Before coming to Germany, I had forgotten how much I missed familiarity: familiar people, familiar foods, and familiar language (to an extent—more familiar than Hindi, Thai, Korean, or Mandarin for sure). While all of this familiarity came rushing back to me after my several months in Asia, after spending an extended amount of time in Germany, I can now see more of the differences that exist. For example, trying to figure out the German trashcans/recycling bins was a challenge at first. In Christin’s house, there are 4 separate containers under the sink for various types of refuse. Watching handball was also a first for me, as was discovering the deliciousness of Döners (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C3%B6ner_kebab). There are of course a lot more differences between Germany and the U.S. in culture, politics, sports, entertainment, and food, and I definitely felt my American-ness at times. After standing out so sharply in Asia, it was interesting for me to blend in so much more in Germany, yet still be so different in many regards. I do have to admit it was kind of nice in Asia having people assume that I didn’t speak their language because of how I look—although there were many occasions where I wish I could have surprised people by being able to understand the various languages. While I was impressed with the amount of German I had retained from one semester of it at Vanderbilt, it definitely wasn’t enough to get by actually trying to live like a German for a month. I did perfect the phrases “Es tut mir leid. Ich spreche nicht Deutsch,” meaning, “I’m sorry. I don’t speak German,” all said with a very convincing American accent.
Another area in which Germany and the US are quite different is in the health care systems. Without going into the pros and cons of either system, I do have to say I was impressed with the German health care system from what my friends parents were able to get from it. My friend’s dad was able to take an entire month off of work to go to a health clinic/spa sort of place as part of a health promotion course. There he was able to visit with doctors to talk about health and figure out ways to make his every day life back in Wolmirstedt healthier. We were able to visit Christin’s parents at the place where they were staying and enjoyed some of the benefits of the indoor pools, Roman vapor baths, quaint villages, and amazing sledding locations. My friend is in her fifth year (out of six) of German medical school, so I hear about diseases, health, and medicine quite a bit, which got me thinking that health is not an issue I have really explored in my exploration of the meaning of freedom around the world. This is what I hope to do in Africa, where I plan on volunteering at an HIV/AIDs clinic and seeing what opportunities arise from that.
I’m really excited about heading to Africa. After enjoying some time with people I know in a place I’ve been before, I’m geared up for the new experiences that have colored so much of my trip thus far. Now, time to pack those bags….