Emily an the University of Erfurt (2018)

Time is a tricky thing. Sometimes it moves quickly, like the currents of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers that conflux in my hometown, St. Louis, Missouri. While other phases of life move at a much smoother, more measured pace, similar to the mild currents of the Gera River that runs through my new Heimat of Erfurt, Thuringia. Thirteen months after returning from my VDAC sponsored exchange year in Erfurt, I find myself back in the Green Beating Heart of Thuringia. No matter what anyone tries to tell you: reverse-culture shock is a real thing! I found myself slipping into a depression rather quickly upon returning to Florida Atlantic University (hence FAU). I missed the slow-paced student life that had fit me so well in Erfurt. It was difficult to spend so much time stuck in traffic, and all the while knowing that in other parts of the world there are trams and bike paths in abundance, enough to make commuting to school and work comfortable for everyone. I spent the majority of my senior year at FAU hanging out with Lisa Zink, the new VDAC exchange student from Kassel whom I had met Homegoing and Going Home Emily Silliman (St. Louis, Missouri – Erfurt) at the Rückkehrer-/Begrüßungs-Seminar in Tubingen during June 2017.

Interestingly enough, Lisa and I both attended this past Tubingen seminar as alumni. The city was as beautiful as ever, exactly as I remembered it from two years ago. The same weeping willows looking over the Neckar, the same scent of summer flowers hanging in the air, the same crowded streets full of selfie taking tourists and stressed out students. However, I was not the same. My perspective on life has changed, widened since my exchange year.

My reasons for returning to Erfurt are many and varied, far too complex to cover in a two-page Bericht, but, in short, my experiences abroad have served to shape me into an individual who no longer thrives in the hectic pace that contemporary American society embodies. I found a sense of contentment in Erfurt that I haven’t been able to find elsewhere. Perhaps it will not always be that way, as visas tend to expire faster than desired, and I miss other aspects of my American life. Yet, for now – for this time in my life: I want the slow summer days spent grilling with my friends at Klein-Venedig; I want peaceful evenings spent studying at the University’s library; I want morning bike rides through Erfurt’s medieval Innenstadt, taking in the crisp, clean air.

While I am happy with my decision to move back to Germany, there are drawbacks that I had not anticipated. It is sharply painful to be so continuously far away from my family. There are still times when I feel so out of place, so obviously foreign that I have to fight back the tears until I get back to my tiny student dorm and call my mom. There are times when I worry that I will never have roots in one place that I will forever be torn between two continents. The rational, more realistic voice of reason in my head reassures me that wherever I am, either side of the Atlantic, there I’ll be. Enigmatic, I know - true to form, as I am a Literature student, after all.

There are trials and tribulations at nearly ever intersection of life, whether that life crosses continents or not. Whatever the future holds, I am ready - come what may. My time with the VDAC has given me more chances and opportunities than I could have ever imagined possible. My exchange year allowed me to dream about what manner of life I wanted to lead. Without that chance to dream, I would have never had the courage to complete and send off my Master’s application to the University of Erfurt. For the time being, I will try to bridge the transatlantic gap in my life; between my family in the States and my new life here in Germany. My parent’s already have a trip booked to visit this summer, and I plan to return home every Christmas to celebrate with my brother and our extended family. As for the future? We shall see – as only time will tell.