It has officially been one week since I returned to the US. Being back home is a strange mixture of familiarity and foreignness. It seems like I was just packing to leave for Freiburg but at the same time, it feels as though I’ve been gone for years. My trip back home was somewhat of an ordeal. I had the world’s strangest assortment of connections to get back to Valparaiso, Indiana. I flew from Basel, Switzerland to London, England to Toronto, Canada and then finally to Chicago, Illinois. I am always terrified of flying—not the whole flying at 30,000 feet in the air thing, but rather I’m terrified that either my luggage or I will get lost or run late somewhere along the way. Turns out I was right on one count. I asked in Basel if my luggage would make it all the way through to Chicago and I was reassured it would, but just as I had imagined, one of my suitcases got lost in the endless abyss that is the customs center at the Toronto airport. I went pant-less for a couple days, but my luggage arrived home a couple days later.
I have yet to experience the reverse culture shock of coming back home to the US. There are a couple of peculiarities that I have noticed, but nothing terribly traumatic. The strangest difference from Germany and life abroad has definitely been dealing with money. Back in Germany, I got so accustomed to dealing with the colorful Euro bills and large coins, but now that I’m home I hardly carry cash on me and when I do, it’s strange to hold the money in my hands. The dollar bills seem so small and colorless in comparison. I know that seems like a strange thing to point out, but after six months of paying for groceries, clothes, and souvenirs, it’s hard not to look in my wallet and expect varying sizes of Euros.
Another obvious difference is the language. Although I now feel like an advanced German speaker, capable of expressing myself clearly in a number of different situations, I did spend most of my time in Germany frustrated and confused. Even everyday interactions with grocery store clerks or teachers proved to take a lot of energy and concentration. Whether I misspoke or it was due to another person’s impatience, it was difficult to go a day without someone asking me to repeat myself. Now that I’m back in the US, it’s still very odd to me that people understand what I’m saying immediately. The relief I now feel is rather strange.
Over the last week, I’ve caught myself daydreaming of my old life in Germany—taking the Straßenbahn to go to class, visiting Café Portofino to grab ice cream, or even just hanging out on the balcony with my flat-mates. I miss all my friends, I miss the scenery—the mountains and the Black Forest, and I miss my old lifestyle. It’s such a surreal experience being back home and not being able to just walk to my kitchen and see all of my best friends there. Without trying to post some sort of cliché saying, my experience abroad has made me a stronger and more self-reliant person. I know that one day I’m going to see my friends again and if everything goes according to plan, I’ll be living overseas again in no time. Right now, my eyes are set on my last year here at IU. I know it’s not going to be like living in Germany and that studying again at IU is going to have a really different feel, but nevertheless I’m excited and looking forward to the next chapter in my life.