Feeling at Home Abroad

CBYX 2018-19 participant Tess O. of Maryland, hosted in Noertershauen, writes about feeling at home in Germany.

Time is flying faster than ever and suddenly there are less than three months left in Germany. Where did the time disappear to? It feels odd settling into routines when I’m fully aware that in a few months, they’ll become a memory rather than a daily practice. What I mean is that all the once-foreign things – my bus stop down the street, the library in my school, Saturday morning breakfast with my host family, the Koblenz Hauptbanhof (main train station) – are finally becoming familiar. These little everyday places and experiences are now providing me the same feeling of comfort I had only felt for one other place before.

It hits you suddenly, when you’ve been traveling for nine hours and you’re standing at bus stop H in the dark of the Koblenz Hauptbahnhof, that you realize how excited you are to go “home.” Home to your host parents and to the big windows of the room in the corner of your house, to tell your host parents how much fun you had on the AFS sailing trip. The feeling of wanting to share these beautiful moments in life with people that you care about, in a place where you feel loved and welcomed. Feeling this sense of familiarity and comfort in a place that was once completely foreign to you: that is exchange, my friend.

When this realization hits – that you’ve built this life for yourself with the help of people that used to be strangers – the world seems a lot more approachable. When you’re capable of asking an employee at the grocery store where to find the artichoke hearts instead of wandering around aimlessly, you realize how capable you are. When you’re able to catch that train despite having only a 3-minute transfer time, you realize how capable you are. I understand the bus system, I know my way around the grocery store,  I can watch German movies and TV shows and follow along. I am growing, learning, and expanding my character. I don’t know how else I could have gained this knowledge and confidence if it wasn’t for exchange.