“it’ll change your life”

Before I left for Europe, I can’t even count how many times people told me: “Enjoy it, it’ll change your life.” or “You’ll come back a different person.” or “You only get a chance like that once.”

I mean, fair point. Studying abroad is a pretty unique experience, one I’m not likely to forget. And I’m sure I will experience lots of things that will help me in my personal development and show me things about the world I never knew before.

But dang, is it a lot of pressure to go into something thinking, “I have to make the most of every moment because it’s going to change my life and if I waste one second I will regret it forever!!!”

I’ve found myself thinking that a lot. If I’m just walking around the city myself, or sleeping in one morning, or going for a run around the lake, I sometimes think, “What am I doing here? I need to be doing things that will make this the life-changing event that everyone’s telling me it will be!”

That’s such a trap. If I spent my whole time here thinking like that, I’d be too busy worrying about having life-changing experiences to actually experience anything life-changing.

So yes, I have been spending a lot of time alone, and walking around the city buying food from street vendors and window-shopping and going to museums on a whim because student fare is ridiculously cheap. But is that bad? I rarely have the chance to do any of those things in “real life.” I’m a woman without a mission in a big city. My friend Ashley told me that I’m like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I mean, I’ll take it.

What I’m really doing is living in the moment. No, right now I don’t yet have a close group of confidants with whom to discuss deep thoughts (in German, of course), and right now I’m not in classes, and right now I’m not traveling around Europe like crazy. But I am living in the moment. All those other things will have their moments, but this one ain’t it.

For now, every day I do something different, learn something new about the world, and discover something about myself. And if I have a chance to do something, like go to a jazz guitar concert even though I don’t know the first thing about jazz guitar, you better believe that I take it! Living in the moment can take lots of forms.

I’m sure, months and years from now, I will look back on this time and see that it did change my life. Maybe I will regret some things, but hopefully it will be filled mostly with fond memories of good experiences and self-discovery. “Becoming a new person” happens gradually, because of a life lived in the present.

So I beg of you: the next time you talk to someone who is about to do something like study abroad, or go to college for the first time, or, I don’t know, get married or something, please, please, don’t tell them that it will “change their life.” Tell them to have fun and that you are excited for them and leave at that. The life-changing part will happen on its own. You don’t need to point it out.

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The Natural Progression

This whole being-the-new-kid thing is kind of strange. It’s like being a freshman all over again. But the thing is, I never had a quote-unquote normal freshman experience. You know, the scene out of a movie where a kid gets dropped off at college, moves into his dorm, and meets his random roommate and he doesn’t know anyone and has to fend for himself? Yeah, that didn’t happen to me. Because of this girl:

Bailey and I decided to room together on April Fools Day of our senior year. (Really, Bailey coerced me into living with her. No joke.) Btdubs, happy belated roomie anniversary, Bailey!!! We’d known each other since the beginning of middle school and had become good friends through our church our last two years of high school.

It was really nice going into such a new (and BIG) environment already knowing someone, having someone to check in with every day and have RENT sing-a-longs wth and sit with at football games. It was especially nice the first few weeks. I distinctly remember, after UT’s first home game, from which we left early because we were demolishing the Little Sisters of the Poor or whomever we were playing, suddenly realizing that we didn’t have anything to do or anywhere to go. Because we didn’t know anyone. So we just had some frozen yogurt together and went to her sister’s apartment to play Apples to Apples. Yes, we do go to America’s #1 party school. Ha.

Now I’m going through all that again, except I don’t have a roommate, and I don’t really know anyone here. So I’m having to re-learn the Natural Progression of making friends.

Freshman year, I moved into the dorm a few days before Bailey did. One of our suitemates had also moved in early, so the first night I was there, she invited me over to her room and we chatted over pizza. About lots of things–how her week was going with rush, our mutual love for The Office, and our respective roommates, since we each were rooming with a friend from home. That was pretty nice. I liked her, and we had a lot in common, and I figured we would be pretty good friends.

