Aufwiedersehen Deutschland

IMG_7725Aufwiedersehen.

Translation: Until we see each other again. Today is the day I say goodbye to my home for the past eleven months. As sad as I am to say goodbye to this place, I am infinitely more sad to say goodbye to the people who have made my experience here so worth while.

When I said goodbye to Heidelberg three months ago, I was not horribly sad, because I knew I would return to Germany in a few short weeks for my internship here in Hildesheim. I had a return ticket, a promise that my German adventure would continue, all be it in a slightly different form. But this time, I have no return ticket. Who knows when I’ll be back- a few months? Years? Decades? I don’t know what the larger future holds, but I do know I’ll California for the next two years until I graduate college. So unless someone invents teleportation, this is goodbye for the immediate future. But I am headed to another country I love, filled with more people who deeply care for me. I can’t wait to see my family and friends again! And I will carry the lessons I’ve learned here with me for the rest of my life.

Germany has taught me more about myself in eleven months than school has taught me in fourteen years. I’ve learned how truly competent, capable, and confident I am. I’ve pushed myself further outside my comfort zone than I thought possible. My eyes have been opened to new perspectives, cultures, and ways of life. But the most important lesson I’ve learned is that people are good, no matter where they live. We all have hopes, fears, struggles, successes. We are all just trying to make it in this crazy world, and we must help each other along the way. The friends I’ve made here are the real deal. I will cherish them always.

I can already tell my life has been divided into two distinct parts: Before Germany and After Germany. So thank you Germany. You will always hold a piece of me heart dear country. Aufwiedersehen!

P.s. Enjoy these photos from my week at church camp! IMG_8073IMG_8078IMG_8075 ^This angel is basically my German little sister 🙂IMG_8070IMG_8039IMG_8027IMG_7952IMG_7909IMG_7905IMG_7903IMG_8065 ^Could she be any cuter? No, the answer is no.IMG_7824IMG_7791IMG_7763IMG_7718IMG_7710IMG_7704IMG_7696IMG_7781 ^What a bunch of clowns.IMG_8053 ^I’m obsessed.  IMG_7663^I was more excited about the zip-line than the kids were…

IMG_7668IMG_7677P.s. Just because I’m heading back state side, doesn’t mean this blog is going anywhere! I will keep writing about my adventures and experiences back in good ol’ California. You can’t get rid of me that easily :p

Lessons Learned From Living Out Of A Suitcase

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I’ve been living out of a suitcase for the past eleven months. Sure, I unpacked my things into my closet, but I only have 50 lbs. of material possessions to my name. I’ve never been a minimalist by any means, in fact, I love shopping and collecting special things here and there. So when I had to narrow down my wardrobe into a tiny suitcase in preparation for my year abroad, I was surprised by just how much stuff I had collected over the years. How on earth would I choose what stays and what goes? I felt as though I needed everything, that I just couldn’t live without those sparkly purple pumps or that extra purse! But slowly, I’ve come to love having a smaller wardrobe and fewer possessions, and am actually dreading facing my closet at home in California. I like being able to pack up and take off without a second thought! So, here are three things I’ve concluded about my year living out of a suitcase that might inspire you to pare down a bit as well:
1. Stuff can weigh you down- I often end up stressing about how to fit everything in my suitcase, when if I was honest with myself, I know I won’t wear half the stuff anyways. I used to pack three outfits for a one day trip- so unnecessary. Now I try and only bring the essentials. I ask myself “Can I live without this?” before packing anything, and the answer is usually yes.
2. The less decisions, the better- Having too many clothes to choose from in the morning can lead to decision fatigue. We already have to make so many tiny decisions every day, might as well simplify your life and only have two shirts to decide between instead of seven. I promise, you will feel less overwhelmed and less stressed overall.
3. Be selective- This post is not to say stuff is bad. I LOVE stuff! It reminds us of people, places, or times in our lives. It is functional and beautiful. But wouldn’t you rather have less stuff that really means something to you than more stuff that is just taking up space? Be selective in what you purchase, so it holds value for years to come.
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Hope you enjoyed this little post friends!
Question of the day
Do you struggle with over-packing? Or is it easy for you to pare down?

