Let me preface what I’m about to say with this: I am really enjoying my time here in Germany. However, some unexpected challenges that have arisen and I thought it would be interesting to share them with you all. Many of them are things I know I will face again on my gap year, so it’s been really valuable to experience them firsthand now! So here goes:
This is the third time I’ve done a homestay in a foreign country. However, the last two were in France and India where my host family and I were able to speak the same language, or at least enough for effective communication. Here, communicating with my host family is legitimately difficult when Samuel’s not around. Google Translate has been a useful, albeit imprecise, tool but most of our conversations involve very slow speech and a lot of hand gestures. It can be fun at times, but boy is it exhausting! I’m definitely feeling some guilt about not speaking German, too. Americans are so privileged to have our native language be taught in the majority of schools around the world. We are able to travel with confidence because, “Oh don’t worry, most people speak English.” While often true, I wish my lack of knowledge wasn’t forcing my host family to use an unfamiliar language in their own home. I have picked up a little bit of German though — now I just need the courage to use it!
The other obstacle I’ve encountered is how dependent I am on other people here. This was less of a problem during the week because I had near-total freedom once I got to school, but the weekend has been a different story. In the U.S., I’m able to hop in my car and meet up with friends at any time, but my only option for transportation here is the bus — which I’m obviously not familiar with. I know how to get from my village to St. Wendel and back, but that’s about it. I also don’t really know what there is to do, so I’ve been at the mercy of the other German hosts and my host family. Everyone has been actively including me, but, being the planner that I am, it’s been tough feeling so powerless in my own schedule. Honestly, it’s probably a good exercise in relaxation for me.
The final frustration I wanted to address is one that I think all exchange students face: your body and mind’s reaction to a new time zone, new environment, and new food. Everyone knows about jet-lag so I won’t say much about it here besides it’s real and it sucks. Beyond that, there are so many environmental factors that affect how the human body works, looks, and feels that we don’t realize are there until they change. For example: Do you know how much of your day is spent interpreting language? Every street sign, advertisement, song on the radio, and human interaction relies on your brain being able to digest language quickly and accurately. When it can’t? It gets very tired, very fast. Combined with jet-lag and waking up at 6 AM every day, this has led to an extremely and perpetually fatigued Margaret. The other physical reaction I’ve had to being here in Germany is the diet. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m used to a lot more protein, fruits, and vegetables and a lot less carbs. There’s nothing wrong with either way of eating, but transitioning from one to the other is a real shock to my system. I’ve found that my energy levels are a lot lower, even after eating, and that my ability to focus isn’t quite as good. I would chalk it up to jet-lag, but I’ve made significant changes to my eating habits before and I know what it feels like when my body is adjusting. Imagine a fever without the heat. Since I’ll be in Europe for another four weeks, I’m confident this haze will pass as my body realizes it’s going to have to rely on bread for fuel for a bit! In the meantime, my apologies to anyone who has to ask me a question four times before I can answer.
When you immerse yourself in a new culture, you agree to take the goods, the bads, and the in-betweens. Every problem I run into is out-weighted by thousands of wonderful discoveries and experiences, so I’ll end with a list of random positives I wrote in my journal a few days ago:
- German Guardians of the Galaxy looks like it’s in perpetual fast-forward and it’s really amusing.
- I finished reading The Color Purple and it was so beautiful.
- I successfully got home from St. Wendel sans Germans TWICE!
- This place is starting to feel like a home.
- I became better friends with Andrea and Rayna and they’re great.
- Samuel-free communication with my host family is going well!
- I AM HAPPY
Until next time, tschüss!