About the language acquisition process, I think I foremost learned that mistakes are the most important part of the process along with asking about things that you don’t know. There were so many times when I would be speaking with my host family, make a mistake, and then immediately be corrected by usually the mother of my host family. At first, these sorts of moments were maybe a little embarrassing (for example, a waiter once asked for my name, and I told him it was hot outside). But now I will not mistake, for example, “spannend,” “exciting,” with “entspannend,” “relaxing,” because the mother of my host family corrected me when I told her I just received “ein entspannendes Email,” really intending quite the opposite. On a similar note, when I don’t know a word or when I am unsure about what something is or where something is, I need only ask, and the asking is crucial to learning about the language and the culture. Inquiry gives an opportunity to practice speaking with locals and to learn things that only locals know. It’s rather interesting and important for getting an ear for the language. I learned quite a bit, and I certainly did meet my pre-departure goals. I am certainly more comfortable having casual conversations with other German speakers; towards the end of my stay, I became very comfortable with a German-German dictionary; I have begun reading some German theology with a good amount of success; and I am very comfortable making a fool of myself with all sorts of good German mistakes. It was quite the adventure, and I have grown much as a person and in my knowledge of the German language.
The SLA program has provided me an invaluable experience in shaping my view of the world. Of course, I learned much about Germany, branching out of my American bubble in that way; however, all of my classmates came from all over the world, and so many worldviews converging in such a coincidental and spectacular way was truly a gift. My friends and I often exchanged variances among our countries, things from humorous colloquialisms in our own mother tongues to serious political or moral topics. The differences were interesting, but I was surprised by how many similarities came up. In an attempt not to be so presumptuous, I had imagined that everywhere is very different from the United States, and that it is; however, people are people. Humanity is one, and so it is very important to respect others and regard others as equals in dignity and uniquity. If I were to give advice to prospective SLA applicants, I would certainly say to prepare to be amazed. The world is rather large and diverse, but the kindness and generosity of other people crosses even language barriers. To learn another language is to learn a new people and literally a new manner of thinking. It is quite the privilege, and I encourage all prospective students to take advantage of this unique opportunity.
From here, there is much that I hope to do with my newfound knowledge of German language and culture. One of them is, naturally, to return to Germany one day, for it is a place that I have absolutely loved. Another is to read. I want to study literature in different languages professionally, and I have purchased quite a good start of German books that I will have the great pleasure to read during the remnant of my summer and again and again throughout my life. Thanks to this experience, I have opened a door to a world of new literary tradition and history that I greatly look forward to exploring. My host family has also given me an extensive list of German films that are worth my viewing, so that will also give me a good way to keep up my German while not in Germany. But more broadly, I have found a new way of understanding others and inexplicable amazement at the diversity yet the singularity of us all, and so while my time in Germany has given me tools that will help me professionally, the more important fruits of my SLA experience will inform how I am to interact with others and with what purpose and understanding I will act in bettering the world.