I know! I disappeared!
I have been in Hamburg since late Saturday night after I got on the plane in Kiev. I flew with WizzAir, which is a Czech airline on the low-budget side of life. It’s been awhile since I’ve flown an airline without a seat assignment, and this flight was particularly aggressive. I don’t know if it’s the Germans and the Ukrainians coming together, but I have never seen so much pushing and angling for a seat. It was incredible. I sat by two men who didn’t speak English, but we managed to communicate. They took a video of me for their vacation file and gave me some cream puffs, so that was a win!
I hate departures. I love traveling. I love seeing the world. I love adventure. I hate leaving my friends. I find the transitional parts of traveling are the worst. When I was on the bus from Riga to Lviv, I knew that soon I would be seeing Sasha, and I was so lonely. I had been alone for a week, but knowing that my friend was on the other end made the drive almost interminable. Leaving Kiev was ten times harder. You know when you have almost-a-cough and it feels like you have something stuck in your throat—it can be annoying and painful and it is definitely distracting.
I feel like I have something stuck in my heart every time I leave a friend. I hate it. Why can’t I spend the day watching Anne of Green Gables with Jen and then meet Sasha for dinner and spend the evening gossiping with Tara only to get up the next morning and go for a run with Ammi and meet my mom for coffee and talk politics with my dad? (I would work, too, I promise.)
I learned a phrase yesterday morning from my current host-mom. I am in the Altona section of Hamburg, which is so gorgeous. This is my kind of town. I can get up and run along the river. I can try all kinds of cool restaurants and have shopping at my fingertips. The center city of Hamburg is ten minutes away by S-Bahn. It’s so cool.
I am taking German lessons right now. I am attempting to spend the entire day thinking, speaking, reading, and writing Deutsch. I am currently reading Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen (it’s the first one) and I am making an effort to meet people in Hamburg to see more parts of the city, get to know new people, and to practice my German. Yesterday, I met someone through the internet and we drank a few beers and spoke German the entire time!! I felt so good. I cheated a little—I can’t help myself. I always throw in a few English words (“I hate that” “On man”) as filler. I need to get to the point where even my filler words are German, but when you speak English, you speak the language of the world, so it’s easy to cheat.
It’s funny and invigorating to be a student again. I love that I have time to concentrate on my passion, even if it’s only for one week. It’s difficult at the same time. There are parts of the lessons that I don’t understand, which I find frustrating, and though I can communicate fairly well in German, I’m lacking some of the building blocks. I think that comes for a variety of reasons. I learned German in German, which at times makes it difficult to really understand everything. I wrote down false translations for words because I couldn’t understand the description. I also wanted to speak, and I had opportunities to speak with all kinds of people, so often I ignored (and they ignored) my poor grammar because the idea of communication was more important. It’s not like taking Spanish for five years in school, where you painstakingly learn new tenses and then practice them for months and you can ask your teacher in your native language to clarify something. Here, I can get a bit lost, and I hate that! Plus, for the first time in my life, I really have to work on something. I worked very hard on my education, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of it was higher level thinking. I enjoyed hiding in the library and researching complicated ideas. This is more rote work. When I learned Spanish, I barely had to study because we went slowly enough and I am a quick learner. Now, I really have to study, so I’m breaking new ground.
I’m thinking a lot about my own students. It’s so great to take lessons when you’re a teacher because it reminds you of the struggles your own students experience. I am going to be teaching in South Korea soon, and all of those students are learning English as a foreign language, so it’s especially important that I remember how difficult and frustrating it can be—though it is worth it in the end! I came to Germany in 2005, and all I could say was “Kindergarten” and “gesundheit” and now-even after spending three years in the USA with fairly little German contact and two years in the country where I had to speak English to work!—I can have evenings of only German and I am reading Harry Potter auf Deutsch. It’s invigorating.
So, I arrived in Hamburg Saturday night, and I decided to try something new. Surfing. Not like those Germans surfing in that river in Munich. No, I tried COUCHSurfing. Couchsurfing is a movement where people post profiles on the internet and make connections with locals in places they are visiting. I posted a quick profile and connected with Stefanie, who invited me to stay in her apartment for the night.
Whenever I heard about CouchSurfing, I was always a bit suspicious. It sounded dangerous. Obviously there are all kinds of predators luring young girls onto their couches. However, it’s actually a great way to meet people. The guy I met for drinks last night, I met through the CouchSurfing website. Stefanie was awesome! We had a great conversation, the bed was comfortable, and in the morning we had a relaxing German breakfast together. I wouldn’t recommend posting a notice on Craigslist asking to sleep on people’s couches, but if you go through the CouchSurfing website, people have been verified. It’s safe and easy, and of course people who sign up for something like that are open to new people and new cultures.
