Monday, September 10, 2012

Back in the US

September 3, 2012

Hiking through the Alps
    After a long 9 hour flight, multiple days of jet lag, and all the stress of returning home, I can finally say I am in the US. Not to say the stress is over, we just purchased a new puppy which is my responsibility to train to be a working dog, classes start tomorrow and due to the exhaustion I have yet to purchase necessary textbooks, and overall I am still a little out of it.
    My journal is currently on my netbook, so once things quiet down a bit, there will be an influx of pictures and detailed descriptions of my journey. For now, I will reflect on my departure from Constance as I left for the rest of my trip to Switzerland.
    It should have been a nice goodbye, and in many ways, it was. The courses ended, and now I had ten days where I was visiting a friend of mine in Zurich, Switzerland. Still, as I left, there was a pang of sorrow in my heart. Over the three weeks in Constance, I fell in love with the town, the university, the staff and the course. By my departure, the culture was no longer foreign and intimidating, and while still fascinating, I felt like it had become a part of me. Even now, returning home, I still find myself replying instinctually in German with "Danke shon" or to being bumped into by "Entschudigen." The streets and shops were now familiar, I knew how to navigate around the town. I even had some very basic conversations in German. This was so fantastic for me; I had never been to another country previously, I am very slow to learn languages. Apparently immersion really does work wonders. Once I submit my previous journals, it will become evident how frustrating the cultural and language barrier was for me, especially once the culture shock set in. Still, somehow I was standing here, my last day, feeling comfortable and dreading leaving.
     My last day was easy enough, I packed in the morning, went to see monkeys at Affenberg (a mountain covered in introduced monkeys, apparently quite touristy) which gladly ate popcorn out of visiters' hands, dinner, then a train to Switzerland. It was a foggy evening in Constance, the first foggy day since my arrival. You could not see more than maybe a half kilometer out into the lake, compared to days where you could see the snowtops of the Alps on the opposite side. I and two friends who were also travelling post-course waited with me for my train at a restaurant we had frequented. I wandered off on my own, taking a moment to say goodbye to the place that had become so dear to me.
    Silently I ventured out to that same statue on the harbor. She turned towards me as I looked up at her (a matter of good timing, the statue always turns at the same steady rate). It was a mutual goodbye, and as I peered out over the fog, I was left with memories of the first too-hot day of arriving and first meeting this garden and this statue.
   The locks. I had forgotten. By the side of the statue, as well as on a bridge and a few other places, people clipped locks, like those we used for chem-lab lockers, I had mine on me, by accident, as I used the same backpack for this course. I cursed myself. When I had found out by this weeks ago, I was planning to find a white or silver sharpie, write a little message, have everyone from the course sign it. Then we would all pick a place and lock it together.
   But I had forgotten. So here, I vowed to myself I would return to Constance. Not that a lock fence made that decision for me, I believe ultimately I would feel myself longing for this town and its memories. I left, saying a final goodbye to the lake I had grown to know too well, and instinctually ventured back to the restaurant, the route so engraved in my mind I needn't question it.
   I looked back one more time though, all the lights in the town fully aglow now, satisfied with my experience here in Europe. Perhaps the next 10 days would be pleasant, more of a vacation than a course, but I would still find myself missing the familiarity of Constance, an emotion I never expected to have.
    And that was that.
    In reflection of the course, the material was fantastic, the days were long and hard-worked, and the teachers and grad students were phenomenal to work with. I will certainly elaborate on the course more as I describe the projects and exam. For now, I will explain how I feel going home.
   Reverse culture shock is a very real thing. Coming home, I felt homesick. It was strange seeing life had gone on while I was not home, some things not changing at all, some significantly changing. I think the hardest thing to deal with though, was for those back home, it was as though when I left the time that holds me just froze, and when I returned it was simple as that: I was back again. This wasn't true by any means. I certainly wouldn't bore any of them with my great personal experience of independence and feeling confident as I began to learn a new language or any of those enlightening things that I know is important to me but annoying to anyone else. I certainly know I could be obnoxious if I started elaborating on that topic, so I wouldn't. However, I am chock full of stories and adventures of the course, such as collecting fish and the experiments done, mishaps in the labs, excursion stories and countless others. Obviously, after experiences so much, parts of me would change. Instead I faced annoyance for my accidental German utterances, and a misunderstanding as everyone sort of expected I just be frozen in time for a month then set back, and also willing to understand their demands and own changes. I'm sure I am exaggerating the extent of it, but as someone jetlagged, culture sick and somewhat revolted by the number of fast food restaurants, it was hard. I've recovered a lot now, I still feel a bit frustrated about not being able to continue to learn German the way I had been, but I've readapted somewhat. It's going to be a long and interesting process, but I look forward to seeing what comes out of it.

- Elizabeth

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