14 January, 2015

(Delayed) Departure from the Homeland

As I knew they would, my four weeks in the United States went by way too fast. I didn't get to do all the things and all the nothing that I wanted to do, and in the mix were some necessary annoyances (including two dentist appointments) that I would have rather skipped. I was really glad I got to see my family and some friends from Vermont, and when it was time to leave I wasn't nearly ready.

America didn't seem ready to let me go, either. Due to incompetence on the part of the air traffic control team at JFK Airport in New York, Maxim and I missed our connecting flight to Frankfurt by a matter of minutes (when we got to our gate we could see the plane outside) and had to wait a full day before we could fly out again. Luckily for us, Maxim has a friend who had just moved to NYC so we stayed with him for the night -- since Delta refused to pay for a hotel for us. The next day we checked out some places to eat, went to Times Square and had some of the best coffee I've ever had. (The coffee place is called Stumptown Coffee Roasters, if you are ever in New York you should definitely check it out. They also have locations in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles.)

Maxim and me in Times Square

Having an extra day in New York turned out not to be so bad, but by the time we got back to Germany all I wanted to do was curl up in my own bed. After we arrived, though, it hit me: I don't really have "my own" bed anywhere anymore. Even when I visit my parents I don't really have space that's truly mine, since they both live in different places than the house(s) I grew up in. I didn't even have anywhere remotely mine to sleep at our first destination, Maxim's fraternity's house in Karlsruhe, because our flight delay had caused us to lose our reservation for the frat house guest room. The helpless feeling brought on by knowing that there was nowhere I could go that was mine was followed quickly by another, very strong feeling: I don't want to be here. At that moment it was hard to separate the feeling of not wanting to be at the frat house from the feeling of not wanting to be in Germany at all, and that feeling lingered for the next few days, even after Maxim and I had arrived at his parents' house. I was confused, overwhelmed and unsure that I had made the right decision coming back to Germany.

But I know if I had stayed in the US I would have felt the same confusion and uncertainty. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are certainly ways in which life would be much easier for me in the United States, but while I was there I couldn't help but think that I was taking an extended tour of places I don't want to live. Central Florida, with its never-ending tangle of highways, strip malls and apartment complexes, is not for me. Rural Western Massachusetts and Upstate New York are also not for me, with their lonely houses dotting the landscape and lack of exciting city centers. And New York City goes too far in the other direction, with its dirty, incomprehensibly massive urban sprawl and ridiculously high prices for everything. I was also reminded everyday of the basic realities of American life that I don't like: you need a car to get anywhere, but many roads are not well maintained; most places have no public transportation to speak of; medical and dental care are outrageously expensive, even with insurance; Internet, phone and TV service are also outrageously expensive, as is higher education; and the mainstream American news media polarizes every issue beyond recognition while simultaneously isolating people from many important world (i.e., non-American) events. These things wouldn't change no matter which part of the United States I lived in, and taken together they are as close to a deal-breaker as you can get.

Not that everything is all sunshine and rainbows in Germany. Here, of course, I have to deal with the life-altering hurdle of conducting large parts of my life in German. This feat alone, despite my excellent German exam scores and everyone's expectations of greatness, is still incredibly difficult. This contributed a great deal to my initial anxiety when I returned to Germany; since I had barely spoken any German while I was away, coaxing myself into speaking it again was hard. Adding to my worries is the fact that I am only here on a 90-day tourist visa, and if I don't get accepted into a university or find a job within those 90 days I will be forced to leave again.

There is hope on that front, however. In the past two days I sent out applications for Masters programs at three German universities. Getting a Masters degree is something that I can much more easily achieve in Germany, at least from a financial perspective. I would love to pursue a Masters degree and be a student again, because being a student is something I enjoy and am good at, but the costs for such programs in the United States are simply too high. I already have loans that I regret taking out for my Bachelors degree, and with the job market being as difficult as it is for entry-level workers, it just wouldn't make sense for me to put myself further into debt for another degree. Here, with free tuition and just a few administrative fees, I actually have a chance to continue my education without accumulating massive amounts of debt. It makes me wish I had come here when I was 18 instead of thinking American universities were my only choice.

I guess you could say my life is in limbo right now. I'm no closer to having my own space, which is what I desperately want, and I have to wait for decisions that I have no control over before my life can move forward. I am of course incredibly grateful for the support I've gotten and continue to get from my parents, Maxim and Maxim's parents, but it's well past time that I start living my life on my own terms and not on someone else's. The closest I ever got to that was during my last year of college, and since then I have wanted to regain that independence more than I can say. For now, it's a waiting game, one which I hope is short-lived. In the meantime, I need to keep reminding myself to relax, enjoy life and make progress on the things that I still have control over.

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