So, I’ve slept in some interesting places. I hit up hostels, the bus, luxury hotels, Sasha’s house, the train, Couchsurfing, and now I am spending a week with a host family.
I love it here!
I have a little desk where I’m currently sitting and typing.
I have a little “sitting area.”
But the bed is the coolest. It’s a loft with a little reading nook on the side. Perfect for curling up with Harry at night.
It’s great to have a place to call “home” before I start traveling again. From Saturday until I leave (Monday the 27th) I will be doing my own version of “couchsurfing,” staying with friends from Hannover to Heidelberg with all kinds of stops along the way. I can’t wait.
I decided to take time this fall and come to Germany to take German lessons. I debated between one or two weeks or a month, and actually, now that I’m here, I probably should stay and do more lessons! I have the savings, though I feel guilty about spending them sometimes, and I don’t yet have a job in Korea… but I don’t know how long I can “live” temporarily in a place.
I forgot about new kid syndrome.
New kid syndrome is that insecurity you have when you’re the new kid somewhere. Will I make friends? Where’s the grocery store? What will I do at night? I felt this acutely in Delaware, although obviously I felt this at various points prior to my First Adult Job (college, moving to Germany, moving cities within Germany). It can be a bit disconcerting. I hate feeling out-of-sorts, and it’s worse after spending some quality time with a best friend and then being thrown into a new situation.
I spent Sunday meandering around Hamburg, including a trip to my favorite spot—the Alster. The Alster is the big lake that butts up against center city. It’s about five miles around. On Saturday I walked around the Alster, but today I might take a jaunt into the city for a run around the Alster.
I saw some other sights throughout Sunday, but I was really feeling a bit strange. It’s weird to leave a friend and it’s weird to slow down the insane travel pace I had been keeping up prior to my sojourn in Ukraine.
In the evening, I went to meet my host family in Altona, and coming out of the S-Bahn station there made me feel so much better.
I thought of Tara
Tara and I used to eat at Bagel Brothers religiously in Hannover, and Sasha and I loved BackFactory in Heidelberg because you can pick your own bread and then pay for it (rather than ordering it). If you are self-conscious at all about your German, BackFactory is the place to go! Sometimes, though, as I feel my intense love for Germany, I also feel pangs of sadness. I love so many things here because of the people I shared them with. When I go into German supermarkets, I think about shopping with Sasha and cooking together. So many things I enjoy here are rife with memories.
Of course, I ate at Bagel Brothers after my first day of school in honor of Tara.
Before taking a nice long walk along the Elbe to think and to enjoy my new town—temporary as it is!
My camera ran out of batteries, so I’ll have to go back and take more snapshots. A long walk along the Elbe on Monday and a long, cold, rainy run (my favorite) on Tuesday have brought me to a conclusion.
Ich bin hin und her gerissen. (I am torn between two things.)
I love traveling. I love adventure. I love seeing new sights, meeting new people, trying new things. Some people call me brave, but for me, this is my element. I think it’s easy to pack your stuff up and go somewhere else. Perhaps it’s the easy way out for me. I don’t know. I find lots of things harder than moving to another country—saying no to chocolate, memorizing the different vorsilbe for German words (anlassen, auslassen, verlassen, zulassen—really??), opening up to people. Traveling and moving comes naturally to me. I want to keep traveling and seeing new things, but I also think the current desire is borne of the dissatisfaction I was feeling where I was. I have yet to miss my old life. I’m sure there will be pangs where I’ll miss certain American conveniences, and I have definitely felt a little sad looking at some of my former students’ pictures on Facebook and wishing I could have cheered them on in a race or socialized with them at a dance, but without those pictures, I wouldn’t have thought about it. Obviously, that wasn’t the right situation or the right place for me—for a variety of reasons. It was a hard place to move to without growing up in the area. I want to have the chance to work for a place that really nurtures its employees. My best friends at work also left their jobs last year.
But, here’s where I am torn. Beneath that traveling, adventures, putting-cool-pics-on-Facebook girl, there is a deeper desire, and I realized it while I was visiting my family this summer. Most of my mom’s relatives live in rural-ish areas in New England. They aren’t farms waaay far out in the country by themselves, but for someone who grew up in a neighborhood in Suburban New Jersey, their locations feel rural. My relatives have all bought pieces of land in the beautiful mountainous area of Western New England and built homes surrounded by trees. It gets cold and icy and nasty in the winter, but all of their homes have a certain comfort to them. It almost feels (in my romanticize-everything-brain) like Little House on the Prairie. Here’s our house that we built for our family. It’s comfortable and wonderful. And I think, deep down inside, that’s what I really want. I like the flash of the city, I like being able to walk everywhere, I love education and culture and the arts, but I really want my own little house and my own little family.
Hopefully, in my lifetime, I’ll be able to have both.
Last summer, I found this little gem in Australia.
I am living it at the same time I’m still figuring out what it is.