I’m getting within spitting distance of my Austrian Adventure (dun-dun-DAH!), and I’m not totally sure that it’s sinking in. I was proud of myself for not being overly anxious, but then I started having dreams in which I try to order coffee, but when I say, “eine Tasse Kaffee, bitte,” the lady at the counter gives me a pitying and confused look, like I’m saying “caw, caw, caw, bitte?” I’m saying the words I’ve been taught–but they aren’t real words.
Yes, I’m dreaming that I’ve been learning strings of nonsense syllables instead of actual German. I’m now referring to this as my “caw-caw” German, and hoping it’s an unfounded fear, rather than a widespread conspiracy. (It is, right?)
I’m combating these anxieties by becoming a little fanatical about my German practice. I finished Duolingo‘s German course at the end of the summer (see my review here). However, as time lapses your skills deteriorate, and all your little gold boxes of German success turn green and blue until you practice those skills again. So I’ve been doing lots of exercises on there. (They added a speech/pronunciation feature, which is actually pretty good!) I’ve also been working my way through a German grammar workbook, reading au pair blogs in German (usually German au pairs working in the USA or England), and watching my favorite children’s programming auf Deutsch.
I’m sort of packing (in the way of making lists and leaving an open suitcase on my bedroom floor), and I’m definitely making plenty of plans for my November trips to London and Rome, and my December trip to Nuremberg for the Christmas market. I’m still devouring travel guides, and I’ve discovered that all the episodes of the PBS program Rick Steves’ Europe are available for free on Hulu. He’s pretty goofy, but seeing all these places come to life is helping them become more real in my mind.
I’m also staying in contact with my Austrian host family, and making plans for the future! Doris has been so helpful with everything, from calling up local theater groups to helping me pick a German class. I’ve spent lots of time on Google Maps and looking up train and bus schedules, which really have helped me imagine the day-to-day practicalities of my life in Krenglbach.
Much of my sojourn at home in Birmingham has been about seeing friends and family. I took the opportunity to interview my grandfather about his experiences in Europe after World War II (see my previous entry on this here). I’ve spent invaluable time with my wise and wonderful mother, whom I will miss so much, and over the past month, I’ve made a mini tour of the Southeast (Asheville, NC, Atlanta, GA, and this weekend, Jackson, MS) to visit friends. This has served the dual purpose of friend-time and a way to say goodbye to my corner of this continent. I also went back to my high school for the first time since graduation. (One of my favorite teachers told me that if I got in any trouble, he would come bail me out of jail: “I would come all the way to Zagreb.” Aww.)
This coming Sunday I turn 24 years old, which seems like a pretty grown-up age. That, combined with preparing for a trans-Atlantic move, has made me get pretty reflective about my life so far. I think I’m in a good place. I’ve accomplished the educational goals that I’ve set for myself, I’ve developed an amazing network of people who care about me, who can offer me support and advice, and I am about to embark on an adventure across the world, full of travel, learning, work, and exciting new experiences.
I’ve found that it’s people my age who ask if I feel like I should be in graduate school, if I should have a “real job” (don’t get me started on people who don’t think that nannying is a real job), if I should be “settling down” (at 24!?!). The mentors in my life, the people who have been where I am now, invariably say that I am on the right path, that I should take advantage of my lack of “strings,” that I should write and take pictures, but mostly live life. So that’s what I’m going to do, y’all.
But I’m not under any delusion that this will all be easy. I’ve been trying to prepare myself for culture shock and homesickness. I know I will often feel stupid for not being able to express my thoughts fluently in German (and nothing undermines my confidence more than feeling stupid and inarticulate). But that is part of the challenge. One of my favorite professors told me in August, “You have to think, do you only learn from good things, or do you learn from hard things too?” This is such a good question, because it frames all the experiences I will have in terms of my life-education. Good, bad, hard, and exhilarating, I’m ready for everything that this next year will throw at me, because I will learn and grow from it.
I’ve had this blog for over six months now, but I feel like it’s about to really take off as I begin my Austrian Adventure (dun-dun-DAH!). Yet, even though I’ve just been blogging my thoughts and plans from America, I have already acquired over 350 WordPress followers, over 3500 page views, and (my favorite statistic) readers in sixty-two (62!!) countries. Wow. Thank you, and I hope you stay with me over the next year–it’s about to get good!