Wow, where did eight weeks go? As I write this, I’m sitting in my backyard back in San Diego, California. Instead of the sounds of pedestrians, cyclists, and the Straßenbahn (street trolley) down the block, I hear crickets, the pool pump, and the occasional car going down the street.
I was surprisingly sad to leave Germany. Not that I didn’t enjoy my time there, but I’d thought that eight weeks would last a lot longer than they did. The sudden arrival of my last day took me by surprise.
On my last day, I took the U-bahn and Straßenbahns as often as I could, knowing I’d miss them. I visited the five-story bookstore on Königsallee one last time. I grabbed a final ice cream at a street cafe with a few friends.
I gave crocheted presents to my classmates. Maybe I was going home, but these small works of my hands would stay with my friends – and later travel with them back to their homelands.
Finally, I went to a German-Japanese Stammtisch with one of my Japanese classmates. We gathered at the Japanese Garden in the Nordpark for a picnic and view of the lunar eclipse. I met a very interesting German gentleman who spoke inspiringly proficient Japanese, but with a very distinct Kansai accent. まだ足りない, he said. “Still not [good] enough.” Coming from someone much more proficient than I, his words were both comforting and discouraging.
We also met the same German gentleman I’d spoken with at the cat cafe. My classmate and I chatted with him about Germany, Japan, America, and many other topics as we waited for the lunar eclipse.
Finally we found the moon. It was red and incredibly dim. It looked kind of sad, just as I was to be leaving Germany and so many newfound friends.
On Saturday morning, I turned in my keys and lugged my suitcase down the four flights of stairs. I took my last U-bahn to the Hauptbahnhof and said goodbye to Düsseldorf from Platform 15 as I waited for my ICE train to arrive.
I took the train to the Frankfurt Airport, where I had a hectic time getting through all the extra (literal) steps required to check in, find the correct security checkpoint, and reach my gate. Next was a nine-hour flight to Portland, Oregon. The in-flight meal was a last nod to Germany: a sausage and a mini pretzel with a generous amount of mustard.
Finally I arrived in Portland. I was back in the USA! As sad as I’d been to leave Germany, it felt like a huge breath of fresh air to be back in my home country. The people at passport control aren’t asking me to prove why I am here and how long I will stay. I am a citizen, I belong here. The airport staff expect to speak English, and will not look down on me for speaking in English. They are mostly friendly, but even the grumpy ones are grumpy in my mother tongue, and if they choose to be snarky with me I know how to respond. (I am not at all trying to imply that customer service in Germany is usually condescending or grumpy. But when it is, it’s twice as stressful because it’s unfamiliar.)
A four-hour layover and three-hour flight later, I was back in San Diego. I walked down the same hallway and went down the same escalator as always to the baggage claim in Terminal 2. And as per tradition, when my family picked me up we went straight to In-N-Out for protein-style Double-Double cheeseburgers with whole-grilled onions and no tomato.
How’s my Deutsch?
I’d been thinking for a while about how I could directly show my progress in German. I’d considered writing a blog post in German, but that isn’t really edifying for non-speakers of German. Instead, I made a video with some last thoughts about Germany in order to record me speaking German somewhat spontaneously. It’s not an incredibly cohesive or comprehensive conclusion, and it’s full of mistakes, but it also shows how far I’ve come from the beginning of my eight weeks in D’dorf. When you only learn a little bit day-by-day, it’s often hard to see progress. But hopefully someday I’ll be able to come back to this video and think, “Wow, my German has gotten a lot better since then.”
(Click the CC button in the lower right-hand corner to turn on English subtitles.)
Thanks for following my German learning adventures! Hopefully it won’t be too long until my next visit there.