I’ve been in Graz for about two months and a half now, and in another two months, I head back to New Mexico! In this post, I’m just going to reflect on my experiences thus far, and what I feel like I have learned.
This week is midterms, and I have three different exams all in my German classes. I’m only actually worried about one of them just because I feel like there’s a lot that I haven’t kept up with. Since the classes here only meet once a week, it’s easy to put them off, or only do what’s assigned for the upcoming week. I do love this type of schedule for my German courses here, but I think I would still prefer my science classes back home to meet 3 times a week. They also assign a lot less homework here than in the US. Again, it’s nice since this is my “break” semester, but I like the regular classes and assignments in the US that force me to stay caught up.
I had also almost forgotten that Thanksgiving was coming up! I’ll miss all the turkey and pumpkin pie, but on the plus side, since they don’t celebrate it here, there is officially nothing standing in the way between me and Christmas! The Christmas Markets opened this week, and all the streets are lined with Christmas lights (I’ll make a post about the markets soon). It’s also starting to get chilly, and all that together means I’m feeling super festive already! After next week, I only have 3 more weeks until Christmas break. That means only 3 more classes for each course I’m taking. I really cannot believe it.
On another note, although I doubt myself constantly, I do feel like my German has improved. I’m not as embarrassed to speak, and the words are coming more easily than they used to. I think what helped me improve the most was learning to read for the main idea and to speak with the intention of getting my point across. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist, so the hardest part of speaking for me is saying something that I know is wrong because I don’t know the right way to say it. I got over that, though. I finally realized (after being told by almost every German teacher I’ve had) that if I stutter, mispronounce something, or use the wrong article or preposition, people will still understand me. Also, when I read things for class or just around town, I have been trying not focus so much on each word that I don’t understand. In the past, I was one of those people who looked up every single word I didn’t know in the dictionary. I even did it in English class when I was in high school, and it drove me to hate reading at some point. Stopping to look every word up interrupts the flow of the passage or book and turns a fun leisurely activity into a time consuming stressful task. I’ve learned to focus more on what I do understand than what I don’t because more often than not, it’s enough. I can understand most of the signs I see, and I feel like I could communicate just about any idea I have in German. Those two things together make me feel like not as much of an outsider here in Graz.
At this point, I am dreading the idea of leaving. The feeling hit me especially hard as I was recently registering for my spring semester back at UNM. I feel like there’s so much I still want to do and so many places I still want to go, but I feel like I’m running out of time. I also just love being in Graz. I love how close together everything is, the way the small streets and buildings look, the food, the culture, the people, this city, this country, and most of all, I just love the way my life is here. I love the change. Everything is so laid back, and I feel like I have finally slowed down. I feel like I have a choice in what I want to do every day, which is something I haven’t felt in a long time. Back in Albuquerque, I had class/work/lab almost all day every day. Even when I had free time, there was always something I was supposed to be doing. But here, I have time to think about what I want to do. I spend time walking and looking around, and just being present throughout the day as it passes. Even now with midterms coming up, I don’t feel stressed. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more relaxed. The cool thing about having mainly German classes is I feel like I’m always learning, or studying in some way. Whether it’s reading a post in German online or just walking around town talking to people, I am working on my German, and that’s essentially what I’m studying the language for.
On an even more personal note, I have had time to reflect these past couple of months, and it has been quite the whirlwind of emotions. I was surprised at how little I had thought through a lot of pretty major decisions I have made in my life, just because I thought I never had the time. I have heard of people, and I personally know people, who study abroad and just never come back. They realize they have been missing something, and they change their lives completely. I found, though, that one can come to the opposite conclusion from going abroad as well. From questioning what in the world I was doing to being confident in the path I was taking, I feel like I am now, in a way, “more grounded.” I guess the question I have come across is:
Do you want to know what you want just because you don’t know about all the other things there are out there? Or do you want to want what you want even though you know that there are all these other things out there?
