In August last year, I left Germany and boarded a Lufthansa machine, which would take me over the big pond to Chicago. Two weeks earlier I got engaged and now I was about to take off to the United States of America – for an entire year. All I had with me was a suitcase and a backpack – and a heart filled with excitement, fear, curiosity, and pain. All at once, which didn't shock me, as I often have the weirdest mixtures of feelings.
On August 5th, 2017 I arrived in the country of Stars and Stripes in order to teach German at Illinois State University. I've never been to America before, so I expected to learn new things, see weird stuff and be overwhelmed with impressions. And so it came. One year later, I left the US completely changed. Well, not completely. I still loved the guy that proposed to me before my departure...
What did change, though?
1. I miss free water in restaurants
True story, German restaurants don't serve tap water. This means you have to pay for water, as they serve you quality spring water. I still prefer the concept of free tap water.
2. I’m running around in sweat pants
From what I've learned from my time in Illinois, it's completely normal in the US to go out in sweatpants or hoodie or whatever you're wearing at home. In Germany, that's not really the case. In Germany, you're in your sweatpants at home and at the gym. But if you want to leave the house you put on "real" clothes. So there usually are no sweatpants at university, at school or at the groceries store. But here am I, wearing my sweatpants on the street in Germany. Hoping people will forgive me.
3. I miss the show
If there is one thing Americans do best it's to make a show. There is a big show for your Sweet Sixteen. We don't have that in Germany. There is a big show on Homecoming. We don't celebrate that either. And there is a big show on Graduation Day. Well, that's something we also have in Germany, but sliiiightly different.
In America on Graduation Day, all students wear their robes. There are speeches, someone gets the honor to sing the national anthem and a big band accompanies the event with music. Flowers and banners decorate the place, and a professional photographer takes pictures. The professors are dressed in their robes, the hall is filled with people. They cheer, applaud and know how to party. Everything is thought-out.
In Germany, few universities know how to throw such an amazing event for their graduates. Usually, it's rather a quiet and low-budget event, which obviously has its reasons. Well, good for me I got to take part in both of them!
4. I like sweets even less
I've never been too fond of sweets. Now, I like them even less. The reason for that is the huge amount of sugar in so many American products. During my exchange year, I had the impression I was eating sugar all the time. Even the toast bread tasted sweet. Don't get me wrong! I love candy and dessert, but not all the time, please.
5. I miss the smiles
What I loved most about American people is their friendliness. No matter if on the street, in the shop or at work, people are often very kind and approachable. There are smiles everywhere and it simply makes your day awesome. I wish our German culture would copy that, even if it's just a tiny little bit!
I'm sure everyone who spent an exchange year in a different country came home more or less changed. And that's great, as broadening our horizons and learning about different cultures should change us. If you still think about going abroad and have the possibility to do so, do it! There is nothing better to teach you who you are and how complex the world around us is.