I counted down the seconds until the clock struck 3:02PM, a cold, metallic shrill cried out three times to grant my freedom, and I was released from what had been an abstract concept to me as little as week ago. It was the second day of school and I already had my routine down. In stark contrast to three years ago, I didn’t get lost looking for my classes anymore. I knew where to sit at lunch, working my way up to having the dubious privilege of sitting under the robust oak tree exclusively reserved for the senior class.
I don’t feel like a senior though. I feel neither younger nor older, just out of place in a world that used to be my own. My boarding pass is still tucked inside my passport holder. It’s less a passport holder than a memory in its own right, its eclectic possessions mirroring a scrambled mind still trying to make sense of its last adventure.
Inside my passport holder:
The first day of school (only a day after returning from Berlin) was difficult. The jetlag may have played a role, considering I went to sleep at 6PM that day. More telling was how I went from being one of three Americans at my school to one of two thousand nine hundred. No one asked me about Los Angeles anymore, or how many movie stars I had met that week, or even if it was really possible that Trump could win the election. I just went back to being normal, but feeling far from it.
It was bizarre to go from a German speaking land back to one completely devoid of the language. I miss German. More importantly, I miss the community that made German what it was for me, a fast paced novel rollercoaster and an overall good time. Back in Los Angeles, looks of admiration have turned into looks of confusion when I tell people I’m teaching myself the language. Oftentimes, I’m simply asked why I’m doing it in the first place. It’s a valid question, one I’ve asked myself at length too.
Before my trip three weeks ago, I would have told them that I started learning because when I went to Switzerland last year, I simply couldn’t understand anything the locals said and I wanted to understand. After going to Berlin, that’s changed. My rationale for learning the language has been strengthened by the fact that I now see a concrete reason to continue, a linguistic light at the end of the tunnel that justifies the past ten months of self study.
Simply put, the Germans I’ve met have fueled my desire to improve. It’s been the brief conversations on the trolley, the intense pick up soccer games and the fiery political discussions on long walks that have personalized this beautiful language for me. I realized that a classroom can’t teach these moments, or the individual meaning behind them. I’m sure I learned more practical information this summer than I will this school year. Physics and Calculus are necessary, but not noteworthy. I don’t have the same passion for limits and derivatives as I do for languages, and that’s ok.
That’s why on my wall, printed and neatly taped in each corner, is an email from the program director explaining why I didn’t receive the certificate for the language level I wanted. Ich habe noch Luecken in Bezug auf Grammatik. I still have gaps in terms of grammar.
I have no shame about this. It is displayed on my bedroom wall for all to see, a trophy for the conquering language warrior back from a foreign land. This email tells me two paramount truths. The first is that I’ve reached a high level of German by myself. The second is that there’s still plenty of work to be done, starting with those fateful words on the page.
So, I continue to learn German because I must. No matter how much I may want to at times, I can’t leave a project unfinished or a goal forgotten. I need to make my Panda Express fortune mean something.
In my first article for Greenheart Travel, I wrote that my goal was to make as many international friends as I could and to speak as much German as humanly possible.
But my journey is far from over. In fact, it’s just begun. Los Angeles isn’t the same anymore, nor is my school. They’re just dots on a wider map, specks in a bigger world I’ve only just started to explore.
Sam Gorman is 17 years old and lives in Los Angeles, California. His goal during his language program in Berlin, Germany is to “make as many international friends as I can and to speak as much German as humanly possible! The only way to really improve in a language is by speaking it, and I plan to put that into practice by using the city as my classroom and by getting out of my comfort zone to improve my language skills. ” Follow Sam’s adventures in Germany.