Is it seriously July? How do these long summer days pass so quickly?
I am about to spend my fourth Fourth of July in Germany. The fact that I am about to encounter a whole year of fourths seems pretty surreal. Today, July 3rd, 2014, marks three full years since my arrival in Germany as the country’s newest resident. There’s days it feels like I’ve been here forever and others I question where all this time went.
The fact is though, that three years is a long time. It’s long enough for my friends to begin and finish law school and for others to meet the one and get married. It is apparently not long enough for me to be fluent in German, but let’s not even go into that.
Some days, I cannot help but wonder what my life would be like today had I just left as planned after my au pair year. I see my friends’ lives in Houston and depict a pretty decent idea: rental apartment in Midtown with a roommate, a communications career, a serious boyfriend, weekends at friends’ weddings, saving up for the future, etc. I was dealt a good hand growing up and I’d probably still display some pretty good cards had I gone the traditional path… yetI didn’t.
Instead, in three years I’ve been an au pair, a blogger, a waitress, a travel planner and small business owner, a PR professional, a student, a traveler, a bartender, a social media supervisor, and a full-time Denglish speaker. I depleted my savings account, lived in three different bedrooms, and gathered furniture from Amazon, IKEA, and even heavy trash day.
I cannot tell you what would have happened if I moved home after year one, but I can tell you what would not have happened. I would not have met my wild, eclectic crew and some of my favorite people in the world, including my oh-so-lovable Freund. Nor would I have learned the true meaning of a dollar, or in my case a Euro, and nor can you until you truly earn an hourly wage at a part-time job and think of everything in terms of “so this costs how many hours of work at the pub?”. I would not know how truly valuable free time is nor be so thankful that I am not spending these years in a fluorescent-lit cubicle. This free time allowed me to start my business, explore Europe, form bonds, and work some magic in the kitchen. Above all, it afforded me the time to discover myself, my wants and needs, and pave the path for my future.
With the commitment to my masters program, I’ve assured myself two more years in the land of pretzels and punctuality – this time in the south’s big city, Munich! Between year one and three, I lost purpose in Germany. My happiness evolved into contentment, and although I think contentment is nothing to shake your head at, I needed to again push myself towards something more fulfilling as the pub certainly cannot do that forever (nor could it keep me in Germany legally).
I think most what people at home do not realize is that this is no longer a fun and games year abroad, this is my real life. Although there are some epic adventures here and there, I go to work, see my friends, clean up the apartment, and have dinner with my boyfriend. For me, life seems normal. I have great days and I have terrible ones. But mostly, they’re just day-to-day and I’m content. Going to the German supermarket is no longer intimidating and even calling German customer service lines is navigable. My life is pure Denglish these days.
So, I’ve probably “nor-ed” everyone out for today, but I still cannot believe myself how this decision to au pair for one year after college changed everything. At the time, that decision brought tears and fear, so I am proud of myself for following through and beginning this new life 100 percent on my own. It’s hard to describe how great it feels to have this decision validated purely through happiness.
Four Goals for Year Four
1. Get Better Acquainted with the Great Outdoors
For all my free time I’ve been discussing, I spend way too much time indoors. Germany’s outdoor offerings are pretty unbeatable and south of Munich lies, IMHO, the most beautiful part of the country. I want to see the lakes, hike the mountains, and discover nature’s sanctuaries. When there’s no time to leave Munich, there is plenty discover amongst my new city on my bike.
Hohenburg Castle in the hills of Alsace, France
2. Make New Friends, But Keep the Old
As an expat, my friends have become family. My group in Karlsruhe, although ever-changing, has been my rock. I pray I can find a group in Munich to confide in with whom I can share as many meals and laughs. Distance puts relationships to the test, and along with my friendships, the Freund and I will be dealing with the dreaded long-distance, too. For those wondering, Karlsruhe <-> Munich is about 3 hours.
3. Sprich Deutsch!
When I moved to Karlsruhe, I could not even count to five in German. Now, I have a solid base and need to push myself to form friendships based around German instead of English, so I will speak it outside of simple in-the-city exchanges. I will also be enrolled in German courses at the university, so I will be out of excuses.
4. Find a Routine
With my flexible schedule, I’ve lost all signs of a routine outside of sleeping through breakfast. With a steady course schedule and hopefully a part time job, I need to integrate a regular sleep schedule, begin exercising a couple times per week, keeping up with reading, and finding time to maintain my blog and relationships (basically, being a normal adult). It will be a huge change from now and efficient time use will be the key to success.
Prost to year three, on to year four – Munich here I come!