My first week in Freiburg has been a roller-coaster of emotions and experiences. The flight from Chicago to Berlin left me completely exhausted, and my first impression of the Berlin airport was bewildering: I could not read the signs and the lay-out was quite different from any US airport that I had been to previously. I had a connecting flight to Stuttgart, but I accidentally exited the terminal and wandered around the airport until I figured out the gate from which my flight was leaving. I then had to go through the security check again before boarding my plane. Upon arriving at Stuttgart, I purchased train tickets to Freiburg (which was surprisingly easy), but had to change trains three times. I found it very difficult to figure out the train system, but luckily several helpful English-speaking Germans pointed me in the right direction. I remember that on the final train to Freiburg, I sat down at an on-train restaurant and heard a father and daughter next to me speaking English. I have never before experienced such comfort at hearing someone speak in my native language! After being so confused and awkwardly asking so many people to talk to me in English, I suddenly felt more at ease hearing them converse. My arrival at Freiburg, however, was the most difficult part of the journey. I had no map of the city, and no access to Google maps on my phone. I asked many people for help finding the Goethe Institute, dragging my gargantuan suitcase over the uneven cobbled streets, but received many different answers, though everyone said, “It is really close”! Hungry, thirsty, sleep-deprived, exhausted, foot-sore, and soaked with perspiration (and consequently smelling terrible), I finally found the Institute. At that point, all I wanted to do was go to my room, take a shower, and lie down. The staff at the Institute, however, expected me to immediately go through the initial orientation. I repeatedly asked to be taken to my room, explaining my situation, but it was some time before I got there: the driver insisted that we wait until some other people were ready to be taken to the hostel. My room was pleasant, but there were many small things that I found awkward: the door knob didn’t turn, the windows opened differently, the trash was sorted differently–nothing particularly difficult, but combined with everything else, the small changes exacerbated the stress of my initial entry, making me feel stupid and intrusive. The first night I felt crushing loneliness and fear, wondering, “Why on earth did I think this was a good idea?,” and “I can’t believe I am stuck here for two months!”
My first day of class at the Institute also brought many changes, but I soon found that my teacher and classmates are wonderful people. I was amazed at the diversity of people studying German alongside me: people from Spain, Italy, Saudi Arabia, India, Brazil, Mexico, Taiwan, and the US. After class on the first day, and in the subsequent afternoons, I spent many hours exploring the city and looking for various things that I needed to set up my room: food, laundry detergent, dish detergent, shampoo, a yoga mat, and the like. Figuring out what to buy was often difficult, since the labels were in German and contained obscure vocabulary (at least for me). I quickly learned that grocery bags cost 0,20 euros each, so everyone brings their own bags; you are also expected to bag your own groceries. Now that I have lived here almost a week, I feel much more comfortable. I love attending class and am encouraged by how much German I have learned, even in a short amount of time. The city of Freiburg is beautiful, and it will probably take me the better part of eight weeks to explore everything! The institute offers many activities, such as a concert that I plan to attend tomorrow. And I am slowly getting used to the way things are done here.