I really should be reading and analyzing an article about public and private religion right now, but I somehow ended up on Google Maps looking at an aerial view of Freiburg (which is really not indicative of a very healthy set of priorities) and decided it’s finally time to write the blog entry that’s been kicking around in my brain for about a week.
Last week, I ran into my friend Renee at HEB. Renee and I met in Intro to International Relations last fall. She’s really my only true IRG friend–I know other people who study International Relations, but I’ve met them all in various ways, not because we have the same major. We sat next to each other every day and exchanged pleasantries, but we really bonded because we spent the next year apart. I went to Germany the semester after IRG301, and she left for Santiago, Chile the week after I returned. So it was pretty cool that we happened to be grocery shopping at the same time, because it’s the first time in a year that we’ve been in the same country!
I told her that I couldn’t wait to hear about all her time in Chile, and the first question I asked her was, “Don’t you wish you were still there? I want to go back.” It didn’t even seem like a strange sentiment when I said it, because that’s been my rationale for so long: I miss Germany, I want to go back. I am incredibly nostalgic for my time there. It’s partially because I feel my time there got cut short; I really wish I had somehow been able to stay a full year. It’s partially because this cool, exotic, much-anticipated time in my life is over, and it’s been over for awhile, and I guess I haven’t really accepted it. Regardless, my whole mindset has been, “I love Germany. I want to be there.”
Much to my surprise, Renee’s response to my question was, “Actually, I was really ready to come home.”
And just like that, I remembered: So was I. By the time August 8 rolled around, I was extremely emotional about leaving Freiburg. But for weeks beforehand, little things about life abroad, frustrations about not being home, just built up to the point that I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Studying abroad is HARD. Even though everything about it is individually wonderful, so many strange and wonderful things can be too much to take. That’s something you rarely hear people actually talk about after studying abroad. Everyone adopts the “Best time of my life! I want to go back!” mentality and selectively forgets the fact that German professors are THE WORST, that their dorm room smelled bad, and that it rained every single freaking day.
I was well aware of the hard parts of studying abroad while I was there, though I don’t know if that ever really showed on my blog. At some point, I was really worried that I was doing it wrong… so worried that I e-mailed my friend James, a study abroad vet, in a frenzy. Was I being too isolated? Too snobby? Not adventurous enough? Why was I lonely all the time? What was wrong with me??? And much to my surprise, he responded that no, nothing was wrong with me… studying abroad is sometimes a very lonely, challenging experience; he, too, had gone through everything I’d just described.
Then why in the WORLD, I wanted to know, hadn’t he told me that beforehand??? After all, everything he’d ever shared about his time in South America had been gleamingly positive, bursting with hope and pride.
And then I realized: why would he have ever told me that studying abroad would suck sometimes? That’s not an experience you share with someone who’s about to live it themselves. The truth is that studying abroad is a wonderful opportunity for growth, adventure, and fun, and that it is a really, really good thing. A really, really good thing that comes with its unique brand of challenges that each person has to experience for themselves, but that can’t be anticipated.
Had I gone to Freiburg knowing that I would repeatedly be shot down by bureaucracy, that I wouldn’t get to travel quite as much as I would have hoped, or that making friends would be incredibly difficult, I might not have even put myself in a position to run into those challenges; I might have chickened out, I might have cushioned the blow. And I wouldn’t have grown nearly as much as I did.
So, yes. Sometimes I think about Freiburg and I get incredibly sad that I’m not there. I can still visualize my bike ride into the city, and I get a little depressed because the ride into campus in Austin is so boring in comparison. I miss my German friends, who I was just getting to know and love when I had to suddenly leave. I certainly know that there are things I’d do differently if I had to do it over. But life is about the journey, and not every step can be perfect; I can only hope that my journey will take me back to Freiburg someday. Because despite all the pain it caused me, I love that place.