There’s two things I hate very much in this world, and today I’ve experienced two of them in mass quantity.
The first on my list in long plane rides. The second is wanting to cry. A ten hour plane ride to Los Angeles took care of the first criteria, but I didn’t have much of a choice in that matter. The second was different.
I rarely cry. I’ve never thought it was proper to display strong emotion in public, perhaps inadvertently subscribing to the cold German ideology I heard so much about before coming to Berlin, but was hard pressed to encounter in reality. As I looked at my friend from Switzerland in the hotel cantine as she said goodbye, I understood what it meant to watch someone you care about disappear from your life as you know it. I should be used to it, but I’m not. I’ve done this sort of goodbye before, from the end of my time in Europe last year to when I left a Yale summer program just a month ago. I still can’t say goodbye to save my life. I give an empty smile and tell my closest friends to come to Los Angeles, both of us knowing full well that day may never come but both of us refusing to acknowledge it.
It’s disconcerting to have a group of friends spread across countries you can’t reach. In the very beginning, these individuals represented their country in a whirl of multicultural excitement. I wasn’t Sam Gorman but Sam from Los Angeles, almost becoming my city in a smaller version of my world today.
As I got to know these students better, they became much more than just a flag or a city name, He wasn’t just from Switzerland, he was Marc. Marc taught the entire history of World War Two in thirty minutes to my friend group. I’m sure he’ll make a great history professor one day, even if I’m not there to see him do it.
Because at the end of the day, when I’m lying in my bed in Los Angeles after a long journey, all I’m left with are my memories; ephemeral snapshots of a better time I can never recreate. And I don’t even want to try to redo these moments, that would cheapen the incredibly unique experience I’ve just undertaken.
Sure, the classes were informative and the excursions interesting, but what makes a program like this special is the people who go to it. I would have never in in my wildest dreams expected to be only one of three Americans out of seventy participants, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience than that.
I understood a different type of diversity in Berlin, one that transcends racial boundaries to bring together individuals from a host of different countries towards a common purpose. Los Angeles is an international city, but in my language class I have students from five nationalities, far from the thirteen separate nationalities I encountered in Berlin. It’s a place where a Slovenian, an Estonian, a Ukrainian, and an overly enthusiastic American from Los Angeles can room together for two weeks and become not just a group of friends, but a team. A network, that while yes, far strung, still remains strong and ready to react to what life hits it with.
So yes, I hate to cry. But after I spoke to my friend from the last time, I couldn’t stop myself from shedding a few tears in the elevator. A silent tear for the words I couldn’t bring myself to say. Another for the inadequate words I did.
But, I never say the word goodbye to my true friends for a reason. That implies that I won’t be able to speak with them anymore, when the opposite is true. Meeting again in person is clearly difficult, but staying in touch through technology is easier than it ever has been. Thanks to Whatsapp, I can talk with my friend in France almost every day, and I still attend Google Hangouts with my Europe trip buddies from last year. I already have a group chat with the friends I’ve made from Berlin, and while that isn’t the same as a face to face meetup, I’ll gladly take it while I can.
I’m still processing what happened these past two weeks during my language camp. Last time, I wrote that it was the little things that made my trip worthwhile, the admirable idiosyncrasies I can’t find at home that define the adventure. Now, I’m not so sure I can define my adventure for anything less than what it is, a wild two weeks comprised of unforgettable experiences and incredible friends.
I’m proud to have cared enough for these people to express it in such a way, even if crying happens to be a rare occurrence for me. It should just make it all the better when I get to return to Europe again in the future. I’ll be ready, and I know my newfound friends will be too.
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 on his weekly blog post updates.