I think I prefer the latter. When you do something drastically different than what you have been doing, I suppose the outcome varies. Amongst many other conclusions you may reach, you may realize that you haven’t been living the life you want to live. You may find out there are other things out there that you would rather be doing, and that you want to go “live your dream.” It seems so appealing to live this “dream.” How cool would it be to drop everything and just leave with nothing but a small bag? Maybe your dream is to quit your 8-5 job to live in Tuscany and work at a vineyard, or to be a ski bum in the Alps. Maybe you want to open a restaurant in New York, or work with dolphins in Hawaii. What if we are all doing the wrong things, and the things we see as “far-fetched” or just “crazy” are what we should be doing? After searching for a concrete and straight forward answer, I realized there wasn’t one, and I’d have to discover the answer myself.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me throughout school and college “how did you study for this class?” or “what did you do to study for this test?” I’ve asked those same questions, too. When I was studying for the ACT in high school, I asked my friend who had aced it, “What’s your secret?” He said, “I just got the prep book and I studied.” So, I got the prep book, and I studied too. While some people do flashcards, some people just read the book, some people study in groups at the library, and some people sit in their rooms alone and lock the door, we are all doing what works for us. I realized that after having studied my whole life, I know myself, and I know what works for me. As a former tutor, I’ve actually sat down and tried to tell people what strategies or resources I used for certain classes. I told them about certain methods or techniques I found helpful, but people don’t listen anyway. They learn for themselves. We do what’s best for us by doing what we know works for us, and what we know will reward us in the long run.
So, I guess in the same way we could ask people “What is the key to your success***”? or in other words “Which path did you take to happiness, so that I can take it too?” In response, we would get an endless variety of answers. People might tell you their idea of success comes from home and family. They enjoy being in the same place as their loved ones surrounded my comfort and familiarity. They might tell you they don’t mind their 8-5 job, because they know it means they can still have time to be with their family and night and on weekends. Others might tell you they yearn for spontaneity and adventure–waking up in the morning, and having no idea where they are or what they’re going to do, but making the most out of it. Maybe they’re the ones who would drop everything to move Europe, and who would take this risks that a lot of us chose to stray away from. So, I guess I could look at one person and ask myself if I lived near my family in my hometown for the rest of my life, would I be happy and feel successful like him? And then I would look at the other person and ask myself I dropped everything I was doing and went backpacking across Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world, would I be happy and feel successful like her?”
I suppose in both cases, as well as all other possible ones, I’d have to tell myself, no. Even if I sit down and tell you how I studied for this class, and how I got the grades I did, it wouldn’t help you. Not because it didn’t work for me, but it took me my whole life figuring out how I learn and how I study to be able to realize what I need to do for myself. If you just do what I do, you’re cutting yourself short of doing the best you can do, and being as successful as you could be. In the same way, if I sit down and listen to how someone else found happiness in their life, and I attempt to mimic their ways, I would be selling myself short. I would never be as successful as I could be if I just reflected on my own experiences and came to my own conclusion.
During one of my recent trips, I was sitting in an airport by myself with all these thoughts running through my head. I looked up at the airport screen and saw flights to everywhere in the world. Asia, South America, Africa; I could really go anywhere, I thought. I could just leave, and be anyone I wanted to be. Then, as if someone had put it there just for me, I saw an advertisement on the side of a column in the middle of the airport. It said “I decided who I wanted to be, and that is myself.”
I don’t even know what the ad was for, but I’ve been repeating that to myself over and over for the past few weeks. Every person is so unique and what makes everyone happy is so different. Maybe working that 8-5 job makes you happy. Maybe it gives you that sense of security you have dreamed of your whole life. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you can never be happy in one place and that’s why you want to spend the rest of your life going from one places to the other. Either way, I decided what I want and what I need, and it’s actually what I’ve always wanted and needed. I’ve just never been as sure as I am now.
