2018 Spring Conor Freeley External Programs Germany IES Abroad

Heimat Zurück: Final Reflections

I have been back in the States for a few weeks now, and it still feels like everything was such a dream. Two and a half weeks have passed since I rode my last U-Bahn and had my last Döner, and today I decided to peruse through some of my pictures. While looking at a picture of my friends and I in the Szecheyni Baths in Budapest, it finally hit me. I really did that. My classes ended and I hopped on a plane to Hungary and ran around Budapest for a few days. Sitting in my Temple apartment writing this post, I can’t imagine something like that spontaneity and adventure being the norm, but they were.

The journey home was a long and emotional one.

The last few weeks in Berlin were an incredible, blissful blur. After two months of gray, melancholy, and cold days, the sun came out. And just like a flower in the spring, Berlin blossomed. There is a saying in the city, “Frühlings kam und Berlin war die schönste Platz der Erden” or “Spring came, and Berlin became the prettiest place in the world.” Words do not describe how remarkably the city transformed in my last few weeks there. During the winter, people were sheltered inside, grumpy, and gloomy. As soon as the sun came out, however, everyone was happy, active, and spending the least amount of time inside as possible. It seemed like a whole new city. Every day we were outside. Whether it was playing soccer at Templehofer Feld, walks along the Spree, or nights at KlunkerKranich, a rooftop parking garage converted into a disco-bar, we were always outside. A major highlight of all of these beautiful Sundays was spending the entire day at Mauerpark, a frenetic open air market that sells literally anything and everything in the world, from food to street signs to German military jackets. Everything about this market is quintessentially Berlin, especially the fact that it is set up in the former “death strip,” or space in between the two sides of the Berlin wall, where East German guards had free will to shoot refugees fleeing westward–another example of a place that has an incredibly dark history, transformed into a vibrant center of happiness and celebration.

But, like all good things, my time in Berlin had to come to an end.

My program totaled only 44 American students from all across the country, which is minuscule compared to study abroad programs in other European cities. Because of the prog intimate size, we all became one big, diverse, dysfunctional family. Saying goodbye was hard. Although a few groups of people came from the same school, most of the students were the only representative from their schools, like me, and almost no one had met each other before the program started. Although I never doubted that I would find friends, I also never thought that I would find a family. I had never met a single person before January, and yet it felt like we had known each other for years. While the goodbyes were emotional and difficult, I was thankful for the lifelong friendships that I have made with people from across the country.

After saying goodbye to my friends, I headed home to have a farewell drink with my hosts. Predictably, we spent a few hours at a local kneipe talking about American and German politics. The next day, in my much improved German, I thanked them, bid farewell, and headed for Tegel airport. Naturally, I couldn’t rip it off like a band-aid, so I headed to Dublin for a 12-hour layover, and spent one final night in my ancestral home before I headed to my real home.

Getting off the plane, I began to notice things I had never even thought about before. Signs were in English. Prices were in dollars. I could approach customer service workers with full confidence. After a much needed stop at Dunkin Donuts for my first, real, Bostonian iced coffee in months, I headed home for a much needed nap.

Now, almost three weeks later, I have begun to fully adjust. Having returned to the U.S. so early, I decided to spend the month of May on campus, getting some work done and making some money.  Although my first walk past the Bell Tower felt surreal, it now feels like I never left.

Re-adjustment has not been totally painless and my bank account reflects the semester of travel. Yet, every second and every (euro) cent were so incredibly worth it. Although this past fall I was debating whether or not it was the right choice, I can’t believe I ever even considered not doing it.

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Sundays at Mauerpark
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Sunny days along the Spree

 

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