Reflections on a First Week

Looking at my calendar this morning, I realized that today was the 7th of January, which means I have now been here exactly eight days, away from New York a day longer. I’ve been wanting to write the ever-fretted-about first blogpost since the day I got here, but, as is always the case, whether with emails, blogs, or any other form of writing, life took over, and every time I sat down to write I found myself exhausted by the myriad activities and events that had taken place over the previous several hours.

But here I start, and I must say the first week here has been overwhelming. I’m still somewhat of a ball of stress right now, feeling exactly the same as I did the day before I left, when my mind grew eerily quiet (quite an accomplishment for one who, at any given moment, worries about at least ten things at a time), and all those questions and answers rattling around in there, somehow trying to meet up with each other, all of a sudden died down to make way for one overarching thought: I’m actually doing this. You see, other people do this, not me. Of all the futures I imagined for myself even a few months back, this would not have been one of them. I love traveling, yes, but what I’m doing now is something more than that, something much more difficult, but also much better. If you had asked me six months ago what I would be doing now, I would have predicted I would be hunkering down for a much-needed rest after slogging through applications to Ph.D programs across the US (or at least, you know, the Northeast). If you had asked me six months before that, I would have predicted I would now be at Oxford, safely ensconced within that city of lofty spires and ideas, studying British modernism and preparing to write yet another paper about Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene. If you had suggested to me at any other ime in my life that I would one day be moving to a foreign country without any definite plans, but with only the vaguest whispers of hopes to guide me—and that that country would be Germany—I would have thought you were crazy. I would have thought I was crazy. I still do.

So how did I end up here, exactly? Well, that is a story that is best told in person; one that no doubt most of the people reading this have heard already. But the quick version goes something like this: I didn’t get into Oxford, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. A professor of mine suggested I learn German to impress the graduate schools, and so I came to Berlin and found that I adored German but didn’t really care so much about impressing a lot of academics I’d never met before. I realized that I could come to a city where I knew no one, not a street name, and not a word of the language, and construct a whole life for myself; one that, after two months, I found impossible to leave behind.

And now I’m here, and there’s a firmly-packed layer of ice on the ground, with new flurries of snow adding their weight to it every day. The sun comes up at eight in the morning and goes down by about four, and everything that happens now has to happen indoors. There will be no more bike riding for at least two months more, and leaving the house to go anywhere takes twice as long because it seems like such an ordeal. People who ask me why I came back in January might have a point. And yet, without even taking a moment to think, I am immediately and thoroughly satisfied with my decision to come back. I have a big scarf that wraps around my head twice and snowboots that grip instead of slip. I have two hot water bottles and I’ve just been taught how to use them. I have two pumpkins sitting on my table waiting to be made into soup, and the promise of an interesting praktikum (paid internship) at a German advertising agency. Finally, I’m no longer sitting at my computer in New York, looking longingly at photographs and messages from Berlin friends. I’m here.