But here’s the thing about the Natural Progression. It takes time. Julianne and I weren’t best friends just because we moved in at the same time and had a couple good conversations, just like Bailey and I didn’t become best friends right after the sewing class we both took the summer after fifth grade. (Oh, how I wish I had photo documentation of that. Sorry, folks.)

In the case of my friendship with Julianne, it didn’t really Naturally Progress much further than those first few conversations. We would run into each other in the bathroom the four of us shared, and sometimes on campus, and we would comment on each other’s Facebook statuses occasionally. Whenever it was one of our four suitemates’ birthday, the others would decorate the bathroom for the occasion. (This is still one of my favorite dorm traditions! You better believe it is happening in our apartment next year!) But anyway, that is a relationship that didn’t really go much further than the first few interactions. Which is fine. I made really good friends, and I hope that Julianne also did, and we both enjoyed our respective freshman years.

This is a pretty good example to me of how I should approach meeting people here. I really don’t want to force friendship. I have gotten lots of advice about being bold and not being afraid to take the initiative when meeting people. Which I completely get. It is a little bit out of my comfort zone because I am pretty introverted. With each of the people I’ve met so far (which is about two… but still), I think I’ve done pretty well. You know, introducing myself, talking about where I’m from, and the real talking point–the fact that I already know one of our other hallmates from back in Austin! Super coincidental, right, that they’d put two of the three exchange students from UT on the very same floor of the very same building? Crazazy!

Anyway, I am not going to get caught in the mentality that I need to be best friends with each and every person I meet, especially the first few people I encounter. Because that is just not realistic and would be setting myself up for some disappointment. But I really do appreciate the kindness of those I’ve met so far, in speaking German with me and being patient with my lacking language skills. I trust that, with time, these relationships will become what they are supposed to become. We are all going to be living in the same area (and sharing a bathroom and kitchen, for crying out loud) for a whole semester. Interactions will happen, and hopefully they will be meaningful ones.

(UPDATE! Since I actually wrote this post, I have been contacted by the exchange student tutors who are hopefully going to set up activities for all of us lonely international students! I can see the light! Haha)

But if not, there are so many more people I have yet to encounter here. Classes don’t start for like 3 1/2 weeks, I haven’t been to too many church functions yet, and I haven’t had the opportunity to join any clubs or, really, interact with any students besides the ones who live on my floor. So it will come with time. I keep reminding myself that most of the meaningful friendships I’ve made (with some notable exceptions…) have all taken time–some of the people I call my closest friends now were just nameless faces in a club meeting or classroom the first time I encountered them.

Like this guy! The first time I talked to him (a horrible, awkward, mandatory German conversation in GER328) I had no idea who he was. A year later, we were co-staffheads on LA50 and now he’s one of my best friends.

And this girl! We met at a Covenant Mass, a few days later bought John Mayer tickets together out of convenience more than anything else, six months later went to work at the Pines together, and in 5 months we’ll be roommates!

Now, just like then, I just need to be patient. I need to go wash my dishes when I know there are other people in the kitchen instead of waiting till it’s empty. I need to try out my German even though I’m scared and kind of embarrassed by it. Because that’s what makes relationships happen, by golly.

Oh, and just because it’s perfect and is the namesake of my blog and, as such, all of my loyal readers should be able to experience it:

Yes, love planted deeply does become what it ought to be. These next four months will hopefully be a case study in this philosophy.

So, I have hope. I do. The Progression doesn’t fail.

die leutebeobachtung (or: people-watching)

At this point, I could write a bunch of different entries… one about how difficult the transition between languages is going to be, one exactly like this post about bureaucracy, or another depressing one about how I haven’t really met anybody yet. But I’m going to keep it positive because it’s a really beautiful day outside and I just ate some delicious cheesecake.

