As I took my first few steps back on American territory, my eyes filled with tears of joy and my nose filled with the familiar smell of the freshly mopped airport floor. Within those few seconds, I had been overwhelmed by the immediate feeling of comfort that took over my body. This wave of sensation came from the fact that I would soon be returning to my old, “normal” way of life. However, a second wave of sensation struck me that had the power to knock me off my feet. This time, however, I was swallowed by fear. I had come to the realization that my definition of “normal” last year, was nothing similar to what my present definition had developed into throughout my year abroad; it had become something that I never would have expected. My new perspective on life, America, and culture made me a completely different person from the one who had left America as an exchange student twelve months ago. Once again, I felt like the foreigner; my excitement transformed into anxiety. About a year and half ago, I was accepted as a recipient of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Scholarship. This offered me, along with forty-nine other Americans, the opportunity to spend my junior year abroad in Germany. When I accepted, I had no idea what to expect from this experience. The reality of my being away from everything I had ever known had not dawned on me until I witnessed the tears welling in my mother’s eyes while I prepared to board the plane. I listened to farewells and advice without uttering a word; I knew my voice would give away my fear. I swallowed the lump in my throat and took my final glance of everything I had ever known. As I became acquainted with my new abode, I had to quickly and effectively learn how to adapt; it was definitely the most challenging time of my life. Due to my host parents’ speaking no English, I had to learn a new language and assimilate into a culture I knew nothing about. While being abroad in Europe, I constantly learned how to make mistakes and learn from them. One of my most memorable moments was my learning to ski in the beautiful and majestic Swiss Alps. My host dad’s attempts at teaching me to ski were not graceful, however. The extent of my host dad’s English vocabulary was very little. At the same time, I did not know a single word of German. Nevertheless, we laughed and used our bodies to depict what our mouths could not say. With much persistence, I learned to ski. Even though my host dad could not tell me, the pride radiated off his face. It was that moment when I realized that actions truly are more important than words; my host dad and I became inseparable. After the initial culture shock, I became familiar with the way of the Germans and could even understand German to a certain extent. I was slowly beginning to talk; with my basic understanding and language, came my ability to finally immerse into the culture. Instead of thinking of English as my first language, I began to think of it as foreign. I was able to participate in school and do what was asked of me with ease. The language became second nature. It seems as if the more German I learned, the more I was able to immerse myself into the culture. Eventually, I thought of myself as a native. By the end of the year, I had developed a new family, a new language, patriotism for a new country, and I realized that I could succeed no matter the obstacle. Within the months of my return, I have received the same question repeatedly: “Ayanna, how was your trip?” Even still, I shudder at the usage of the word “trip.” A “trip” does not involve finding best friends, developing a family, or becoming fluent in a foreign language. My applying for the CBYX Scholarship has changed me for the better. A year in Germany was not just a year in a life; it was a life in a year.
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