Today I have officially been in Germany for three full months. I’ve been taking my senior engineering classes in German, exploring Darmstadt and the surrounding areas, and adjusting. I’ve made friends, found a church, and even gone on a retreat with Campus für Christus. I’ve heard that a few months into an exchange is when the worst of the homesickness strikes, and I have been pretty homesick as of late, so I’m optimistic–I may be near the turning point where I can enjoy living in the moment in Germany despite missing my family and home.
The retreat this weekend helped immensely with the homesickness. Ironic, too, since we were in Mühltal, a little town half an hour from Darmstadt by bus. It had little cell phone reception, and the building in which we stayed had no internet access. But in the midst of the disconnectedness, I made some new friends.
It turns out that quite a few people in Darmstadt’s Campus für Christus group have already studied abroad. When I got homesick this past weekend at the retreat, the German students were willing to talk with me about what it is like to study abroad, how much the experience is worth it in the end, and the paradox of how it can be both fun and painful at the same time.
I met a girl who studied for a year in California (or “Cali,” as she called it) during high school. We chatted about American restaurants we have both tried and the differences in shopping for clothes in American stores and German stores. At one point over the weekend when I was especially homesick, she prayed with me. And she even made sure to get my contact info so we could keep in touch. 🙂
I also talked with another girl who spent six months with missionaries in Brazil. She knew how hard it is to feel comfortable talking to one’s new friends in the new country and how challenging it is to forge good, close friendships despite the language barrier. And she completely understood the feeling I sometimes get here–the feeling that I’m so surrounded by German culture and German people and German architecture and German everything to the point where I wonder if America is even still there.
But one thing that I found most encouraging talking to the former exchange students is that they came back to their home country. They went to the other country, experienced homesickness, experienced and enjoyed what the other country had to offer, and then they went home. So often I feel as though I am expected to want to stay here in Germany forever even though I only signed up for a year. I’ve met people who were exchange students and decided to stay in their exchange country, but now, having met quite a few students who studied abroad and came back to their home country, I feel like the exchange students who stay in the exchange country are the exceptions rather than the norm.
Both of the girls I talked to mentioned that the first few months in a study abroad go by very slowly and the homesickness is especially hard. But after a few months, you get used to where you are living and the time goes by quickly. By the time you’re sitting on the plane home, you wonder where the time went.
So for me, I’m going to ignore the expectation some people have of me that I’ll want to stay here in Germany forever. I’m allowed to want to live in the same country as my family, and I’m only here for a year. Having been here three months now, I’m on track to soon hit the point where my year starts moving really fast. So I’m going to make the most of it.