I used to mistake traveling for leisure, believing that going abroad was simply an intensely exhilarating expedition. However, I learned otherwise last summer during a six-week home stay in Germany.
Upon receiving my letter of acceptance, I began carelessly imagining the fun of living in a quaint German town. As my wild imaginations grew in size, so did expectations of an adventurous six weeks. However, upon arriving in the small village of Hammersbach, my initial excitement faded as I realized that frivolously enjoying myself was highly idealistic. My host family was sweet, but language and cultural differences made communication difficult. German was a charming language, yet it was only esoteric babble I longed to understand. Though the bucolic beauty of the German countryside intrigued me at first, I soon became restless for a more exciting urban environment. My naïve expectations collided with the realities of language and cultural difficulties, and soon I became hopelessly uninspired.
What I imagined to be a fast-paced six week vacation soon stretched into endless, humdrum days. After all, there was only so much to sightsee and shop before settling into the lazy summer routine. While struggling to remain positive, I realized that it was not others' responsibility to keep me happy, but my own to adapt to an unfamiliar environment. The purpose of this home stay program was not so much to be entertained by the new recreational activities Germany had to offer than to understand the more profound cultural details of a German lifestyle tourists rarely touched. I had made the childish mistake of expecting cultural exchange to be a leisurely vacation. After acknowledging my faults, I took the initiative. On uneventful days, I encourage myself to cook American cuisine for my family and learn German. I took a walk outside every evening to free myself from the confines of the home and to enjoy the scenery of timber-framed houses that I thought only existed movies. Whenever my host family made the occasional suggestion of going somewhere–to visit an old castle, or to participate in a local medival festival–I would eagerly agree. I spent time becoming closer with my host siblings (such as forcing my rowdy little brother into the bubble bath) and became particularly fond of my host mother, whom I would chat with–in German, or so I tried diligently–on warm evenings. Though at first I was disappointed about the lack of recreational adventures, I began to understand and appreciate more the lifetime value of more meaningful personal connections forged by honest cultural understanding. Six weeks concluded unexpectedly briefly; by the time I realized how much I actually enjoyed this German experience, I was back in America.
When I flip through the photos of my host family and fields of Hammersbach, a strong wave of nostagia sweeps through my body. I terribly want to repeat the experience once again, because despite the obstacles I encountered in Germany, traveling abroad continues to fill me with burgeoning thrill. I may have matured as an international voyager, but the child-like eagerness for adventure still burns brilliantly inside me. However, Germany taught me that traveling abroad is more about discovering than indulging. When I prepare myself for another journey, I will do so through the worldly eyes I have acquired from this experience.
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