As the sun sets on the day that I write this, it has been a full five years since my flight touched down. It was my first time in continental Europe, in Germany, in the land that I planned to spend the following two years studying without any trips back to the States.
In the past five years I have held multiple positions as a student worker while completing my coursework, completed my Master’s degree, held three different positions at two companies, and achieved permanent residency (plus a German driver’s license, for what it’s worth). I’ve learned quite a bit about myself, reckoned with some of my past, and recognized that there is still so much more to release as I pave my own path forward.
Alongside my own seasons, the world around me changed just as quickly, if not more starkly by comparison. It feels like a distant memory, but the last summer I spent in the US was marked by the laughable Trump campaign for US president, the heart-wrenching refugee crisis which is still not properly resolved in the EU, and numerous wars and attacks on democracy around the world. I felt, at the time, that we were living in a dark period of modern history. Today I would laugh if the thought of how much worse things have become did not make me despair.
Five is an arbitrary number, but it is a way by which I can mark the passage of time and the progress that I have made in my own life. I rejoice at the educational and professional successes I have had in the past five years, while also mourning the loss of time with my grandparents in their twilight years as well as missing out on important events in the lives of family and friends. Last year I imagined how much more I would achieve in 2020 and how joyous this arbitrary marker would be, but as the past months went by, well, things didn’t exactly go that way.
This year my grandfather passed, a pandemic put the world into lockdown, and the pandemic caused most of this year to be spent in a home-office set-up. Even my escape of traveling was thrown out the window as vacation plans were cancelled, and new ones were made in a pandemic-friendly manner before needing to be revised several times. It’s hard to say that this year was particularly successful or exciting, but I guess it was a nice dream to have had.
In any case, here are some take-aways, arbitrarily presented in groups of five for your reading pleasure.
Five new-to-me places in Germany I’ve been in the past year that I can recommend
- Heidelberg: Very cool city. Went to the weirdest bar, but had the best time.
- Steineberg: It’s a mountain. Walked through a lot of cow pies to get there.
- Wolfratshausen: Surprisingly nice old town. Went by bike from Munich as part of a longer tour. Maybe will go by car next time.
- Bad Tölz: Stunning historical city center. Was also part of the bike tour. Definitely going by car next time.
- Dresden: Surprisingly nice city, despite everything the Munich people say about the East. I can honestly say in a non-sarcastic way that I really liked it.
Five things about living in Germany that I still can’t let go
- Getting a driver’s license is so complicated. Just converting my US license to a German one was already 20 times more of a pain than getting a driver’s license in the first place in the US, and I apparently had it way easier than someone getting a new license from scratch.
- Separating trash: It’s such a complicated system. I think it’s already been beaten to death by other expats on the internet, so I’ll let you Google this mess yourself if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
- Rundfunkbeitrag: Every three months every household has to pay this fee for publicly-financed radio and TV. At first I was annoyed, because I didn’t listen to German radio or watch German television, so why the hell should I pay for it? Now I am wondering, why do Germans have this low-cost on-demand version of German publicly-financed wannabe Netflix, but Americans get charged exorbitant rates for commercial-riddled cable TV? I’m both annoyed and in awe now.
- Everywhere you go, the birthday song is sung in the native language – except in Germany. They sing “Happy Birthday” in English. Why guys, just why?
- The ungarisch (“Hungarian”) potato chips one can purchase at the grocery store are just so good. I guess I will never outgrow some junk food obsessions as an American, but these potato chips are amazing. Hungarians might say it’s not Hungarian-flavored, but whatever it is, I like them.
Five ways I’ve changed since coming to Germany
- I don’t drink soda much at all anymore. And I eat healthier. And I am healthier. Maybe it’s just a side effect?
- I’m quieter. Operating in an environment where the language isn’t one you speak confidently seems to have a dampening effect on your enthusiasm to be social, or at least it does for me.
- I cross the street correctly now. I never really lived in a city before, but now that I’m here I’ve learned the German way of always crossing at a cross-walk and waiting for the light to change. And if you break the rules I have to glare at you because you’re setting a bad example for children. Very German of me to be so judgemental, isn’t it?
- I don’t overwork myself. American culture gives us the idea that we have to be available for work 24/7. I certainly tried to start simulating that at university in the States already. Now, I just say that I work my 40 hours a week as long as there’s no deadline that required overtime (which is rare). I can highly recommend not checking email outside of work hours as a way to improve your sanity.
- I talk funny. For real. Germans have told me that while I have an American accent, I don’t exactly sound like other Americans. Meanwhile, people from Missouri tell me that I “sound funny.” It seems that my accent has washed out over time, and my grammar is sometimes influenced by German grammar (which I suck at, but some of it has rubbed off on me anyway).
Five things I’ve learned about myself
- I’m surprisingly totally fine with this whole not-seeing-many-people thing. I thought I would go nuts, but I’ve settled into my routine at home. As long as I get to go outside at least once a day, I’m quite happy.
- My body can do some things. This past year I completed a 30-day yoga challenge, gave myself a month-long running challenge (which I failed but still got further than I thought I would), gave myself a month-long swimming challenge (which I rocked despite not liking water), and cycled a good chunk of the Isarradweg on a four-day cycling tour. I never thought I was particularly athletic, but wow.
- I suppose I can file this one under “relearning,” but I have discovered the joy of reading again. I used to read quite a lot before university, but I had forgotten my capacity for sitting down and just reading for hours and hours. Let’s see how much I can manage to read in 2020 with all this newfound time at home.
- At some point during university you think, “Yep, I was pretty stupid in high school.” I thought maybe it was just a thing that happens once you transition into the so-called “real world,” but no matter how old I get I realize that I still have so much more to learn. Future me will likely think current me is dumb, too.
- That perfect dream job most likely isn’t something you will end up doing. If you asked me during university what I thought I would do for work, I would have never guessed product management. Over the past few years, I realized that people don’t work those dream jobs. People just find a job that you have the skills for and for which someone will pay you. Cynical maybe, but I admit that I feel lied to by the American system.
Five hopes for the coming years
- I really hope I can attend the graduation ceremonies of both my little sisters, as they’ll be finishing their Bachelor degrees in the next few years. Good thing they weren’t graduating during this pandemic year, or I would have certainly missed it.
- I’ve been wanting to go to the Faroe Islands almost as long as I’ve been in Germany. Every year I think it will happen, but it doesn’t. I just hope that when the pandemic is over and it’s responsible to do so, I’ll get the opportunity to finally go and lose myself in the landscape to my heart’s content.
- I’d be fooling myself if I didn’t say I’m looking forward to finding a bigger flat some day. If anything, I need more space for all my plants. Can anyone else relate? Proper bike storage would also be appreciated.
- Paying off my student loans: I think I can do this in the next 2-3 years if I continue to manage my finances strictly. This is maybe something that people from almost any other country can’t understand, but anyone who has attended a US university without a significant amount of privilege knows how much stress this can put on you and how many things you pass up just to be able to make these expensive payments.
- Lastly, I hope that I finally get enough of a fire in me to push through and get a grip on German. It’s something that I didn’t focus on so much since I started working, but I know I need to.
I suppose that’s enough from me.
Cheers, to five years!