It was grey the day I arrived, and it was grey the day I departed. The heavy, low-lying clouds brought me a reassuring sort of comfort, and the refreshing breeze flowing between the apartment complexes and the Straßenbahn tracks of Karlsruhe Nordstadt reminded me to breathe slowly and deeply to keep my emotions at bay. It was pouring rain the first time I lugged my black suitcase with anything but grace and ease over the cobble-stoned sidewalks; and although droplets didn’t fall from the sky’s loose grasp as I walked away from my building for the last time, the gloom in the air was palpable. Perhaps it was the weight of my luggage or the heaviness of my heart that made my feet move like blocks of lead as I boarded onto my last Straßenbahn, but two things were for sure: A part of me was staying behind here in Karlsruhe, and the person leaving it behind was no longer the same as the individual who had brought it here in the first place.
In my opinion, life is full of juxtapositions. I like to think that there are patterns that flow through everything we do – from the places we visit, to the people we meet, to the activities we participate in along the way; and if we are paying attention closely enough, we are given the opportunity to acknowledge magnificent details that might otherwise go unnoticed. From my time abroad here in Germany, I have been observant of a particular cultural tool that I myself especially used during my transition into a new environment, and it involves this basis of comparison and contrast that we apply to our realities in order to understand the world itself. From grocery shopping in an entirely new environment, to that often awkward introductory conversation with a stranger, there is a dominant characteristic manipulating our choices and interactions, and it is this: we are constantly searching for familiarity.
Naturally, there are many components that influence us over time, but it is the concoction of our mixed experiences and diverse lifestyles that tint our vision of what is good and what is truth. The way that we maintain and continuously build upon our identities has entirely to do with the ways in which we equate minor characteristics in our surroundings with an idea at large. This search for familiarity is a game that we are constantly playing, where the purpose is not necessarily receiving the answers themselves to our gaps of understanding, but instead recognizing the internal and external transformations which occur in the process.
In attempts to develop meaning out of my time abroad, I took a chance at trying to understand this search for familiarity, and here is what I have determined:
As stated in the movie Into the Wild, “Happiness is only real when shared.” A single location can solace an individual, but it is the company of others that instills significance in our interactions with our environment.
I once wrote in an Instagram post concerning Germany that you know the place where you belong when find the place where you long to be; however, I now believe that belonging is a not as much of a spontaneous impulse as it is a committed choice. It’s easy to love something when seeing it at its best; but still admiring it at its darkest hour is the real sign of appreciation.
My European journey began and ended with a magnificent trip to the Swiss Alps. As a native Montanan, I find that where there are mountains, there is a perfect canvas for deep reflection, and it has been a big Bucket List dream of mine to visit these famous, beautiful ridges. But as I stood on these high peaks, the most reoccurring thought was that of home. I suppose we can travel the world, achieving goals and going great lengths, but wherever we go, the greatest thing we carry with us is our origins.
(Special thanks to GLI for the worldwide support, the educational guidance, and the indispensable stimulating inspiration)