Sydney said something the other day that really stuck with me.
She was sitting on the couch by the window in our studio at AIB, and she had that super reflective thinking face she gets sometimes (a lot of the time actually). So I asked her what was wrong.
She said she was thinking back to the very first day we spent in Germany, and thinking about how foreign it all was. How the bus dropped us off on a strange street corner, and we walked through a strange garage door, into an unfamiliar courtyard, with all our suitcases (minus mine and Kelcey’s) in tow. How we went into a strange computer lab, met with an unfamiliar woman, and an unfamiliar boy who seemed to be our age. We explored a studio that was completely new, sat on couches that we’d never sat on before (and that were arranged completely differently), and talked to two other kids who had been studying in that studio. It was a completely new and foreign world.
But nowadays it’s different. I pass that street corner every day on my way to school and press the buzzer to get through that garage door (sometimes, not always. our school has a normal door too, I swear). I walk into that courtyard like it’s my own backyard. I don’t have a suitcase with me (not that I did before, still bitter), because everything I need is either there or at my host family’s house. That computer lab is still strange, because it’s for the physics students, but we’ve got our own computer lab that (especially during editing weeks) I’ve grown absurdly comfortable in. Olivia and Mauriz (and Patricia, who I met later) have helped me out so much this semester that I can’t even begin to thank them. They’ve become something so much more than “AIB Staff” to me. I’ve laughed with them, I’ve complained to them, I spent thanksgiving with them (wonderful experience), and discovered that Mauriz is actually a year younger than us (even though he’s basically 5x as mature as us). The studio welcomes me every morning; a familiar, messy sight to sleep-deprived eyes. We all plop onto those couches like they’re our own beds (except the one that previously had throw-up on it. That one we very carefully position ourselves on. Even though it’s been cleaned, the memory of it being there is just. . . yeah). I’ve taken more naps there than I should. Those kids left before we got back from Eifel, and the studio became ours. It feels like ours. It feels like home.
What was once a strange and foreign world, is now something that I’m struggling to imagine my life without.
Alex chimed in, mentioning how different Bonn seemed, or even just the Hauptbahnhof, when we first got here. I remember being amazed and insanely confused by everything. And now, while I certainly don’t know my way around as well as I should, I walk around Bonn confident in what to expect form my surroundings. I know the U-bahn station well enough to know which kiosk sells cheaper snacks when you’ve got a 30 minute wait for the next train (comes in handy when you want to avoid getting ripped off over a Ritter Sport).
Or even in my host family’s house. I come home and check the fridge for leftovers, but at the beginning of the semester I was almost afraid to touch anything because it was all so new; I didn’t want to be a nosy guest. But it all feels like home now.
I’ve thought about this for a while, and I remembered something I heard Hannah Smith say. “Coming back from study abroad was really hard for me.” I remember at the time I thought that was weird; wouldn’t you be happy to go home? To see your family and your friends?
But I do miss my friends, and my family. And I’m looking forward to spending Christmas with them. And yet, I still can’t stand the idea of leaving.
I’ve spent a lot of this semester thinking about attachment, and what it means to be at home in a place. And after looking back on it, I came to realize something.
I think I’m struggling so hard because this whole experience, and this magical place, have so heavily influenced me.
In my time here I’ve made new (and amazing) friends, and become closer with old ones. I connected with people in a way I never have before, with people who share a unique experience with me, that we know no one else has had. I experienced new places, new foods, new cultures, new languages, new perspectives. I finally saw the world beyond the bubble of the bluff or California’s Central Valley. I became more outgoing, I challenged myself to do things far beyond my comfort zone. For the first time in my life, I said “Forget about what is easy, and do what you know you never would have done, and what you may never get to do again.” I said yes to crazy adventures, even if they didn’t turn out so well. And I said no to regrets, to looking back and thinking I should have done it differently. And I’ve grown because of it. I’ve grown as a person, and I’ve grown as a filmmaker. Sappy though it may seem, my experience abroad has played an unforgettable role in my life.
And that’s my struggle. I’ve realized that I’ve never left a place or people that I care about permanently before. Whoever or wherever I left, I knew I would see again. And I very much hope to see Germany and these people again, but who knows what will happen.
How do you say goodbye to a place and to people that have helped you grow; to something that has become such an integral part of who you are?
You don’t. Or rather, you do, but not really.
A very wise woman recently told me, “the only way to move forward is to keep the good memories and to hang onto them.”
So that’s what I plan to do. To keep the memories and friends I’ve made here, take them with me, and look back on them and smile.
And today made it so much clearer to me that I had to do that, while also making it 5x harder to leave.
We spent our last day in Germany in the same place we spent our first days: the Eifel region. Specifically, in the woods in the hillside above the tiny town of Acht.