Which brings me to my current locale. This blog post is brought to you by the free Wifi at Kaffeehaus am Bischofskreuz, across the street from the student apartments at Sundgauallee am Seepark! I “officially” moved into my dorm this morning since my mom flew back to Texas today. It was a bittersweet farewell. Now I’m more or less on my own, and it’s a pretty weird feeling. Also, I don’t have internet in my dorm yet… that will probably happen on Monday. So for now, I’m hitting up any hotspots I can find.

If you know me at all, you probably know that two of my favorite hobbies are people-watching and eavesdropping. Call me nosy, but people are interesting and I like being able to experience a cross-section of their lives as we cross paths, even for just a fleeting moment. Going to college at a large urban university with an extremely eclectic student body has only made me appreciate these activities more… you can’t even begin to imagine the things I’ve overheard at UT and the crazy situations I’ve witnessed.

Well, it turns out I am multiculturally creepy because here I am in Germany, and I still enjoy people-watching. Earlier, I went out and sat by the little lake near my dorm complex (it was really pretty out, btdubs) and just observed what people were doing. My favorite was the guy sitting on the grass, shirtless, playing the ukulele. Which was both entertaining and reminded me of my dear friend Justin. All the while a few little girls, probably about 6 years old, ran up and down the paths and countless joggers and bikers passed me by. It’s kind of comforting to know that people in Freiburg, Germany aren’t all that different from people in Austin, Texas, since I’m willing to bet that there will be people performing all of these same activities today on the South Mall. Except they will probably do so surrounded by a lot less grass. 😛

Eavesdropping is not as universal, and is a little bit trickier in a different language… I can only pick up a few words now and then, since not only are these people native (re: fast-talking) speakers, but they are also a few meters away from me and aren’t actually talking to me. However, I’d say that trying to ascertain the conversation topics of the couple at the table opposite me at this coffee shop is quite helpful to my German skills. It really stretches the boundaries of my vocabulary and lets me hear what real German conversations sound like.

Sometimes it’s confusing though. A few minutes ago, the guy at the next table was having a short conversation with the waitress, which I could only assume was about which milkshake flavor is the best or how much a slice of cake costs. But then I heard the waitress say, really distinctly, “den Zweiten Weltkrieg.” Which definitely means “World War II.” Hearing that buzzword prompted me to listen a little closer to what they were talking about, which, as far as I could tell, had something to do with “the German mindset” and people’s work ethics and unemployment…? Maybe.

Hopefully my paying-attention-in-class skills are more finely tuned my eavesdropping skills, but classes don’t start for one month today so until then I’ll just continue being creepy. I mean… what else is new?

anything and everything

So it seems a lot has happened since the last time I wrote. We took a day trip up to Strasbourg, explored Colmar a bit more, took the bus (after MUCH confusion about the translation of “bus stop” and “bus station”) from Colmar to Freiburg, started getting to know the city a little bit, saw my new digs in the student village, ventured up to the Schönstatt shrine here, and started on all of the little tasks I need to accomplish before Mom leaves on Saturday.

I’m still figuring out this blog thing… I’m not exactly sure what my main purpose is for writing. Is it for myself, to remember my trip? If so, I should probably write a little bit more often. Is it so other people can read about my trip? If so, I should also probably write a bit more often. I guess the bottom line is that I should get into a little bit of a better routine.

Routines are a sticking point with me lately.

For the past few months, I’ve been in vacation mode… while I was in Austin, I had things to get accomplished, but I could work on those things whenever I wanted. The rest of the time, I got to watch as many TV shows on Netflix as I wanted (resulting in me using up my weekly bandwidth allotment for the first time ever, and then 6 more times after that), hang out with friends as often as I wanted (swing dancing, country dancing, random hangouts at the UCC…), and go on spontaneous roadtrips whenever I wanted (such as venturing to see my favorite Aggies whilst watching my team destroy theirs in basketball). I had virtually no routine, which was FANTASTIC. Would that I could live my entire life that way! 😛

I think this accurately portrays how crazy my wayfaring life made me...