These thoughts can be overwhelming, and I think a lot of people lose their way thinking the grass is always greener on the other side, but if I’ve learned anything these past couple months, it’s to focus on your own lawn, or garden. It’s to tend to your garden and water your plants to make sure you are doing the best that you can for yourself. At the same time, though, I think it’s important to keep in mind that everyone has this same metaphorical garden too. Some people are more fortunate than others and have the opportunity to grow a lot of different things in their garden, while others were born less fortunate circumstances. Privilege aside, some may find for instance, that they derive happiness from planting red roses, while others prefer, I don’t know, sunflowers. So, although we all choose to do different things with our gardens, I whole heartedly believe that each of us, as different as we are, have the same size garden, and that all of us, as unique as we believe to be, are actually quite similar.
I talked about our differences in the way we chose to live and our paths to success, but now I will reflect on all the similarities I’ve noticed. I have met and talked to people from many different places, and yeah everyone is so different, and yeah everyone wants different things, but at our core, I have come to believe that we are much more similar than we are different. I guess what I’m trying to say is that in focusing on myself and doing what’s best for myself, I am not saying that I am in some way greater or more valuable than anybody else. I do not believe the path to what we deem success determines our worth. Maybe we want different things in life, and different things make us happy, and maybe we come from different countries and are influenced by different societies, but at the end of the day a person is a person and a life is a life and I am just trying to make the most out of the one I’ve been given. It’s not worth any more than anyone else’s, and it’s not any more special, but it’s mine.
I’ve also been watching the “Humans of New York” video series lately (if you haven’t, you definitely should). Over and over again, I find myself relating with people who have nothing in common with me. These people are homeless, happy, poor, black, white, and all the above, yet somehow when they speak of their experiences, I feel like I understand what they are feeling; I feel like I’ve had a lot of those feelings, too. Maybe there are just certain things we learn from tending to this metaphorical garden we all have. We focus so much on how different each of gardens look, but if we take everything out of the garden that we have accumulated from life choices, personal preference, and of course, privilege; if we take out all the plants in our garden, we end up with a small patch of dirt. Then, if we look around, we will see that everyone else also has the same small patch of dirt, and that underneath all our differences, we can all identify and relate to each other, because we are really not that different after all.
So anyway, that’s what’s going on right now. I’m half way through my semester abroad, and I’ve been pondering all these ideas in my head. Maybe I just overthink everything, maybe I just have too much time on my hands, I really don’t know. Maybe it has to do a little bit with my German getting better. Once I put the language aside, I realized that the people in Graz were not that different than those in Albuquerque. Just like on “Humans of New York,” they’ve had different experiences and different opportunities, which have led to different desires and goals. Thinking back as a teenager, I always thought I was so unique and so special. I felt like no one would ever understand me because I was just truly extraordinarily different. And maybe I am unique in a lot of ways that each and every one of us are unique in, but maybe at the same time, I’m not. I went abroad expecting to see how different people are in other places in the world. Instead, it has fascinated me how similar we all are in so many ways, despite how unique and special each person is. It’s contradicting, right? To be the same yet so different, but I believe it is so.
Anyway, if you made it through, thanks for reading and for being a part of this with me. It’s just my opinion and thoughts, and I realize I still have so much left to learn. And that’s all! Everything is going great, I couldn’t ask for better, and I cannot wait for Christmas.
**I asterisked the word “success” because I mean it as an overarching term defined as “what one wants in ones’ life”, or “something that would bring someone the most happiness or self-satisfaction.” I actually took an entire literature class on the meaning of success, and although it often has monetary implications in today’s society, that is not the definition used in this post. After analyzing literature from 2000 years ago to modern day in the course I took, I concluded that success was in fact entirely personal and varies from person to person, just like “our path to happiness,” which is why I used that word over and over. It can be interchangeable with “happiness” or “self-actualization,” or I don’t know, whatever it is you are searching for in your life.
|“food for thought”|