The bus dropped us off in front of the house we stayed in at the very beginning. The whole class, plus Rainer, Olivia, Patricia, Glenn, Nick, and Greg, all headed up the same path we took that early morning back in August.
The horses were gone, the cows were gone, the trees were less green, the sky was foggy, and the ground was muddy. And yet it was even more gorgeous than before.
We were all together for the last time. And we were all talking and laughing and reminiscing, and making fun of the people griping about the mud.
It was drizzling, and it was cold. But the trees looked wonderful against the overcast sky.
I laughed with Kim about how much harder the hike seemed before 4 months of European walking, I got sappy with Nader about how close we’d all become, and all of us joked about Rainer getting us lost on every other hike we’d gone on.
In almost no time at all, we reached the chapel. We all tried to sit in approximately the same places we had before, and they handed us candles to light. Rainer then passed out the letters we had written to ourselves at the beginning of the semester. Here’s what I wrote:
“I wish to find myself. . .
to try new things, to go fascinating places,
I wish to challenge myself. . .
to challenge my boundaries, expand my horizons,
to go on adventures, to face things that intimidate me.
I hope to learn, to forget my presumptions, and to be enveloped by the culture.”
I didn’t remember what I wrote until I read it this afternoon. And I wrote the first half of this post almost 2 weeks ago. So I’d say I accomplished everything on there (minus learning the language, so I’d say I missed out a bit on the cultural part).
After that we all sang “Hark the Harold, Angels Sing,” which, I know, sounds sappy. But it was actually really beautiful in the moment.
We went outside, left our candles in the little stands by the church (where Antonio and some other people burned their letters to be profound and whatnot), and then hiked a little more.
We stopped at this alter-ish thing, where people leave stones and make a wish. Which we all did. And I hope my wish comes true.
After that, we went to this cute little, Cafe, that didn’t even look real. The owners had dogs and a goat that basically acted like a dog. It was delicious German food, and we spent the whole time talking and laughing and recalling our first impressions of people. Then Olivia, Allie, and Patricia got up and sang “The 12 Days of Christmas” song, with lines substituted for each of us. Mine was something like ” on the Nth day of Christmas Kayla said to me [I don’t remember the number], I’m living in the AIB.” Which refers to the fact that I did practically live in the AIB’s editing lab during post-production. At one point in the end I hadn’t seen my host family in 3 days, because I got home after they were all in bed, and I woke up after they had all left.
After that, we all stepped outside, and Rainer poured us Glühwein out of a pot over a fire, and we all stood in a circle, sipped our wine, and recalled some of our favorite memories. From there, we got back on the bus, where Nick played us the funniest song ever that he had written for us.
And then, we headed back. The fog rolled in, the sun started setting, and the next thing I know we’re getting off the bus at the old AIB and saying our goodbyes to Olivia and Patricia.
We hung around for a bit, but eventually everyone had to go. There were hugs, there were tears, and there was of course laughter.
We grabbed one last Glühwein (or in my case, Heiße Schokolade mit Bailey’s) at the Weinnachts Markt with Mauriz, and then said our goodbyes to him and anyone not going on the bus to the airport, before heading home.
And just like that, my last day in Bonn was over. And now I’m sitting in my room at my host family’s house, wishing I had come home in time to eat dinner with them, looking at an empty closet where my clothes used to be, and petting Stitch, my favorite host-dog, while he lays on the bed.
And I still can’t believe I’m leaving tomorrow.
That was the hard part about today. It gave me time to reflect, and we all had the chance to spend one last day together in Germany. To lock in the memories before we leave. And it was bittersweet. I don’t do well with bittersweet. At all.
But laughing with everyone and saying our goodbyes, though it made me sad, made me all the more determined to hang on to the memories I’ve made, and the people I’ve shared them with. And while I’m sad to leave, I would much rather leave now, with the most amazing, life-changing experience I could have ever asked for, than to try to artificially elongate my time here. I think how in the moment and fleeting this experience was, makes it all the more magical. And it has it’s place, right here, right now, in this wonderful town in Germany. In the hills of the Eifel, on the side of a canal in Amsterdam, in the streets of Brugges and Brussels, atop the Cologne Cathedral, in a Moroccan restaurant in Berlin, a palace garden in Bruhl, at the top of Drachenfels in the Seven Hills, on a boat touring the Rhineland, in the bumper cars of Putzchen Markt, a rowdy tent at Oktoberfest, a freezing Bus in London, a noisy pub in Dublin, a beautiful beach in Croatia, a film festival in Leipzig, in the crowded streets of Karneval, in a cozy house on Carl-Duisberg-Straße, and, of course, a bright studio, with three couches, orange curtains, and a messy kitchen that we always forgot to clean, in the AIB.
With that, I say Auf Weidersehen, Until we meet again, Germany. (hopefully next time I see you, I’ll have learned more German)