My path to learning German has been a long, winding, arduous, frustrating, and unexpected one.
Something kind of like this, without the sheep for comfort.
And because I’d like a distraction from the things weighing on my mind right now, I’m going to share the story of that impossible journey with you, whoever happens to read this post.
There was a time in my childhood when I became obsessed with learning a foreign language. It’s probably a weird goal for a ten-year-old to have, but I was always a little more “wrap-your-arm-in-a-fake-cast-made-of-masking-tape-and-napkins-for-two-days” than “play-tea-party,” anyway.
My elementary school started us on Spanish in kindergarten, something I’ve learned to appreciate from talking to friends that grew up in different areas or at public schools. Most kids seem to have started a foreign language in middle school– theoretically, I had a good six years on those losers! Unfortunately, the quality of my Spanish language education from kindergarten until fifth grade was, how can I say this… sub-par. I learned nothing. Sixth, seventh, and eighth grade: better, but not by much.
During this time period (ages 10-14), I’d decided on several different occasions to take the reigns from my less-than-capable Spanish teachers and start guiding my foreign-language-pony in a different direction… say, due west, over to Japan. Or across the Atlantic, France or Bust! My freshman year of high school I was reallytrulyhonestly almost serious about learning Gaelic, something I’d figured was probably in my veins, anyway.
Pretend that’s a picture of me, and pretend I’m actively trying to learn three of those different languages. GO!
Do I even really need to tell you how well that turned out? No? Okay. Fast forward to the second half of my freshman year. Gaelic’s out, I’m taking Spanish I to get my language credit, but it’s sticking about as well as my “Spanish class name” of Graciela (I was later known as Violeta, Alegra, and Violeta again).
Cue life-changing moment: Traditionally, my school hosted German exchange students every year. We didn’t offer German classes, hadn’t since the 80s (we are a very small institution), but the exchange students had stayed around. Luckily for my parents, along with always dreaming of learning a foreign language, since age 10 I’d also dreamt of a foreign sister, flying in from far-away-and-abroad to impart me with cultural knowledge and understanding. Mom and Dad couldn’t say no. Opportunity? A-risen.
Maike entered our home in 2006 and very literally changed everything about the course that my life was on. Becoming so close with someone from another country made the idea of learning THAT language a permanent sticky-note in my brain. I wanted to learn German, and I wanted to learn it NOW.
Sadly, as previously mentioned, there was no German class offered at my school. In the meantime, Maike returned the following year to stay with our family again, and that summer before my junior year of high school, I lived with her family in Germany for a month. It was then that I became an addict. I’d gotten a taste of Europe and was jonesing for it for the next four years.
Before my senior year and after returning from Germany, my obsession had reached a peak. I was no longer content with taking Spanish, a language I’d been studying for, what, twelve years, and could still barely hold the simplest of conversations in. German was a part of my life now, and I was determined to make it mine. I petitioned my school administration and convinced them to offer a German I class as an elective for seniors the following year.
That’s me, upon entering my first German class.
Hooray! I’ve succeeded in learning barely anything about the German language in a total of three years. Moving on to college…
I decided to forgo taking a language my freshman year in college and planned on taking German as a sophomore. I could have never guessed that taking that year off would be the best decision I could ever make.
The first day of German 111 in the fall of 2010, I learned about a program that my university’s German department offered, where you could earn credit for two years of German in a single quarter studying abroad. I’d need to take 111 that fall, 112 in the winter, and would take 113, 211, 212, and 213 in the spring in Salzburg, Austria.
At the time, my goal was to graduate in three years, which I was on the path to do, easily. I figured getting my language requirement out of the way in only one year would only help me to fulfill my goal that much quicker. So, I signed up for the program (rather last-minute, now that I think about it), and it helped that I also had a weird, deeply-seeded love of German and Germany driving my actions.
My 10 weeks in Austria changed everything about college for me. The following fall, junior year, I had more friends than ever before, I’d become ridiculously close with the people on my program, I’d learned so much about myself, Austria, and German, and, oh yeah, I’d added German as a second major.
I’m kind of like, way too into this stuff.
Continuing on, I decided to apply for a Fulbright in Germany. A few of my friends had done it successfully and I figured, you know what? Why not me, too? I became Vice President of both the German Club and Delta Phi Alpha, the German major honor society, alongside my best friend, fellow Fulbright Grantee, and Salzburg roommate, Ashley, the Präsidentin herself.
Everything I’d thought I knew about myself, my goals, and my ambitions was flipped on it’s head from just a year before. How exciting was that!? And, lo and behold, another surprise comes rolling in: I’ve been picked to be the teaching assistant on the 2013 Salzburg program. I was selected to do it ALL. OVER. AGAIN.
I got back to the USA what seems like just a few weeks ago, at the end of April, from this second trip to Salzburg. While there, I learned that I’d received the Fulbright Grant, as well as a teaching assistant position in Austria. I’m still rather shocked about the things that have happened these past few years in my life. I stayed in college all four years in order to double major in German, I became friends with people I’d never have met any other way, I will be living abroad for the next year in the lovely-looking Oldenburg, surrounded by things and places that I love an unhealthy amount… I could never have asked for anything more.
Except for maybe the Dirndl. That might actually be the best part.
Me and Ashley. Super cute, I know.