Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ich küßte das Göttinger Gänseliesel

[ I kissed the Ganseliesel ]

Saying goodbye's are never something that I like, but they are a natural part of being an exchange student. When I first arrived in Germany, I never really anticipated making such great friends in one year. I was up for the challenge of moving to a college campus and studying in a new language, but with stress such as not even knowing in which city I would be living in, I accepted that finding friends would just come with time.

It is funny to look back now how naturally everything occurred. There was never one defining moment where I went and just found a group of friends to join - one by one everything fell together, and as trips, dinners together, classes together, going out on the weekends, even to mundane tasks of picking up groceries for each other, our friend base grew. Sure it sounds like a normal college experience. You know someone who knows two others, and your friend base grows - however there is something fascinating for me that the experience of having friends from Germans to Italians to Spaniards to Koreans all coming together and we would speak bad German, Choppy English, and most often "Dinglish" to get by - and this all became normalized.

It isn't until you step back and really take in the entire picture how incredible this is. These are people that become such a support base for you, and it isn't until the end that you realize that you have no appropriate way to say thank you.

Many students held big good bye bbq's or house parties when they were leaving, but I chose to stay a bit under the radar. I told many of my close friends just to come out to the city center at around 11 the last night I was in Göttingen and we would just sit away the hours together before I would bike home one last time and drive off to the airport to America.

It turned out to be exactly what I wanted and needed. The evening was perfect, and I don't think there is anything to capture how wonderful being in a European city is as a young adult than just sitting and taking in the entire scene around you with friends that made the year so incredible.

This year has been profoundly different for me from previous experiences abroad. Aside from it being longer, also being a 20 year old has made my perspectives different. We are all scared - it isn't just an American trait that we hit 20 and we have no idea how we are going to pull our life together that is expected of us in the next few years. All of us in our young 20's, school, family, apartments, traveling, keeping in touch, we talk about how it is going to all balance out - where our lives will all cross again.

My friends parted with me by giving me a fantastic book. Each page a dedication to a different friend, and their quirks that might drift away from my memory as years go on. There are far too many inside jokes to count, and a gross amount of invented slang that would only make sense to this group of friends - often mixing different languages into one big mess, but it was my first real gut realization that, cliche or not, my world had just immensely expanded. In one year, without even paying much mind, my international family now reaches to Madrid, Soeul, Ascoli Piceno, Budapest and many other corners of the world that I have yet to even step foot in, but I have people there that care about me.

Leaving Germany, I finally allowed myself to backtrack and review my blogposts and private journal writings. I always embraced the connections I was making in Germany and the great people I met around the country there I will keep in touch with, but the end of my stay proved to me that this year was much more than just Germany. I learned a new language, lived with different host families, made the [ internal crisis ] transition from teenager to 20 year old, traveled to the country of my family's origins [twice!], revisited old friends and host families in Scandinavia, and made friends in my new host city while sharing the experience of "ausländer" with many other diverse and wonderful individuals. In this sense, I kind of "graduated" from Goettingen. I went through a life experience and came out with a lot more extra credit that I ever could have anticipated.

That evening laughing with my friends, and an incredibly illuminated moon above us in the middle of the night, I swung on the metal poles, clutched the goose for balance, and planted a big kiss on the Gänseliesel as a "graduate". A Göttingen tradition, and I just lived a fantastic year long life there with a great host family that will always be there for me as well as many other corners of the city that will hold memories with friends when I finally return.