Five Little Differences Between Germany and America

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Ok, so there are obviously more than five differences between Germany and America. More like 12 million, really. If there weren’t, they’d be the same country….but I digress. Anyhow, today I thought I’d share five little things I’ve noticed recently about Germany that I certainly won’t encounter when I fly home to California in ten days. (TEN DAYS?! WHAT THE HECK!)
Ready? Here we go.
1. No middle names- Many German people do not have middle names. It’s just not really as much of a thing. Some definitely do, but none of the kids I’m Au Pairing have one! Simpler, don’t you think?
2. No air conditioning or fans- Oh man, this one is a real toughie for us Americans. Coming from Southern California, my home doesn’t have air conditioning either, but the temperature is always mild and we have lots of fans for those days it peaks above 75! Here, hardly any homes or public spaces have air conditioning even though it can get really hot, and many don’t have fans. I asked why that was, and they said they believe it messes with your sinuses and gives you a stiff neck.
3. Lunch is the largest meal of the day- I totally love this custom. Germans usually eat a smaller breakfast, a big fancy lunch, and then a small ‘snack’ in the evening called Abendbrot, consisting mainly of bread with various toppings. I really like gathering in the middle of the day and having more time to digest before bed.
4. Kaffee und Kuchen- Coffee and cake is an afternoon tradition in German life. Not every day, but many days they take a break from their work and sit around to enjoy a little sweetness! This is especially big on Sunday afternoons.
5. The wedding Ring is worn on the right hand- When I first arrived, I thought no one was married, because I didn’t see any rings on the left hand. Finally someone cleared up the mystery: They wear it on their right ring finger!

Question of the Day
Can you think of a few little cultural customs that set your country apart? I’d love to hear.

Heidelberg Revisited

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Even now, three months later, I remember the day like it was yesterday. I lugged my suitcase down the stairs, said my goodbyes, and boarded the bus. I stared out the window as Heidelberg grew smaller and smaller in the distance, eventually fading from view all together. My year of studying abroad in Heidelberg was officially over, and I didn’t know if or when I would ever return. But instead of feeling sadness, a sense of peace washed over me in that moment. I didn’t cry because this chapter in my life was over, but rather I smiled because it was written in the first place. I felt overwhelmingly grateful for the chance I’d been given, and was glad it had ended on such a high note. I realized I may never live in this city again, but I can always visit and add new memories to the old. And that’s exactly what I did this past weekend!

Since I was given the opportunity to stay in northern Germany this summer as an Au Pair, I knew I had to return to Heidelberg for a day or two. So I hoped on the train Thursday afternoon and made it to Heidelberg by early evening. As I approached the main station, I felt butterflies in my stomach. Would it look the same? Would I have fun traveling alone? I’m pleased to report I thoroughly enjoyed this new experience/version of Heidelberg in every way.

My German teacher from the school year kindly offered to host me for the weekend, and we had the best time talking in both English and German! Two of my classmates who also decided to stay for internships this summer came over for dinner, and we swapped ‘Awkward American in Germany’ stories. The next day I walked around my old stomping grounds, visiting a few favorite spots and bought more unnecessary souvenirs I can’t fit in my suitcase. I just can’t get enough of this town. As I wandered the streets I’ve walked a thousand times before, I noticed new and wonderful details. It is impossible to be bored in this place.
Below are a few pictures from the weekend if you’d like to see.
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I know one thing for sure after this revisit: Ich habe mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren! (I lost my heart in Heidelberg). Or, in the words of Buddy the Elf, “I’m in love, I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!” Have a great week friends, I miss you already.

Question of the Day
Is there a place you’re dying to revisit?

5 Tips And Tricks For Learning A Language

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I like to compare learning a new language to riding a roller coaster. One moment you are on a high peak, feeling totally fluent and able to conquer the world. The next moment you are in a low dip, feeling like a total impostor who can’t speak a single word! But the experience wouldn’t be as rewarding without both of these feelings. I’ve been through my fare share of German-related breakdowns, but I finally think I’ve turned a corner. I can form coherent sentences without a five minute delay, and understand 90% of other people’s conversations. But it certainly didn’t happen over night.

