Thursday, June 11, 2015

Throwback Thursday: My First Time Abroad

Dear Em,
In between my junior & senior years of high school, I had an incredible experience. I traveled to Lubeck (I can't figure out how to type in an umlaut over the u), Germany for two weeks & stayed with a host family (I actually ended up staying with three different host was a long story). I had studied German in high school, & this was my chance to put theory into practice. The trip cost wasn't cheap, & I will be forever grateful to my grandma for helping to fund my trip. She said it was an opportunity & experience I would always take with me, & she was right.

I planned to post pictures of my trip in this post, but when I looked through my photos I realized I mostly took pictures of my friends on the bus or on a random playground. I can vividly remember going to the sea, walking through a concentration camp, attending school with our trip hosts, eating fresh rolls each morning, & making our way through the streets of Berlin. And yet, I have pictures of none of those things. Sigh.

Even after spending my early years moving & living across the country, my first trip to Germany felt like my first real taste of truly immersing myself in a completely new culture. I think the language barrier was the biggest factor. Two years of German couldn't have prepared me for what I experienced. Sure, my German improved in ways it never could have in a classroom alone, but much of the time I could only understand bits & pieces of what was going on around me. You know, every other word of everyday things like conversations & street signs.

At one point, my American friend & I decided to try to navigate the bus system on our own. When we started to see the German countryside out the window, we knew we had missed our stop. At the last stop on the bus line, the bus driver found two American girls sitting together with tears in our eyes. Luckily, he knew enough English & we knew enough German that he could tell us the bus would be looping back into town. After the longest bus ride ever, eventually we found the correct bus stop.

Still, I fell in love with experiencing new things & seeing people do things in new ways. I learned, in such a densely populated country, how space can be maximized. I listened to music before it came out in the States. I saw the Berlin Wall & imagined what life if a wall separated me from my family & friends across the country. I read the many names of people who had died in the solemn concentration camp we toured. I ate what I would have considered a sandwich for breakfast (fresh rolls with cheese & meats & mustard). I learned that while many Americans seem to believe that when you're in the US you should speak English, most Europeans know more than just their native tongue. Knowing multiple languages helps them remove barriers & opens up new opportunities.

Mostly, I think I learned that I could hold my own in different cultures. I left the trip a little more confident about traveling than when I started. Sure, traveling can sometimes lead to uncomfortable & difficult moments (like getting lost on a bus) when there are culture & language barriers, but I left Germany knowing I could figure it out. Plus, I left Germany knowing that in most of Europe they call bathrooms water closets (WC). I can't tell you how handy that information has been each time I've traveled abroad since.

I think that first trip to Germany is what made me confident enough to take our most recent trip, & that confidence led to many of my favorite moments on our Mediterranean adventure. I've realized that I'm not really a tour group kind of girl. Don't get me wrong, the guides are great. The tour group itself makes me feel like I'm in the middle of herded cattle. Though I didn't speak hardly any Italian, French, Greek, Turkish, or Spanish, I knew that Daddy & I could figure it out if we ventured out on our own. So, on many occasions we left our tour groups behind & found our own adventures. We navigated through street signs in different languages & found people that spoke a little English, & we figured it out. Figuring it out with Daddy was a lot of fun, & I love that he's looking forward to continuing to figure it out with me in the future. There's so many places we hope to see & so many things we hope to do.

And it all started out with a high school trip to Germany.

I love you so,

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