In partnership with Reach the World (RTW), the Fulbright U.S. Student Program is publishing a series of articles written by Fulbright English Teaching Assistants participating in Reach the World’s Traveler correspondents program, which through its interactive website, enriches the curriculum of elementary and secondary classrooms (primarily located in New York City but also nationwide) by connecting them to the experiences of volunteer Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) and other world travelers who are currently studying and living abroad.
Where do you consider your home? What are important parts of your home? Can your home change? When I was a kid, I had very clear answers to these questions. My home was 760 Crestwood. It was the brick house with a pine tree out front, my room inside with my stuffed animals and the people who lived there—my family! However, over time my understanding of my “home” changed. First, it changed when my parents divorced and then I had two homes and eventually two great families. It also changed when I decided to go to university over 1,000 miles away from Arizona. But even when my address changed and new people surrounded me, I always felt at home because I always had a community. What is a community? It can mean lots of things, but for me it means being surrounded by people who truly care about you, whether family, friends, teachers, coworkers or roommates.
Until I moved to Germany on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, my community always sprung from either my family or my school. However, when I arrived in Germany, I felt for the first time that I was very alone. I did not know anyone my city, all my coworkers seemed to already have their own friends and, on top of that, I was having a hard time speaking German. It’s much harder to make friends when you are not comfortable speaking their language!
Although I felt a little lost, I tried to make Germany my new home at first by making my apartment feel like a home. I live in what Germans call a “WG,” pronounced “vae-gae.” Basically, a WG is an apartment that a group of people, who didn’t know each other beforehand, decide to live in together because it is cheaper. In my WG, like most, I have my own big room, but then I share the kitchen and bathroom with my two German roommates. I got really lucky with roommates! Jules and Daniel are both very nice and help me with learning German. Also, they have helped me settle in by answering all my silly questions about how things work in Germany. For example, all the appliances in my apartment operate just a little differently than in the United States. When I first arrived, I could not figure out how to work the washing machine. Everything was in German abbreviations that I didn’t understand! I tried Googling “How to work a German washing machine,” but I eventually gave up and asked my roommate who politely helped me. Once the appliances were familiar, I then also decorated my room to make it more familiar as well. I hung pictures of my family and friends on the walls, I bought a bright orange bedspread to make the room feel happier and I moved the furniture around my room until it felt more open.
Nevertheless, like I mentioned before, what makes a home for me is the community I have. I decided that I would try to get more involved and meet people the way I knew best: school. I signed up for the local university to take a couple classes in German and suddenly I was a part of the international student program. There were students from all around the world, who were studying away from home and looking for friends just like me.
I met lots of people through the university’s events planned for international students. I now have friends from Sweden, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Italy! Can you find these countries on a map? Additionally, I made friends through simply doing the things that I love, such as by taking a tai chi class and volunteering at an organization that helps refugees. I already had something in common with these people, mainly an interest in sports or an interest in cultural exchange, and so it was easier to connect.
All in all, while it hasn’t always been easy, I have been able to integrate into my new community in Germany. So, now where do I consider my home? Germany! What are the important parts of my home? The friends that I have made here. And can my home change? Yes, my “home” is always growing to include the new places and people that I care about.