If you are learning a foreign language, I’m here to cheer you on! Below are five tips and tricks I’ve picked up along this roller coaster ride that have really helped me, and might help you too. Enjoy!

1. Utilize Movies, Books and Music- Watching one of your favorite movie in your desired language is really helpful! I like to watch Disney movies in German with German subtitles, so I can fully understand what’s going on. I already have a feel for the plot, so I can focus on the language with out getting too confused or lost. Dual-language books or children’s picture books are also wonderful tools. And lastly, listening to music can help with pronunciation and speed, plus it’s a fun way to internalize the culture!
2. Learn from Children- Children make the best teachers (read my related post here), because they don’t care about your grammar or accent, all they want is for you to play with them! Reading children’s books and playing games are great ways to improve your skills. Much of the time you are learning the language with them, and can discover new words and phrases together. Plus, is easier to take corrections from children without feeling bad.
3. Join a Club/Organization- This step has been HUGE for me! I joined a local church, and it is by far one of the places where I speak the most German. The people are super friendly and encouraging, and it is a safe place to fall down and get back up again! I’ve also joined a gym, and learned a whole new set of vocabulary through the work out classes. Join a club or organization you think you might genuinely enjoy, where you will meet like-minded people and improve your language without even noticing!
4. Find an Accountability Partner- In the beginning, I was terrified to speak German in public, so I stubbornly spoke English to everyone because I knew they would accommodate me. Until one day, a friend pulled me aside and said, “Micah, you have to speak German. That’s the whole point you are here and you’re only doing yourself a disservice by speaking English.” Talk about a wake-up call! I knew they were right, and from that point on I only spoke German because I didn’t want them to hear my speak English. Sometimes a little accountability, spoken in love, is the push you need to jump head first into the language!
5. Work with a Private Tutor- I took two years of German in a classroom setting, where I learned to read and write fairly well. I was tested on the grammar and vocabulary, but hardly ever spoke. Unless the teacher called on me or we had a verbal assignment, I did not intentionally practice my speaking skills. But when I moved here this summer, I met with a private tutor twice a week for an hour and a half each time. She spoke hardly any English, so we spoke German almost the entire time. I couldn’t sit silently and never raise my hand like in class, I had no choice but to speak. Private one-on-one tutoring may not always be an option, but if it is, I highly recommend it!

I’m rooting for you friend! If I could give you a hug, I would.
Question of the Day
If you could learn any foreign language by simply snapping your finger, which would it be?

Five Tips & Tricks for Au Pairs

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Hi there friends, thanks for stopping by to say hello! As you may know, I have spent the last three months as an Au Pair, or live-in nanny, for a Germany family. My main motivation behind this decision was to improve my German language skills and experience German family life first-hand. And although I’ve done my fair share of babysitting and camp counseling in the past, I’ve never been a huge kid person. That is, I’ve never had the burning desire to be a teacher, or felt the urge to hold the baby in the room. I like kids, don’t get me wrong, but they’ve never played a huge roll in my life.

So when this opportunity arose, I was initially hesitant. A million doubts ran through my head. Would I be nurturing and loving enough? Do I even possess the ‘mom’ gene? Will they understand my broken German? But eventually, I realized there were more pros than cons, so I took the leap of faith. And guess what? I’ve loved it! I already know this was one of the best experiences I’ll ever have, and would absolutely consider being an Au Pair again for another family.

