I'm leaving Germany with mixed feelings. I'm so excited to go home and see my family, but going home also means that this experience is over. How did the time fly by so fast?
This year has been incredible, and to be honest, I wouldn't have expected anything less. I've learned countless things--big and small--in the ten months I've spent in Tübingen. In fact, how about I count some of those things for you now? I've learned how to read Sütterlinschrift
, how to navigate a city by bike, how to bake a layer cake, how to give a lecture, and how to file insurance claims. I've learned to always pack an umbrella, to check and then double check plane and train times, and to be more environmentally aware. I've honed my prioritization skills, developed skills as a researcher and writer, and greatly expanded my knowledge and understanding of the German language. (Sadly, my dancing skills have not improved, though not for lack of trying on my part.)
But one of my favorite parts of living in a new place is realizing how many things I have yet to learn. For example, I have yet to wholly comprehend German adjective endings, I still cannot open a bottle of beer using either a lighter or another bottle, and the local Swabian dialect continues to present a bit of a challenge. Of those three challenges, the second one is the most embarrassing in social situations.Reflection on my time here is indeed in order. However, instead of attempting to capture all of my emotions and thoughts in words alone, I'm going to steal my friend Meredith's idea for a 'final' blog post and give you this reflection in pictures.
September 9, 2010: I discover that my new home, Tübingen, strongly resembles a fairytale wonderland. I decide that life here will probably be magical.
September 10, 2010: My aunt and uncle take me on a much-needed trip to IKEA, and then proceed to put all of my furniture together while I go to the bakery and buy them pretzels.
September 13, 2010: I am reminded for the first of many times of why I love living in Europe.
September 18, 2010: I try something new, with a mild degree of success and a disproportionately large sense of accomplishment.
September 19, 2010: I make the first of many castle journeys. (Schloss Sigmaringen)
September 27, 2010: I experience my first (and hopefully last) Munich Oktoberfest.
September 30, 2010: I reunite with great friends in my beloved city of Regensburg.
October 14, 2010: One of my oldest friends and a fellow Fulbrighter visits me in Tübingen to take a break from a rocky beginning (but ultimately awesome experience) in the North.
October 23, 2010: My new friends and I make our first trip to the Besenwirtschaft, which will become a weekly (biweekly?) occurrence for the few months it opens its doors to guests.
October 29, 2010: The first Pastry Day.
November 7, 2010: I make the first of many trips down to the Bodensee to visit my aunt and uncle, whose hospitality and generosity are truly unmatched.
November 21, 2010: My friends and I celebrate our first Thanksgiving away from our families.
November 26, 2010: Another trip to Regensburg makes the Thanksgiving-induced homesickness easier to bear.
December 1, 2010: The winter weather and week-long Chocolate Festival transform Tübingen into a life size snow globe.
December 9, 2010: A birthday trip to Salzburg and Vienna with two high school friends and fellow Fulbrighters is the perfect antidote to the freezing weather and a welcome break from the day to day transcribing of 200+ letters.
February 2, 2011: I bake the first of several birthday cakes for friends. This one is Dark Chocolate Pear Cake
and was made for Lauren Howe's 23rd birthday.
February 7, 2011: Fulbright holds a Winter Ball in Heidelberg and I get to see my friend Stefana, a Fulbright research grantee in Munich, again.
February 12, 2011: I travel to Ulm to visit my great aunt and uncle for a day.
February 14, 2011: Reason #463 of Why I Love Living in Europe . . . Day trip to the Swiss Alps.
February 19, 2011: My friend Kaelan from high school comes to visit and we hike to the castle ruins of Hohenneuffen.
February 26, 2011: The Regensburgers make the trek to Tübingen for a weekend visit.
March 5, 2011: The list of castles I've visited gets even longer . . . My college friend Gabby and I hike to Schloss Hohenzollern, and even manage to climb the wrong mountain while doing so.
March 10, 2011: Gabby and I take trip to the Bodensee for a few days so I can acquaint her with German hospitality (and my uncle's Käsespätzle!).
