May 26th, 2008
Today was the day. My first day in a foreign country in which the native language was not mine. Better yet, I am completely unfamiliar with the German language. I keep saying “Danke.” Worse than not knowing the language, I do not know familiar customs, such as tipping, how to order, etc. And to make things better, I am all alone.
I have come to realize that this is my reality for the next three months. I knew it would be a little scary, and perhaps a little stressful, and maybe more glamorous. I think I am just exhausted.
My journey began actually Thursday night when my Mom and brother dropped me off at a hotel near the airport. I had to be up at 4 a.m. the next morning so this just made things easier. I tried to sleep on the plane to Newark, and was somewhat successful, except for the fact that I was sitting in the row in front of the emergency exit thus could not lean my seat back, all of the overhead compartments were full so my rather large backpack had to wedge beneath my feet, and the precious infant in front of me was rather well behaved until they closed the cabin door. Arriving in Newark, I had a friend I wanted to see who was in NYC for the weekend. A fellow member of the Academy for Future International Leaders, he will be studying in Singapore next semester, making this our last opportunity to spend time together until 2009. What a wild concept. We wandered around the city, enjoyed lunch and Central Park before he escorted me back to Jersey for my flight. Needless to say, there was not much of a rush; we sat on the runway for over an hour waiting for takeoff.
I was not nearly as productive as I had planned on being on the flight; I kept falling in and out of sleep. A kind German couple who were both architects sat next to me. The exclaimed how big everything was in America, and they had only visited the East Coast. Oh boy, I laughed to myself. I’ve been to all the cities they visited in New England, and all I could think of was how small everything was. Once I got off the plane, needless to say I was intimidated. German people, German language… everywhere! I quickly realized how easy it could have been to just hang around the airport, but I was determined to make something of this experience. I paid to store my bags and like a stupid American tourist began asking questions. I got myself from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1, bought a train ticket, and proceeded to board a train to downtown Frankfurt. I did not think I would be able to fool anybody, but perhaps I appear more German than I thought; a number of people approached me, asking questions and speaking in German. I think my confused look said it all. One young man in particular, Julian, from Northern Germany, studying History and Politics in Weissen befriended me for a short while and helped me get around. I got a kick out of the British accent to his English. After we had gotten more comfortable visiting with one another (and he missed his long travel train home) I asked him questions I had always wondered about. For instance, how is World War Two taught in schools, is it a faux pas topic of conversation, and most importantly, how does it feel to watch movies like Indiana Jones and see the Germans/Nazis as the bad guys? Luckily for Julian, he was well educated and the topic was well covered in school. He said that they all had to visit the concentration camps, and that his generation thinks it is too important not to talk about. Obviously Germany has come a long way, but it was something I had always wanted to know, and never met anyone who could tell me.
Who knows what other burning questions I might have answered in the next three months?