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.
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.