Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My love/hate relationship with Germany

I realized last night that it is almost exactly 13 years ago since I packed a giant suitcase and embarked on the first of my international endeavors.  In the summer of 2001, I moved to Shenzhen, China (with a few weeks of training in Beijing) to teach English in a private school for nearly a year.  That was also my first forray into the world of teaching -- and as we can see, both things have stuck pretty well.

Since then, I have traveled pretty regularly.  I have returned to China a few times and explored various parts of Europe - in typical American vacation fashion - a week or two here and there.  I have never had the opportunity to travel as extensively as I have with Mike since we have been married.  Our honeymoon was nearly 3 weeks of Italy and the Medditerranian, and now, we are spending six weeks in France and Germany.  These two trips combined are probably more time abroad than many spend in their lifetimes.  

Our weeks in France were amazing.  I loved virtually everything about Paris and the surrounding areas. After 3 amazing weeks, we flew into Berlin.  Berlin was immediately not as amazing.  Charlene (another law studnet) pointed out that while Berlin was cool, it was not AS amazing as Paris.  We should have done it the other way around... start with something great and move on to something fabulous.  It is just anti-climactic after the history and amazement of France.

After a couple of days here, I hit a wall.  Germany was dumb.  I could not read anything, the trains were not user friendly, It was hot (90+ degrees), with no air conditioning anywhere.  I spent all my time sweating and miserable.  The internet did not work.  The only English-speaking channel I had was BBC world news... while they were pretty good, they repeated themselved every hour.  I could continue to go on, but you get the idea.  I caught myself thinking "this is dumb, I want to go home".  

All of a sudden, a light switch flipped.  I remembered my first weeks in China.  My professor, Dr. Hall gave an orientation session discussing the stages of living abroad - first you started in the honeymoon stage... everything is wonderful and amazing.  The food is delicious, the sights are fantastic, the people are fun, etc.  Most people that travel abroad for short periods of time never get out of this stage.  I thought about this stage a lot while we were in France.  Even though we were here for 3 weeks, we probably never left the honeymoon stage.  We loved everything.  

However, one of the later stages (sorry, Charles, I do not remember all of them) was just the opposite.  You hate everything and want to pack it in and go home.  That was the stage I was in.  He talked at length about this stage and how to get past it.  He told us to recognize it, embrace it and understand that it would be ok.  Call a friend, go out for McDonalds (or something else that feels like home), and reground yourself 

I had plenty of I hate China days.  I probably wrote plenty of emails to friends and family telling them about my deep hatred of China.  I specifically remember one day when I got lost... really lost.  None of the street signs were in English, no one spoke english, nothing looked familiar, and I just wanted to sit down and cry.  I think I actually did sit down and cry.  Obviously, I eventually found my way back (otherwise, I would still be lost in the streets of Shenzhen).  My friends Megan and Jill were good about helping me find my way out of the rabbit hole of expat depression.  We had meals and drinks - Megan even managed to figure out how to make my ultmate comfort food - Chicken and Dumplings.  Over the year, I had a few "I hate China" days, as well as a number of "OMG, China is awesome! days".  

I realized on Monday that Germany was the same thing.  I did not actually hate Germany, I hated the circumstances surrounding me.  I was frustrated by the heat and the lack of 21st century technology.  I also realized that it was a lot like China.  Mike and I live in former East Berlin, in a communist era building.  The apartment is large and georgous, but is missing some things.  There are never enough wall plugs, the kitchen is weird... it is like China.  I have noticed other things that remind me of China as well... in addition to the love of train station/shopping malls... ice cream.  I was always amazed by the ice cream in China.  Sundaes were works of art with cookies and swirls and sauces in a rainbow of colors.  I will take some photos.  China did the same thing.  They worked hard to make ice cream fancy.  It occured to me that maybe that was a communist thing.  Fancify things so people do not realize what they do not have.  

However, yesterday I woke up and was better.  It was not so hot.  The internet worked.  I ate some delicious food.  Mike bought a $20 DVD player so we can watch some cheap English DVDs.  He inadvertantly bought my favorite film - O Brother, Where Art Thou, which we watched last night.  Today, we are going to the dinosaur museum - which Yelp gives 4.5 stars.  While it is not perfect, everything is better.

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