Today marks the beginning of my last week in Germany. I’m not really sure how to feel about it, either. Some people leave feeling as if they didn’t get to do everything they had hoped to accomplish. I suppose I’m fortunate in that regard, because I feel like I have made the most of it, and that this is just a natural ending to a good thing. I’ve changed somewhat over this time, like losing weight and cutting my hair. My physical appearance isn’t the only thing that’s changed since I’ve been here, though. There are a couple things I’ve realized on a deeper level to be true as well.
Culture shock is real. Usually when people say this they’re referring to the way that you live. Sure, the food is bland, and the buildings are different, but that’s not enough to send you into an existential crisis. What’s “shocking” is the way that the people think outside of the United States. Humans are social creatures, and we can tell when others have a different mentality than us. If you asked Americans and Germans their opinions on ethics, religion, politics, and what direction they think the world should be heading in, you’d get very different answers. And as a foreigner, it forces you to have to re-evaluate why you think the way that you do. Are we all just products of where we come from, or is it more complicated? That’s what culture shock forces you to ask yourself.
Homesickness was an unforeseen consequence. I’ve moved away from home and everything I’ve known twice in my life to places where I didn’t know a single person and have never felt “homesick” in that sense of the word until now. I’d never been out of the South, let alone the United States, until I studied abroad and let me tell you the struggle is real when no one speaks English. You can’t talk with your family and friends often times because the time change is so wacky that I’ll either be in class or asleep when everyone in the U.S. is awake. Loneliness, the root cause of homesickness, doesn’t have to be when there’s no other human beings around. It can also be when there’s people around but they’re so vastly different from you that you might as well be alone.
Hard work and perseverance doesn’t stop once you get over here. Financial struggles come and go and although money is still a confusing subject to me here, there are always other venues, perhaps less utilized, to get to where you need to go. In some situations, you can have money in the bank, and yet it’ll be of no use since a lot of German businesses only take cash. Then there’s the added complication of how to get your money into the right currency, as well as the conversion rate in doing so. With ATM fees, exchange rates, and whatever you can think of, by the time you actually get your money in cash you might be paying 50% more than what you were expecting to (ex. $15 instead of 10€). I was fortunate in this regard because I found some work in my town like mowing lawns, moving furniture, babysitting, household chores, etc. where I was paid directly in cash to fund my adventures.
Traveling changes the way that you think about where you come from. I don’t know if it’s part of the human nature to want to integrate, but having sampled enough different cultures and opinions, like hearing from other foreigners who have immigrated to Germany about what it’s like where they come from and why they wanted to move, for example, I realize the faults with our small little place on Earth called Mississippi as well as the good things about it. There are things we need to be proud of about Mississippi, like for example the excellent universities we have. And then there are things that we must compare to the rest of the world and admit with ourselves need changing, like the backward ways of thinking that still persist in our culture.
You’ll come back a different person from living outside America. Take that as you will. In my case I strongly feel that it’ll be for the better, but in some cases, people might actually become more cautious about leaving the country again. The world can be a scary place because it’s so big and there’s so many things happening every second. Sometimes it takes traveling to realize just how vast of a place it is, and it’s easy to come back to the safety and simplicity of the U.S. and isolate yourself from the problems of the world. In my case; however, I think having never traveled extensively before now, a spark has been ignited where I want to do it even more. Who knows whether I’ll ever live abroad in my life again, but I can say that without the opportunity to have studied abroad, the question would never have crossed my mind. And in light of this, I feel that I’m coming back to the states a more enlightened person. Different, but for the better.