To this day there is something illusionistic and illusory about the relationship of time and space as we experience it in traveling, which is why whenever we come home from elsewhere we never feel quite sure if we have really been abroad.
–W.G. Sebold, Austerlitz
And with that, I find myself come full circle. What began with a seven-hour layover at Newark Airport ends in a seven-hour layover at Newark Airport. It’s an odd feeling being back here, as though this year never really happened. It doesn’t feel as though I just lost a city; it doesn’t feel like I will never watch the boats go by on that bit of the Rhine again; it doesn’t even feel like I can confidently speak again – a few people ventured a safe small talk conversation starter, and I just sucked. Blatantly.
I was thinking about this on the plane ride over – how, if this year already just feels sort of dreamlike, what did I really take away from it? Resume filler, sure; a working knowledge of German (which, two hours into America, I already feel slipping), of course. But what I think it really comes down to is this: I learned how to be independent. I navigated German bureaucracy, a school system, foreign cities. I talked to police, to a newspaper reporter, to students, and I found myself for the first time on the other side of the great student/teacher divide, which was exhilarating, frightening, frustrating, and rewarding all at once.
But more than that, I learned how to be completely and utterly dependent: I relied on the teachers at my school for so, so much – that they would take me into their classrooms and often, their homes. They found my own apartment for me, showed me around the area, lent me furniture, gave me late-night rides back home, and opened up a side of the culture I never would have known about otherwise. I relied on homefolk to keep me sane.
I think I also learned a bit about appreciation, and I don’t mean of fine wines (although I did plenty of that this year, just more in a “Mmm, I like white wine” moreso than in a “this has a hint of oak and finishes with a bouquet of raspberry blossoms and midnight rain” sort of way). You know that phrase, “Expect the best, prepare for the worst”? Well, my own personal take on that is “Expect the worst, panic about every foreseeable scenario in which things go wrong to Joe.” If a plane can be cancelled, it will be. If my paycheck is late, it’s not coming at all. And so (by my mentality), in a year where so much could have gone wrong, I learned how to be so thankful of what didn’t go wrong: Joe still likes me. I never had a health issue and had to figure out insurance/German medical system. Friends and family came to visit. Fulbright didn’t kick me out for not living up to their standards and send me home in disgrace. I happened to be placed in the same tiny town with Beth, who became one of my best friends. So far, my flights haven’t been cancelled.
Also, I learned how to spend obscene amounts of free time alone, which means, by extension, I am now really, really good at Minesweeper.
But back to the thankfulness thing. I wanted to, in conclusion of my year and of my blog, thank you all for showing some interest in my year. I hope you enjoyed the blog; I definitely enjoyed knowing you were reading – but not as much as I’ll enjoy getting to see you and speak good ol’ American English with you, which I’m sure we’ll do soon.
As a side note (or more accurately, as an end note), I wore my Razorback shirt today, feeling it was appropriate, and I’m not sure what I was expecting: that I’d land and some stranger at the airport would be like “Hey, Woo Pig, am I right?” and then we’d like, chest bump or whatever it is that sports fans do, but instead, here’s what my homecoming was: one lady eyed me and I could tell she wanted to comment on my shirt, but instead of an “Oh, did you go to the U of A?” it was a “Were you by chance in Tuscany? We saw shirts like that for sale there.” And then the guy at passport control glanced at my passport, and said “Lori from Ar-Kansas, welcome back.”
It was just the way my German students pronounce it, which made me smile – I felt like it was a farewell to Germany and a hello to the USA all at once.