March 18, 2011: My family (minus Will) visits me in Tübingen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
March 23, 2011: I attend the Fulbright Conference in Berlin and enjoy a traditional Berliner delicacy--Currywurst.
April 1, 2011: I enjoy some beach time and warm weather in Barcelona, Spain.
April 12, 2011: My brother Will comes to visit!
April 15, 2011: Continuing my exploration of day trips from Tübingen, I go on a hike with friends to the waterfall in Bad Urach.
April 29, 2011: Spontaneity rules! I go on a week-long adventure to Sardinia, booking my ticket just two days in advance.
May 8, 2011: I sample traditional British scones with clotted cream on a quick weekend trip to London to visit my brother and a few friends.
May 23, 2011: Jeremy comes to visit! We hop around from city to city for the five days he has off from work . . . Munich, Regensburg (pictured), Meersburg/Bodensee, and Tübingen.
June 1, 2011: In yet another episode of "Kaci has visitors in Tübingen," my grandmother comes for ten days and we have a wonderful time discussing her past, reading the letters, and of course taking a relaxing spa vacation for a few days in the Black Forest.
June 10, 2011: Though I would never consider myself a 'car person,' the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart convinces me that I do, in fact, have a 'dream car.' Sigh.
June 19, 2011: I take a trip to the small town of Münsingen for a party hosted by Lauren's boyfriend, his identical twin brother (cha-ching?!) and some of their friends.
June 28, 2011: I make my final trip to Regensburg for Bürgerfest and to bid my friends farewell.
So it's official. In two weeks I will be back on American soil, probably dying of heat exhaustion in the lovely weather that is St. Louis in August. That means that I still have one or two more "Final Countdown" pictures to post, so stay tuned for that!
Through the pictures and writing in this post, it's easy to see that I've traveled all over, learned valuable life lessons, and overall had quite the Fulbright experience. But one of the biggest reasons that this year in Tübingen has been so special is the relationships I've made with people here, both Americans and Germans. In my experience, living abroad can cause "friendships of convenience" with other Americans to come into being, in which I become friends with someone I wouldn't necessarily be close with in the States because we have a shared connection of being foreigners and are searching for some familiarity in our new surroundings. But the Americans I have met here are people I share a genuine connection with, and I truly believe these friendships will stand the test of time (and distance). The Germans I've met in Tübingen have been extremely welcoming, and I have had the pleasure of babysitting for what has to be one of the kindest families on this planet.
Beyond all of that, I've gotten to strengthen existing relationships through another year in Germany, especially with my family members over here and with my grandmother. My project has brought me closer to understanding not just my own family's history, but also the complex layers of German history during the Second World War. That understanding is what I ultimately sought from this experience, but as my ten months here draw to a close, I don't feel a sense of completeness. Yes, I'm turning in my final report to Fulbright and wrapping up almost a year's worth of research into a paper, but when I think of everything I could still do with what I've learned and everything I have yet to learn, I'm overwhelmed. And at the same time, I'm motivated. This is more than just a story that should be told. It's my story, and I want to keep telling it.
Lately, everyone has been asking me what my next step in life is. I hate to sound cliche, but I've been asking myself the same question. There are many directions my life could take once this chapter is over, and I'm as interested as you are (okay, I'm even more interested than you are) in what's to come. I'd like to get back in touch with my Chinese ability--hopefully Mandarin is still hanging out in my head somewhere waiting for me to rediscover it--so perhaps a job in business or teaching is in my future. (Ideas? Anyone? Bueller?) Or maybe grad school is the right path for me, and some day I'll be teaching college students about German history and writing lengthy academic books about it. Hey, it could happen! For now, I'm trying to remind myself to take things one day at a time and not to get too dispirited by the current state of the job market. Something will work out. And if it doesn't, you can expect a new batch of blog posts from China next year, where I'm fairly certain I can find a job doing something.
No matter what, I'll keep you posted.