Dear Willamette Community,
I cannot believe it, but my year at Willamette has come to an end. It has been a great experience and I have met many amazing people during my stay on the lovely West Coast of the United States. For me this wasn’t the first time that I have spent a longer period of time in the US. In 2011, I did an exchange year at Kent State University in Ohio. Since this is supposed to be about how our stay in the US has changed our opinion on the US and how it might have even changed ourselves, I will tell you a little bit about my exchange experience first, before I will continue on writing about my time at Willamette. Before my exchange year in Ohio, I had no idea what to really expect from this country where allegedly everything is bigger and everything’s possible. I had spent two weeks in Florida in 2006 and some of my professors in Germany had somewhat prepared me for a stay in this culture that seems so similar, but is yet so different. It is still very different if you are in the US on vacation or if you actually live here and have to adapt to a (university) society. I had quite some difficulties getting used to living in this country. One of the biggest barriers I had to overcome was American politeness. Now you are probably wondering: How the heck can that be considered a barrier? For me it really was and it took me a while to adapt to it. No matter where you go, someone always says: “Hey, how are you?” It doesn’t matter if it is a shop assistant at the mall, a waiter at a restaurant, a student you have class with, but otherwise have never talked to, or even a complete stranger walking past you on the street. In Germany, we do not say ‘Hey, how are you?’ to everyone. When we ask somebody how they are, we are actually interested in what they are doing, if they are feeling good, what is going on in their lives. Despite the fact that our teachers had ‘warned’ us exactly of that politeness and that it would be very different from Germany, it took me a very long time to adapt to this phenomenon. So when I ordered food for the first time in the US and the waiter asked me: “Hey, how are you doing today? Can I get you started with a drink?” I just stared at him for a bit and then blurred out: “I’m good.” It turned into a really awkward situation really quickly and I was rather discouraged by this first encounter of American politeness. However, I got used to this pretty quickly and took part in all this politeness quite fast. This was all when I was back in Ohio, so when I came here, I was already used to all this and didn’t have a hard time adapting like I did in 2011. Quite the contrary: even in Germany I feel like I am a lot friendlier now and I noticed that I have gotten quite good at doing small talk. Well, probably not that good compared to an American, but better than a lot of my friends at home. =)
Another aspect that I have found to be true is that most things in the US are bigger: meals, malls, cars, streets, towns, grocery stores etc. My first time at a Walmart simply blew my mind. I had never seen a place where you can buy cucumbers, DVDs, baby clothes, microwaves, washing machines, garden plants, and car tires; all in one place. It seemed really surreal to me. But then again, I grew up in a village with 900 people. We have a tiny bakery there and a really small convenience store. In the bigger town ‘next door,’ there are a few grocery stores and a drug store, but one grocery store is maybe 1/5th of the size of a normal Walmart in the US. So I guess everything seems a lot bigger to me anyway.
One thing that I hadn’t really been aware of before I got to the US and that I honestly do not like very much is that most people drive EVERYWHERE. In Germany, I walk a lot and only use the car if I have to travel real distances or transport something heavy. So for me it doesn’t make sense that some people drive to places that are really close. Although I have to admit that in Germany – and probably Europe as a whole – it is a lot easier to not use your car. First of all, cities usually have ‘Old Town Parts’ where most of the stores are located, so you can usually just walk around and do not have to drive to a mall to go shopping. Second of all, our public transportation system is really good and a lot of times cheaper than going by car. Especially since gas is really expensive in Germany.
Those were my general impressions of the US that I got during my exchange year. But coming to Willamette was again a lot different than being in Ohio. First of all, the school in Ohio was A LOT bigger than Willamette. Here you notice that you always see the same people, you easily run into friends and acquaintances and it feels more like a small community. I really love that about Willamette. It feels more like the environment I am used to and I am very glad it is that way. Furthermore, I was expecting very unhealthy food, because that is what I mainly saw at the other school. Burgers, pizza, fried chicken, fries, etc. were the regular meals they offered and the only healthy food they had were salads. That’s why I was happy to see that the food here is a lot healthier and not as greasy. Although it could still be a little less oily for my taste. =)
Oh, and I LOVE the campus and the surrounding area! It is so pretty! I was also very happy that it didn’t rain as much as usual this year!
Behind the Capitol
Campus during Fall! Just so pretty!
What surprised me a lot about both schools is how little the topic of alcohol is discussed in the university society. It seems like a huge crime to have a beer when you are ‘underage.’ Of course I have seen posters like ‘drink responsibly’ or ‘real friends don’t let friends drive drunk.’ But the topic is never openly discussed and some of my American friends have told me that in their homes it is also a big taboo and just a topic that is ignored. It is quite curious to me why somebody is allowed to make major decisions, carry big responsibilities (like, for example, vote), and to drive, but they aren’t allowed to legally drink. It seems quite arbitrary and random to me. In my culture it is normal to start drinking when you are 16. Of course you should not abuse alcohol, but learn how to drink responsibly, which parents in Germany teach their kids from age 16 (and sometimes even younger) on. Whenever I go out to a bar here and I’m asked for my ID, I feel like I am 16 again and it feels weird to me, because in Germany it is very normal to have a glass of wine or a beer with dinner, or on the weekends even with lunch, and to have a digestive drink after a meal. We first learn to drink and then to drive, not the other way around, and I don’t think I will ever be able to wrap my head around the US version. =)
Nonetheless, I’ve had a crush on the US ever since I first set foot in this country during a language travel program in 2006 (I have to admit: it helped that the program was in Florida ;)), and that crush has turned into an everlasting love for this country with its culture and its people. Both the East and the West Coasts have their advantages and I just feel like this country has become my second home, and I plan on coming back to it many times. And my year at Willamette is one of the reasons I feel this way.
I also want to use this opportunity to thank the whole Willamette community for this great year full of nice experiences, interesting people, and fun events!
I loved all the cultural and music events! It is great to see how much effort students and faculty put into organizing these great events and how many people support them! One of my favorite events was the opera. It was my first time seeing an opera and it was by a German composer, which made it even more special to me! =) A cappella night was just great too! One of the nicest experiences I had was on Halloween when I and the other language assistants organized a Halloween Karaoke Night at the Bistro and all you guys and gals came to support us, sing with us, and bear my terrible singing! Haha! You rocked that night and I am grateful for such a great event!
Taking flag football very seriously!
It really isn’t easy to say goodbye since I met a lot of amazing people and made some great friends. The classes I took were great! I loved shaping up my rusty Latin and I enjoyed that class very much! Especially tutoring and all my German events were a lot of fun and I want to say a special thank you to all the (German) students who supported me by coming to my movie nights and quiz nights and by taking advantage of my tutoring hours. First and foremost a huge thank you to those of you who came to study hard, trying to improve every time you showed up, and who made tutoring feel like a hobby, not like a job!
I will miss you all and hope to see you again!