Okay, let’s start out with some melodrama:
Goodbyes are sad in every language. I said goodbye to so many people through the day in school, and I really didn’t realize all the relationships I had formed throughout this internship. My host mother and I baked a Zuckerkuchen last night so that I could bring it in as a thank you to all the teachers. There were probably about 40 pieces of this giant cake and they were gone by 11 am. Oddly, without any knowledge of my schedule or plans to fly home, the teachers with whom I have yet to work (or for that matter hold a conversation) with began to introduce themselves throughout the day. At first I thought that the other teachers had mentioned that I would be leaving soon, but as it turns out, most of these “new” teacher acquaintances only had a vague idea of what my job here was, since I was mostly involved with English and a bit of history and German. It could also be that I brought them cake, but most of them had no idea it was form me because people are constantly coming in and out of the 4 connected teacher’s rooms. Thinking about it now, only in the past few days, I’ve met most of the science teachers, a few math faculty, along with Spanish, art and sports instructors. Some had heard of me and some had not, but it seemed generally strange that this should only be happening now. I talked about this with both my supervisor and host mom, and they both said the same thing, something to the effect of “Germans always need a bit of time before they really talk with you”. It was only then that I remembered that when I was an exchange student in German two years ago, it was around two are three weeks that the German students finally started feeling comfortable enough to start up a conversation as well. As a student, I was sort of put-off and disheartened that after the first couple of days none of my new peers had really said more than just “hallo” or “Morgen” to me, because I expected things to be like they were at home. Granted, I was afraid my German wouldn’t be good enough and they were afraid their English wouldn’t be good enough, so that posed problem on its own. Language differences aside, the experience of small cultural differences such as how appropriate it is to talk to someone you don’t know who is sitting next to you on the train (p.s. don’t do that in Germany… they think you’re a crazy person. Once, I even thought I was sitting in a “quiet section” of the train because no one was saying anything.) is really what makes these trips worth while and what forces you to realize that “your way” isn’t the only acceptable way. The lack of introductions and conversations that went further than greetings within the first couple of weeks was something I once considered rude or mean. Now, if I were in America, I might be correct in thinking so, but the fact of the matter is that I’m not in America, I’m in Germany, and I therefore have to play by Germany’s rules. This is often a big problem that I think a lot of foreigners face, but it seems especially difficult for those of us who some from the states. We refuse to leave our rules behind and then take it personally or dismiss differences as snobbery, impoliteness or the like. This reaction, of course, leads to resentment for our lack of understanding, which then confirms our feeling of being disliked and then we have a problem. I kind of wish the unwritten rules of each country were written somewhere, preferably like board game instructions: Go directly to class. don’t say hello, don’t buy an Abercrombie shirt for $200 (seriously, I don’t understand how these kids buy a t-shirt that cost 5 cents to make for so many euros). But, I digress; this is about my teaching experience. I plan to write a long semi-meditative semi-nostalgic semi-analytical post when I’m back in the U.S. (that way, since I’m no longer in the country, my emotions will seem more legitimate). Until then, however, I want to talk briefly about the general effects I think this Janplan has had on me.
one: I’ve figure out, in some ways, what teaching is like, which was essentially the reason I came here, but the process of figuring this out was really unexpectedly a blast. Now, I’m trying to figure out whether I could do this long-term, and from what I can see it wasn’t simply the “newness” making it seem more exciting than it is, but I need more experience to know for sure.
two: I’ve begun to have a much more (I like to think) objective, or at least self-aware, view of my own actions as a student. I honestly don’t believe you could be a teacher without pausing everyone once in a while to introspect; it just seems like part of the job.
three: If I were to become a teacher, I’ve figured out the group I’d prefer. (see previous posts for details)
four: I have become infinitely more comfortable with public speaking. It is AMAZING how different it feels and how much more fun I had when the presentation I gave wasn’t going to be graded, when I was the so-called expert. Having realized that this is purely a mental/perspective process, I will now (and by now I mean when I get back to Colby) try to apply this enthusiasm to my own public speaking opportunities.
five: My German has improved (woo hoo!)
six: I’m really tired, but promise to write a verrrrrrrry long final post ranting about my time here. It was so damn fun and I met so many fabulous people that I teared up today when I said goodbye to my supervisor. I can only imagine how I’ll handle leaving my host family.
My host parents have offered to adopt me so I can stay (difficult at the age of 20), and my host grandparents called me on the home phone today to wish me success and happiness and tell me multiple similarly incredibly thoughtful and adorable things. My younger host brother agrees with his parents that I should stay, because he says I’m “not as feminine as [his] other sisters”. Oh good. This is a beautifully executed backhanded compliment, because “other” implies that I’m considered his sister, but “not feminine” implies… well, not feminine… then again, that isn’t usually how I’d describe myself either. More introspection! And while I’m introspecting, I’m going to stop using humor to compensate for my sadness about leaving. I loved my time here, and I’m truly sad to know that it has gone by so quickly, but I’m happy that the people I’ve met or got to meet again have made what I can only assume will be a fantastic and lasting effect on my life.
Don’t know when I’ll be back again… oh babe, I hate to go (John Denver, anyone?)