I’m in pretty good spirits I think, despite desperately missing home and my family and friends. I just turned 39 a few days ago and I got to celebrate with nine people I have been missing all these years. My mother-in-law, two sisters-in-law, brother-in-law, Chris’s aunt and four nephews were all there yesterday to eat too much cake with me. Instead of focusing on what I miss (my family and friends in Portland), I was grateful that finally I’m getting to hang out with my German family for more than a couple weeks. I’ve known them for seventeen years but have never gotten to experience the daily rhythm of life here with them. I’m making memories with my nephews of everyday stuff. We walk the dog, go to the market and walk home from school together.
How’s it going translating everything in my head all day long? I’m still tired, but not as tired as the first month. Even having had a good foundation in German with classes throughout high school and college, there is really no substitute for immersion learning. My favorite thing is to watch German TV and put on the subtitles so I can easily look up words I don’t know. If you hadn’t heard, learning German is NOT EASY, but at least everyone here knows it. “German language, difficult language,” is the saying.
Operating, or rather, attempting to operate, in a foreign tongue can be an exasperating experience. I discovered that every person on earth loves one thing unconditionally and forever without end, and you only find this great love when you leave home. Everyone loves their mother tongue. You realize that you will never be your truest self if you cannot express yourself in it. Nothing can soothe you like it when you are far from home. It is always a comforting shelter when you feel alone and exhausted. It is an immediate intimacy when you find others who also share it. No other language is as beautiful and makes as much sense. Living outside of it, you miss effortless comprehension. Like a fish in water.
Being a foreigner, you suddenly are stripped of your individuality. You are pared down to the stereotypes of your country. You are just a mirror reflecting every fear and hatred people may have about your homeland. My friend said that you find out who you really are when you leave your country. Faced with being overly simplified, you learn how to sharply define yourself in opposition to the new blurry outline of identity you are stuck with.
On the flip side, when you finally crack the code, you feel very accomplished. There is a true elation when you realize you’ve followed an entire conversation or TV program without thinking about it. Another part of the world opens up when you can finally joke in a foreign language. You lose the ease of your mother tongue, but you gain the pride of solving a challenging puzzle.