For the past week, I’ve been in tourist mode. Traveling around central Europe with my mom (who, it turns out, is not a bad travel companion) is a pretty sweet deal. It’s been awesome… I’ve gotten to practice my German a bit (more on this in a later post) and see some great sights and eat some delicious food and learn a lot.

Delicious food, Luzern edition

But getting to Freiburg changed things a little.

This is the city where I’ll be living for the next 4 months!! Crazazazazazy. So, when walking down the street in the middle of the day, I don’t just think “Oh, this is so pretty, maybe I should take a picture of that church over there?” No, now I think, “Hmm, I wonder if I’ll have one of my classes in this building? I hope public transit isn’t too expensive. Is this church where I’ll go to Mass on Sundays?” Und so weiter.

For the record, I have no idea where my classes will be because A. There isn’t really a ‘campus’, per se… the buildings for my university are kind of spread out all over the city. And B. I haven’t signed up for them yet. I am kind of freaking out about this, because I’d like to know what classes I’m taking and that I didn’t miss a deadline or anything, and also because I need to register for my fall at UT and in order to do that, it would be nice to know what I’m taking in the spring, haha. Mostly, I want to know what my days are going to look like while I’m here. Will I have morning classes? Classes spread throughout the day? When will I have time to study? To hang out with friends? You know? I want to know.

Also for the record, I haven’t really nailed down anything on the church front yet. We went into a church right near the train station today, Herz Jesu, and it was really pretty. I took a little pamphlet about events there and wrote down their Mass times. I also trekked up to the Shrine, which is not really in Freiburg… it’s in a little suburb to the south. It is quite a ways away, but it is BEAUTIFUL! But basically, I’m still trying to figure out where my faith community will be while I’m here. I guess this will be revealed to me with time, but I am getting impatient.

The main thing that’s been on my mind since we arrived in Freiburg is anxiety about finding a community here. Since I started school at UT, I’ve found the most amazing network of wonderful people and created so many good, deep, fulfilling, faith-centered friendships and relationships. It was really hard to leave that behind (for a while), but I took it in stride, knowing that the next 4 months are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and that the community and the friendships I have in Texas aren’t going to, like, dissolve during that time.

I couldn't find a picture that accurately showed the amazing communities that support me on a daily basis, but this one of me, John, and Mike emphasizes how HAPPY my friends make me!

But I also know that I want a community, or at least one or two solid friendships, while I’m here. I know that’s going to take some work, since I literally know two people in this entire city and because I am not quite where I want to be with my German yet, it’s probably going to be a little harder to connect with people. I guess I’m just scared that I’m not going to find anyone and that I’m just going to be kind of going through the next 4 months alone. I hope to God that that isn’t true, and I’m gonna try and trust that I find the people I’m supposed to find, who will help me grow and such; even if that’s only one person, that will be enough, I hope.

I exchanged e-mails with my friend James before I left. James studied in Chile last semester and I just asked him for some advice, since he’s an old pro at this whole “exchange student” thing. His input really helped me get over some of the anxiety I was having, and it is just too good not to share. I hope he doesn’t mind 🙂

“You’re in Europe, and while the depth may be hard to find with some relationships, I’ve no doubt God will give you them.  And if not, He’s asking you to lean into him way more.  That’s what happened to me, actually. Just be bold!  With people, from my experience, I had to take a lot of the initiative, so just be prepared to have to make a lot of forward steps with relationships. They more open you are with people, they more the tend to draw to you, and that’s how I made good friends–I would share a bit, see how they responded, and then continue deepening that relationship in a meaningful way if they wished to pursue the same. And find travel buddies!  Traveling alone is just all right–happiness is best when shared (Into the Wild).” ~James Van Matre, aka my bestiiiii 4 lyfe

So yeah. This was kind of a long post… sorry! I’m moving into my dorm tomorrow, so I will have stories to share. Hopefully no horrific ones.

OH! And before I go, happy Opening Day!!!! GO CUBS GO! You betta believe I brought my Cubbies blanket with me to Germany 🙂