Have you ever thought about working as an Au Pair? Do you enjoy travel, learning about another culture up close and personal, and investing in children? If so, then this job may be perfect for you! Today I thought I’d share five tips and tricks I’ve learned through this experience for those of you who have been an Au Pair in the past, are considering becoming one in the future, or are just curious about the lifestyle. Enjoy!
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1. Give It Time. I tend to want everything to be perfect right now. Unfortunately, that’s not usually how life  works. Au Pairing is no exception. The first few weeks were a bit awkward and unfamiliar. I didn’t know the family’s schedule, household rules, or lifestyle. Even though they were incredibly hospitable and accommodating, I still felt like a guest. But slowly, things changed and I began feeling right at home. There is just no way around the fact that it takes time to adjust to a new situation and complete a transition. Be patient with yourself and others through the process!
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2. Communication is Key. This point seems obvious, but I actually really struggled with it for the first few weeks. I wish I had sat down with the parents the first day and clearly outlined my hours and responsibilities. Once we eventually did so, everything felt so much easier and less complicated. When I knew that my hours where 8:00am to 1:00pm and that my ‘household chore’ was to load and unload the dishwasher, I no longer felt guilty about spending alone time in the afternoons or not doing my own laundry. We also keep a weekly calendar of events to help us all stay on the same page. Communicating expectations and needs is key to a healthy and happy Au Pair experience!
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3. Learn How to Discipline. Initially, I was extremely hesitant to discipline the children in any way. I knew when they were clearly misbehaving or testing me, but it still felt strange to reprimand other people’s kids. Again, communicate with the parents about this subject, and ask for some guidelines. Chances are, they will tell you how they usually do it, and trust you enough to make discipline decisions when you see fit. When I found the courage within myself to discipline the kids, our relationship blossomed! They garnered a new respect for me, and I acted with more patience towards them! Discipline is a wonderful tool for everyone involved when used properly.
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4. Protect Your Alone Time.
I am the mother of all introverts. If I socialize for a period of time, I need to recede into my ‘cave’ for some serious alone time. At first, I felt guilty about leaving the kids, so I would sacrifice my alone time to play with them, even after my working hours were through. But eventually I realized that I’m no good to anyone if I don’t take care of myself first. I learned to say no and prioritize time to recharge, which ultimately benefitted everyone.

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5. It’s Okay to Say Goodbye.
As my time here draws to an end, I’ve begun dreading saying goodbye to the kids. Will they think I’m abandoning them? They are too little to understand the situation, they don’t even know what America is! But then I remembered the quote “It takes a village to raise a child” by Hilary Clinton, and realized that I am a part of their village. There are countless people who played a vital role in my upbringing who are not actively involved in my life today, but I would not be the same person without them. I may not see the final product or outcome, but I know I am a vital link in the chain. I have influenced their lives for the better in some way, and that’s pretty dang awesome in and of itself.
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^Selfie attempt number 12 million.

And there you have it friends, five tips and tricks I’ve garnered throughout my time as an Au Pair. This experience is never something I actively sought out or wanted to cross off my bucket list, but I’m so glad it fell into my lap. It has been better than anything I ever could have dreamed up myself. I feel so blessed to have worked with a wonderful family who treated me like their fourth child (probably because I still act like one), and who I know will visit me in California one day. I hope this post was helpful and informative, and don’t hesitate to comment below. Have a lovely week friends!
Question of the Day
Would you ever consider working as an Au Pair? Why or why not?

A Happy List

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Once in a while, I like to write down all the little things in life that sum up to my overall happiness (you can read a few past lists here and here). I wrote this list during a particularly rough travel experience I had recently, in which one train home from Amsterdam turned into four trains and a hotel! I. Was. Not. Happy. So I scribbled down this lists of twenty things while in the train station in a last ditch effort to lift my spirits. And you know what? It worked! I realized that even though travel often comes with some unpleasant side effects, I am incredibly blessed to be able to travel in the first place and a few delays are no big deal in the big picture. Friends, if you’re feeling a little down today, I highly suggest you whip out a journal and jot down a happy list- its the cheapest form of therapy around!

1. Quiet mornings in the city before the hustle and bustle starts.
2. Lingering Summer evenings.
3. Discovering a new photographer or blog I love!
4. Skype chats with my parents.
5. Reading a book you just can’t put down.
6. Sipping coffee from my favorite “Heidelberg mug.”
7. Watching my little brother crush it at his internship in Guatemala this summer!
8. Meandering bike rides through the meadow near my house.
9. Mastering a new German word or phrase.
10. When little one year old Julius says my name in his cute German accent.
11. Birthday wishes.
12. Family vacations.
13. Editing my photos.
14. Making short films.
15. Ice cream dates.
16. Wild flowers.
17. When you pick up right where you left off with an old friend!
18. Church potlucks.
19. Kaffee und kuchen (the German tradition of cake and coffee in the afternoon).
20. When my train arrives on time- haha!

