On my recent trip home to the United States, friends and family asked me how I was adjusting to Germany. Truthfully, I had not compared my life locations very much as the past several weeks were preoccupied with studying for my licensing exam (on which I thankfully kicked ass despite nearly having a panic attack when hitting the “ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO SUBMIT YOUR EXAM? THERE IS NO TURNING BACK NOW!” button). Now that I have thought about this more thoroughly, I realize that life is not so different here. The change between my days as a non-profit program director in Poughkeepsie and as a farmer on a Native American reservation in Northern California feels more drastic than this transition on most levels. The commonality between these moves to Hoopa and Aalen is the isolation, although in the former it was due to race relations and the latter is now because of language.
A differing language actually has some advantages. One of the first things I noticed back home is the overwhelming nature of chatter. As I rode public transportation (in a fourteen hour travel stupor) from the airport to my home, the conversations of those nearby was quite bothersome, most of it very vapid. Additionally, for those that speak English here in Aalen, they are typically excited to practice with me when they discover I am American and an immediate, happy conversation occurs. Yet, most connections so far are a little shallow. There are a few co-workers of V’s that I trust will become close friends, but I have yet to forge a deeper connection with a stranger that I have met, enough so that I at least want to ask them to socialize. From yoga classes to nutritional yeast to infoshops, there are many things, events, and places that I cannot find or access here, and German language ability would undoubtedly ease this. There is no way that I will really know Aalen as a community and culture until I can speak and understand the prevailing language.
On Monday, I began my Deutsch Klasse. Since my first day back in Germany last Thursday, V and I have been staying at our apartment. The walk to town is downhill and cuts through an old apple orchard early on. It requires about twenty-five minutes to travel door to classroom, just a tad more than my daily graduate school stroll through Washington Park in Albany. I cannot vouch enough for a morning walk, especially when the air is slightly chilly; there is nothing better to really awaken one and ready them for learning or work. I don’t know why I fought so hard against period one gym class in high school, and I now think such activity should be compulsory to promote student achievement.
There are sixteen students ranging in age from 18 to 75 and hailing from eleven countries: China, Taiwan, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Latvia, Israel, India, Argentina, Pakistan, and the good old US of A. There is one person who has been in Deutschland for one month and one who has been here for three years. The vast majority of my classmates are taking the classes as part of Integration requirements as they seek permanent resident or citizenship status. For now, I am simply requesting a student visa; while course and content is the same for all of us, it is acceptable for me to miss classes on occasion, such as when I travel to India in a couple of months. Class is five days per week for 3 ¼ hours per day.
Since I moved here, I have indeed learned some German (through the help of Rosetta Stone and fellow pub patrons). I feared the classes would be too basic, but school officials assured me that it would be impossible to learn enough on my own to skip the introductory level. While these first three days have been rather slow, they are still important; each session requires lots of speaking, which is my area of least confidence and practice. Since some students know no German, it is helpful to lean over and attempt to explain difficult topics to them (although the vast majority do not know English either). My classmates all appear to be upstanding and patient people, and so far I don’t mind spending my mornings with them. It certainly eases the isolation.