Unabhängigkeit* = Independence

It's starting to feel real.

The first time I think it really hit me that I would be gone for almost twelve months was at the beginning of June, when I said goodbye to Maraia's mom and we realized we probably wouldn't see each other again before Maraia and I returned from Germany.

Tonight I said goodbye to my three best friends from high school (and middle school and elementary school). They're the friends I never worried about leaving, because I know exactly who I am to them and that nothing can ever change that. But in the end, that makes it harder, because they are part of me and I am part of them. I'm used to only seeing Rachel every few months or so, because she goes to school out of state and spends summers pursuing her dreams in far-off places. The rest of us stuck close in college—roommate-close, even. The longest I've ever gone without Ali and Emma since we became friends is three and four weeks, and that was over two years ago. The farthest apart Emma and I have lived in the past nine years is the distance between South and East Quad.

For me, college was not as much about independence as I thought it would be. I took strange classes and made new friends, but not the way you do if you go to a college where you don't know anyone. A few months into freshman year, I started to realize that I felt cheated. I hadn't really taken any chances, coming here. Instead, I wanted a life of my own. Not me and Ali sitting in our room, Ali pining for her boyfriend or audiochatting with him, me wanting nothing and everything. Waiting every day for Emma to get there for dinner, because if we didn't wait for her there would be hell to pay. Sophomore year was better, more college-y, but it had its own problems.

I want to take a chance and get to know other people. See how I define myself without the people who know me best. Explore somewhere new on my own and make it into my home. Not our home, but my home. Sometimes I get sick of thinking in first person plural.

A year abroad is a less permanent way of getting a second chance. It's too late for the small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere, and I like where I've ended up despite the things I would like to have done differently. But now I'm going somewhere where I can be me, alone, with strangers, by myself, being myself, but in another language, and with some friends and acquaintances from school.

*Edit: Maybe 'Selbstständigkeit' would be more accurate here. Less political, more personal?

keine Zeit! = No Time!

Today is the 20th of August. I leave the 30th. It's possible to get a lot done in ten days, but it's also so possible to do nothing. (Maybe that's true of any time interval, though.) My to-do list has been shrinking, but today my countdown changed from the format x weeks, x days to plain old days and I'm about to start panicking.

It's time to do my laundry and finish things, but all I want to do is to try to complete the movie and book lists I made for this summer and hang out with my friends. They, too, have realized how much we need to move on to the next phase of the year, so I think we're all starting to feel suspended, stuck in limbo for less than two weeks.

I can't freeze, though. I should probably never freeze, but right now I can't. I have too much to do. A huge part of me just wants the ten days to be over. Let's be at the airport. I will have packed just enough things—no more, no less. (This is a fantasy, I can dream.) We didn't get there late, didn't hit terrible traffic like when I was flying to Paris and we had to take Fort St...although that actually worked out perfectly. I hug my parents and Emma goodbye. My brother will already be gone, starting his first year in East Quad. My mom will start crying, probably, unless she holds it in until I can't see her, but that's unlikely this time. Maybe I'll cry too, but maybe not.

I'll be thinking about John Mayer's song "Wheel," so maybe I will cry. Except that we won't be saying last goodbyes, so the airport part of the song is kind of irrelevant. And it's an optimistic song. If you never stop when you wave goodbye you just might find if you give it time you will wave hello again, you're gonna be waving hello again.

Then I'll go through security and wait forever and get on the plane and be GONE! But I should stop fast-forwarding and do what I have to do right now.

Eine lange Zeit = A Long Time

Eleven and a half months.

I could have done a semester in Tübingen, at least in theory. That would have been about seven months. But I always want the best. I really don't like to do things half-assed, although I do, all the time. I want everything to be so thought-out and perfect, which is a huge task, so I freeze until the deadline sneaks up and I'm forced to do as good a job as I can with no time. In terms of my academic life, at least, my last-minute hard—or sometimes not-so-hard—work has been sufficient.

When presented with study abroad options, of course I went for the academic year. It's an opportunity to live longer in Europe—and it may be the only time I do. It doubles the time to get comfortable in a different language and a different culture. The danger is that when I finally get hit with the enormity of what I've gotten myself into, I'll freeze.

When I was in high school, I went to France for two weeks and spent five days with a family. The parents didn't speak a word of English and the daughter's English might as well have been, I don't know, Dutch. I understood their French well, but I felt like I couldn't express myself at all. Needless to say, I was miserable. I decided I would never, ever live with a host family ever again. Thankfully, with the Freiburg program, I've avoided that option entirely. But the problem wasn't the family. Okay, it was a bit. They were boring. Sightseeing from the backseat of a car and watching strangers entertain guests is boring.

The real problem, my French teacher told us, was that we only had five days. The first few days, you're sort of stunned, and can't even access all the words you actually know, let alone speak smoothly. She told us that six months was how long it took merely to "break in" to a culture. (I wonder where this information came from. I've held onto this fact for three years without ever looking into it.) Six months in, you're probably homesick and don't feel like you fit in. It's not until the second semester that you really start to feel like you're a part of things.

There was no way I was going to plan to leave right when I was getting comfortable. Of course, knowing how slowly I adjust, that will be eleven months in, but here's to quitting the cycle of perfectionism, fear, procrastination, and guilt! My German won't be perfect at first, but somehow, somehow, I will have to plow on.

Just A Glimmer In My Eye

In fall of 2006, as I was just a freshman not even trying to pretend to know what I was doing, I started to think about studying abroad in Germany. At the time, I was studying French poetry, but the programs in Paris weren't what I wanted and if I couldn't have Paris, I didn't want France. Switzerland was an option, but what looked really intriguing was Tübingen and Freiburg. They only required two years of German and involved starting something entirely new, something I would have a chance at doing right from the very beginning. I was discouraged because my French skills weren't at the top like they had been in high school, and didn't seem to be improving.

So at the back of my mind that first semester was the growing idea of starting German, the language of my ancestors (although my Irish heritage beats the German 5-1). When I was younger, though, all I knew was that my last name was German, my aunt and cousins lived in Germany, my dad cooked us spätzle sometimes and said schlaf gut to me when he turned off my light and closed my door. I was German and someday I would speak the language and visit everyone I knew there.

Improving my French would have made sense. But after six years, I was sick of it, and when I had a gaping hole in my schedule for my first winter semester, I signed up for Intensiv Deutsch Eins (and removed Gen Chem from my schedule). I didn't plan on a German major then (just like I didn't plan on completely ruling out biology), but I did know that sometime in the next few years, I would live in Deutschland.