Question of the Day
What is one little thing that made you happy today?

Amsterdam: A City Guide

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Have you seen the movie The Fault in Our Stars? In the film, the main characters take a trip to Amsterdam to meet with one of their favorite authors. They wander the canals hand in hand and fall madly in love, all to the tune of an awesome soundtrack. And honestly, I can’t blame them! Amsterdam is charming, chic and romantic. I didn’t have another person to fall in love with (insert tears here), so I fell in love with the city. Keep reading as I share more about why I enjoyed Amsterdam so much, and a few tips and tricks to make your visit equally as enjoyable!
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Why Amsterdam? How much time do you have?!  I could write about the reasons to visit Amsterdam for hours, but in a nutshell, Amsterdam is unlike any other city I’ve ever traveled to. It’s a mix of old and new, chic and industrial, energetic and peaceful. It is centrally located, well connected, and teeming with culture. Plus, who doesn’t want a pair of wooden clogs to wear around the house?IMG_7229IMG_7231IMG_6994

Transportation I took a five hour train from Hannover, Germany to Amsterdam Centraal station. From there, you can easily walk to most of the popular sights in the city center. Everything is very well marked with signs on nearly every corner. If you’d rather not walk, here are a few options:

  • Bike– Riding a bike in Amsterdam, although it is a bike friendly city, is still very intense (and this is coming from a girl who grew up driving the Los Angeles freeways). I almost got taken out several times while crossing the street! Plus, I am not the strongest bike rider, so I opted to pass on bike rentals. But if you decide to go for it, there are rental shops on nearly every corner that can’t be missed.
  • Tram- I mainly walked or took the tram. It coset 2.50 Euros per ride, so you may want to look into a day pass, which you can buy on board. The signage is clear and well market, and you can hop on right in front of the central station when you first arrive.
  • Boat- Travel by boat is not a major way to get from point A to point B, but I do recommend taking a canal tour. I took an hour and a half cruise through the main canals, and the captain pointed out sights and shared about their history. It’s a nice way to get your bearings and see things you might otherwise have missed.

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Accommodations It might feel impossible to visit Amsterdam with out declaring bankruptcy, but I promise it can be done! It is not a cheap city by any means, but there are always cheaper options. I rented a room in an apartment through the popular hosting website Airbnb. The place was twenty minutes outside the city center, and since everything is so well connected, I would highly recommend looking for something a bit further out to save some money. Also, many museums have discounts for kids, families, and people under 19 years old. You can buy tickets to several attractions online in advance, which saves time and money.
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Must See Spots
1. Anne Frank House– This is arguably the most popular sight in Amsterdam, and for good reason! The tour through the Frank’s hiding place and attached museum at the end are very well done. The line to get in can wrap around the block and stretch on for ages (like Disneyland!), so I would recommend checking for tickets in advance online if possible. I didn’t have tickets, so I showed up at 8am, an hour before it opens, and was admitted around 9:15.
2. Van Gogh Museum– If you are an art nerd like me, this museum is heaven! It is extremely comprehensive and interactive, and features not only a vast collection of Van Gogh’s work, but also the work of other artists who influenced him throughout his life.
3. Rijks Museum– The Rijks museum is right next door to the Van Gogh museum, and the building alone is a masterpiece! This museum features art, crafts, and historical objects from the years 1200 t0 2000. The famous IAMSTERDAM sign is directly in front of the museum, so be sure to snap an iconic picture perched atop one of the letters before heading in!
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What to pack I visited the first weekend in July (along with the rest of the world), and it was crazy hot. I seriously considered jumping into a canal for a quick cool down swim. So if you visit in the summer, be sure to pack a sunhat and sunscreen! Also, wearing comfortable walking shoes is always a good idea (duh, Micah).

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Anything Else? The majority of these photos were taken along the Prinsengracht Canal, the third and outermost of the three main canals. It marks the start of the De Jordaan neighborhood, filled with beautiful 17th century houses and shops. When you think of Amsterdam, this is the scenery you probubly picture. Be sure to take you time to wander through and experience the charming atmosphere. Lastly, don’t leave without trying a delicious Dutch pancake!
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^The leaning tower houses of Amsterdam!
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^Be sure to check out the Albert Cuyp flea market on Saturday morning from 9am-5pm.
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^The Rijks Museum.

