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.


Cooper said...

Chile stopped feeling foreign after a week or two. It just felt like another big U.S. city where everyone speaks Spanish and life's unusually interesting.

The language is still a barrier though. When I first arrived I just avoided some topics because I knew I didn't have the vocabulary. Now I'm comfortable enough that I can discuss just about anything -- I just describe things as best I can when I don't know the exact word and people almost always fill in the blanks -- and that's really cool. But I'm very conscious of all my errors and all the gaps in my vocabulary, and that self-consciousness makes it harder to initiate conversation and make the new friendships I need to really improve.

But meeting people and talking Spanish is a lot of fun. This is especially so when wine's involved. I speak much better because I stop thinking about what I'm saying and just talk. So my advice to you is to go to any social events you can where there will be native German speakers and get tipsy and talk as much as you dare to.

P.S. Look at you actually blog. Why don't I?

Marisa said...

Because you're actually somewhere interesting, and although that means your blog would actually be interesting, it also means you're too busy to write things you've carefully thought through for two long.

If only you would follow the lead of impulsive writers like Ali and me. No—I actually think through what I'm saying on this, my "real" blog. At least for the time being.

I would say, I never initiate conversations, but I keep telling myself I won't let the past twenty years of timidity ruin my year abroad. Me being tipsy with some regularity will be an interesting experiment. I guess I'll have to develop a taste for German beer....yuck.