Four months in already? If I were on a semester program I would already be back in the US, but I am so happy to say that I still have eight months left in this beautiful city! At the beginning of the program, our resident director cited a statistic that only 0.03% of people in the United States study abroad for an entire year, so that therefore makes us and our experience extra special. I think all of us are beginning to realize just how true that is.
All study abroad exchanges have the potential to be life-changing of course, but settling in one city for twelve months and committing to learning the language and engaging in the community is a unique decision. We just live here. This is just my everyday life. And maybe that feeling comes partially from the fact that I’ve now lived in Freiburg for just as long as anywhere else in the past two years, or maybe it’s related to the awareness that I still have eight months left, but at one-third of the way through the year, pretty much everything about living in Freiburg feels normal.
I’ve memorized the script for buying groceries at Aldi and recognize the cashiers. I barely notice the lack of a microwave in my kitchen, and buying non-refrigerated milk is slightly less bizarre. I have an opinion on the best pretzels in town and can’t imagine a world without Brötchen. Hearing less than four languages in one day is a rare occasion, and my English speech has been noticeably affected by German tendencies. I’ve even become more accustomed to typing on a German keyboard and automatically write quotation marks like „this” instead of “this.”
Naturally there are things I miss about the US – block mozzarella cheese, brown sugar, and iced coffee to name a few – but for all I’m gaining here, those seem fairly menial (Jojo is in a separate category, I really miss Jojo). I will say though, as incredibly magical as the Weihnachtsmarkt tradition is, I missed spending the holiday season with family and am already looking forward to a proper Thanksgiving and Christmas next year (as well as their upcoming visits!).
On the academic side of things, there’s one month left in the Winter Semester and so far I’ve successfully given my first Referat (presentation) and turned in my first essay auf Deutsch! The class format is different here: classes typically meet once a week, consist of 10-15 people, and your grade is determined almost solely on one final research paper, called a Hausarbeit. Currently I am beginning work on two such Hausarbeits, as well as another shorter essay – my time management must be better than ever the next two months. I have not yet formed a solid opinion on whether or not I like this system better, but I do really miss my days of leading class discussions.
Volunteering to participate in class is still terrifying and I am realizing that I am expected to know everything there is to know about US History. For instance, last week I was asked to explain the entire history of the Louisiana Purchase land. There was nothing in our readings about the history of the Louisiana Purchase land. Also being asked to explain and justify all the current political happenings of the US is very common struggle. Even as a Political Science major, I don’t think I could do that succinctly in English.
Concluding thoughts as 2017 ends: Germany is still exceedingly exciting but in more of just a “new normal” sort of way. I am so grateful to still have two-thirds of this phase of my life ahead of me. I really appreciate the German language. I still need to make more German friends, and I cannot wait to show family around in the spring!