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.
One thing that never changes, no matter where you are in the world, is how fast time goes by. It was almost exactly a year ago that I found out I had won a Fulbright U.S. Student grant and would be spending this year in Germany teaching English. Now, as I look forward, it’s hard to believe I only have four more months left in Germany and that this is my last journal entry for Reach the World. However, thinking about the passage of time brings me to one of the most important pieces of advice I can give to someone planning on pursuing a Fulbright grant: take it one day at a time.
I cannot emphasize this point enough. When I realized I was going to be leaving behind everything I knew and embarking on this journey in a foreign country, I was very excited, but I was also terrified. Thinking about moving to a foreign country for a year, especially one that speaks a different language is scary. When you think about the fact that you won’t see your friends or family for months, it can be sad. When you think about trying to find a place to live, navigating a new lifestyle and making new friends, it can be daunting. However, I’ve learned that instead of thinking about all those things at once and totally freaking myself out, I need to think about these things one day at a time.
I know that many people think that they couldn’t possibly spend a year, a semester or even a week in a different country, because there are so many differences and obstacles to overcome. In reality, though, if you take things one day at a time or one step at a time, traveling and living abroad is not nearly as overwhelming as it may first appear. When I arrived in Germany, I had to get from the Frankfurt airport to a tiny town in Bavaria and find my new home. Before leaving the United States, this seemed nearly impossible. However, when I arrived in Frankfurt, I took things one step at a time. I followed the signs in the airport to the train station, I found the platform listed on my ticket, I got on the train going to my town and when the train stopped in Haßfurt, I got off.
Of course, not everything is always that easy. When traveling, you are most likely going to make mistakes, you might accidentally offend someone and you might make a fool of yourself, but in the big scale of things, does it really matter? You will use these moments to learn and if nothing else, you will have a funny story to tell your friends later. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made mistakes while living in Germany, but after a while, I’ve grown accustomed to it. I know I won’t always understand what’s going on around me or what I’m supposed to be doing and that’s o.k. with me. So don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone, it’s almost always more interesting outside of it.