So, after reading about this amazing city, can you blame me for falling head over heels in love? I may not be in The Fault in Our Stars Cast, but I definitely share their affinity for this beautiful place. So what are you waiting for, friends? Hop online and book a ticket to Amsterdam…or better yet, book two so I can come along!

Amsterdam: A Short Film

Dear Amsterdam,
I think I’m in love with you. Your narrow cobblestone streets, innumerable canals, and charming architecture have made me fall head over heels. I’m positive I’m not the first person to fall in love with you, and I certainly won’t be the last. In fact, I think it’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with you. There is a contagious energy about you, dear city, one that every visitor is bound to catch if they’re not careful. I made this short film in an attempt to capture your beauty! Thanks for the great weekend Amsterdam, let’s do it again soon, ok?
xoxo,
Micah
P.S. Stay tuned for an Amsterdam City Guide coming soon to a theater blog near you. Oh, and the music is “Let Me In” by Grouplove.

10 Words of Wisdom To My Pre-Expat Self

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Howdy friends, how’s it going? I recently submitted this post as a guest post for the blog Route Bliss. I thought you might enjoy reading it here as well, so I hope you enjoy.

Hello friends, Micah here from Passports and Paintbrushes. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share a little bit about myself and my life with you today on Route Bliss. I am a Southern California native currently living and studying abroad in northern Germany. My major is creative writing and my minor is German, and my blog is the place where both these passions converge.

Deciding to move abroad is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and also one of the most challenging. Every day is a new adventure, filled with some pretty incredible highs as well as some pretty crummy low. The cultural differences, language barrier, and distance from loved ones can all heighten the chaos of normal life. I’ve had my fair share of hilarious and awkward situations when things get lost in translation, aided of course, by the fact that I’m an awkward person in general. I wouldn’t change them for anything though, because they are what have shape me into the strong, determined person I am today. I don’t think there is any way to fully prepare for the expat roller coaster, but if I could go back and give my pre-expat self a few words of wisdom to ease the transition, it might have gone something like this:IMG_5493.JPG

1. Set realistic goals- Before moving abroad, I majorly romanticized and over-simplified the whole experience in my mind. I thought living in Europe meant living in a fairytale. Reality check: It doesn’t. I set unrealistic, unattainable goals for myself, and these goals were doomed to end in failure and frustration. For instance, I whole-heartedly believed I would be fluent in German by the time I moved home in August. But I quickly realized it takes years to be fully fluent in a language, and I simply don’t have enough time. So I was forced to adjust my goal and instead strive to be significantly better at German by August than I was when I arrived. Now that is a goal I know I can achieve and won’t beat myself up over in the process!IMG_5501.JPG

2. Friendship takes time- Silly me, I thought I’d step off the plane and immediately make a million life-long friends! I’ve never had too much trouble making friends at home, so I figured abroad wouldn’t be any different. I soon discovered that friendship takes a lot of concentrated effort and time! Friends weren’t handed to me on a silver platter- I had to work for them! It took putting myself in some unfamiliar, even intimidating situations to start building connections. You might not click with everyone right away, but don’t give up. Join a book club, a gym, a Bible study, etc. Take an interest in their lives, meet them half way, and above all, be yourself. If you stay true to whom you are, genuine friendship is sure to follow.

IMG_5530.JPG3. Homesickness is normal- I’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time feeling guilty about my homesickness. So much so in fact, guilt became one of my primary emotions, right up there next to hunger and tiredness. I told myself, “a million people would kill to be in your shoes, why do you want to go home so badly?”! But then one day I realized (light bulb!) it’s perfectly normal to feel homesick. It means you come from a good home, a home worth missing. I wish I knew a cure-all for homesickness, but it honestly varies for each person. Find the right balance for you, whether that be Skyping every day or only once a month. Everyone abroad struggles with homesickness no matter how grateful and happy you truly are for the opportunity!IMG_5474.JPG

