – but I do know that one day, I woke up and felt like I belonged here.
My classmates often ask me if I won’t miss the experience of American prom or graduation. Strangely, I don’t miss it. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my senior year than being here in Germany.
For all of Utah's good qualities, I never felt as comfortable there as I do in Germany. I struggled with small talk, cultural norms of directness, and, as a result of those two cultural norms, creating lasting friendships. My time here has given me a new appreciation for the United States and Utah, and some insight as to why I struggled the way I did. That being said, I’ve grown so used to my German life that, most days, I don’t consider my eventual return. Of course I miss my family and pets – but returning to America is not something I think about very often.
In the moments when I do remember how limited my time here is, I feel desperate to extend it. “Maybe I’ll go to university here,” I think, “Or maybe I can do a year as an Au Pair!” Despite the validity of these options, they aren’t entirely comforting. I’m in a unique situation. All I can do is savor every moment I have here.
Perhaps this is a cheesy analogy, but I see my experience here as a Tibetan sand mandala. I’ve spent the last seven months working hard to create an experience that I can be proud of. Throughout the process, I have made friends I cherish, found a host family I love, and have come to see Germany as my home. My year, even with its difficult moments, has been beautiful.
Late this June, I will arrive in the United States, with my term as a citizen-diplomat finished for the time being. My German visa will expire and I will prepare for my summer job. If we’re sticking with the analogy, I will dissolve my mandala. I know that’s going to be difficult. That means I’ve done a good job here. And until then, I have a lot more work to do. I’d like to get my C1 German certificate from the Goethe Institut (which indicates mastery of the language), learn more about the history surrounding my community, and build a relationship with my Bundestag representative.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that this year – all the sights I’ve seen, words I’ve learned, and people I’ve formed connections with – will be woven into my being for years to come. For that, I am immensely grateful.