4. Simple tasks may be harder- i.e. Grocery shopping may cause a break down! Unbeknownst to foreigners, there are certain unspoken rules and assumptions about grocery shopping in Germany such as, bringing your own bags to check-out, or knowing that shopping carts require a one euro deposit before use. It’s funny how the most mundane things can become incredibly overwhelming! You may have to buy sour creme instead of whipped cream a few times before you learn the right words, or carry your groceries in your backpack until you remember to bring bags from home. These are lessons that can only be learned through trial and error. There are no books about the subtitles of every day life in another culture. Baptism by fire baby!IMG_5473.JPG

5. Fake it till you make it- You will need to perfect your, “I understand what you’re saying” face when people speak to you in another language, even though you have no clue what they are talking about. Sometimes abroad you just have to act like you know exactly what you are doing and that you are exactly where you are supposed to be. If you feel out of place in a situation or lost in translation, just nod your pretty little head and smile. Slowly over time, the fog will clear and you will know what is going on. It’s incredibly frustrating not to be able to chime in on a conversation because you don’t know the right words or to feel isolated in the midst of a large crowd. Don’t worry- just smile and try your best because it will get easier.IMG_5460.JPG

6. The little things are what count the most- If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or even bored, add a little unnecessary sparkle to your life to cheer yourself up. For instance, I was down and out about my pathetic German skills the other day so I bought a bouquet of fresh peonies (my favorite flower) for my nightstand. You wouldn’t believe the wonders fresh flowers can do for your mood! Every time I glanced at them I was reminded of how beautiful life is and how luck I am to be living it. And POOF…German failure completely forgotten! Little details here and there can add up to something significant.IMG_5442.JPG

7. Different, not deficit- When I first arrived, I was shocked by just how many things were different from home. My immediate reaction was to say, “That’s weird.” For instance, I learned Germans often eat a heavier meal for lunch and only a light snack for dinner. There is nothing strange about this custom what so ever, but because it was unfamiliar, I labeled it as weird. I’ve since learned to retrain myself to view things as different, not right or wrong. Just because something is different, doesn’t mean it’s worse. This practice has led to a greater appreciation of different cultures, a more open mind, and wider point of view.IMG_5419.JPG

8. Relationships back home will change- You know the saying, Out of sight, out of mind? I’ve found this to be true with some relationships, and false with others. There are times when you will miss someone so bad it hurts and feel left out or forgotten. But, there are other people from home you won’t think twice about. Neither is wrong, it’s all part of the process. Work hard to maintain the relationships you care most about, but don’t try to keep up with every single one. The ones that are the strongest are the ones that will last. Cherish them and you’ll be reunited before you know it. Chances are, you’ll pick up right where you left off!IMG_5393.JPG

9. Go ahead, ask for help- This advice is coming from little miss independent! I’m serious… I think the Kelly Clarkson song was written about me. Pre-expat Micah would never have asked for directions or help of any sort.  She would struggle with it on her own until she either succeeded or gave up. Now, though, I ask for help all the time. I don’t hesitate to ask for directions, recommendations, advice, etc.! Asking for a hand doesn’t make you look needy or incapable, but rather it makes you look humble and open-minded. It says, you obviously know your country better than I do and I would be honored if you shared it with me! IMG_5374.JPG

10. It’s ok to go it alone- I used to never do anything alone. Go ahead; ask anyone. I was the girl who needed someone to accompany her to the bathroom! Since moving abroad, however, I’ve started to love doing things by myself. I learned the hard way that if you always wait for someone else, you end up missing out on amazing opportunities. Make plans to have a solo adventure and odds are, someone will ask, Hey, can I come along? But even if they don’t, traveling/spending time alone can be wonderful. You notice details you might have missed in a larger group and it’s much easier to make new friends with other travelers or locals.IMG_1190

The expat roller coaster is certainly not easy, but it is most definitely rewarding. Choosing to live abroad is to choose a life of perseverance, humility and adventure! And it is 100% worth it. If you live abroad or are considering taking the plunge, I hope my words of wisdom and reflections have been informative and encouraging. I wish I could go back and tell my pre-expat self this advice, but in the words of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (I’m trying to be insightful and poignant here at the end), “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”IMG_5352.JPG