Boston > Munich > Cologne > Wermelskirchen
Packing didn’t exactly go as planned. In the weeks before leaving, I laid out all my clothes on the apartment floor, determined to pack perfectly this time around: One pile for California, one pile for storage, one pile for Germany. The furniture was gone and I took over the floor, everything was neat and organized. California outfits packed and wore perfectly. But when Saturday came, the final day, we packed the rest of the apartment into our cars and ran out of time. All prospective outfits were shoved in bags and we headed east to deal with clothes later.
Six hours later than planned, Ashton and I headed to Wenham and spent Saturday night with my parents and brother. Originally we wanted to be there to all have dinner together, but instead we stood around in the kitchen and drank cheap gas station wine and picked at the steak my mom had grilled.
Sunday was supposed to be a day of relaxing and beach, but instead it was spent sorting and packing all 23 kilos of my stuff taking out items and weighing the ginormous suitcase with the portable luggage scale I bought at AAA. It was everything short of chaos. Things I wanted were nowhere to be found; things I didn’t want had to be shoved in boxes. With the help of Ashton and my mother, I got enough clothes to survive and tried [still trying] not to think about unpacking and finding what I didn’t bring with me.
I zipped my suitcase, showered, and checked my passport. I tried not to think too much about what I was getting myself into.
I said the hardest goodbye of my life and sent Ashton back to the Berkshires. Wearing my winter logging boots to save weight, I headed to Boston where my parents and I feasted and swilled gin and tonics. Last time I went to Germany, two years ago, the three of us stopped at the same restaurant and had g&ts. I didn’t cry then and I didn’t cry now.
The night flight to Munich was hot, and it was cold. I tried not to think too hard about what I was getting myself into. The grown woman next to me unpacked and repacked her bag and fidgeted anxiously the whole night. I tried not to let her anxiety infect me. It’s so easy to live in comfort, so hard to break your routine and do something different but also so good for you.
I forced myself asleep in the dark of the night, high above the Atlantic and woke in full daylight as we landed in Munich, almost an hour later than anticipated. Checking my connection to Cologne, the little voice in my head started to jabber louder about missing the flight which meant missing the bus to orientation which meant an expensive long taxi ride to the middle of nowhere. Well, there’s nothing I can do about it now.
Munich is a curious airport, with a terminal that isn’t connected to anything and doesn’t have anything in it; buses waited for us on the tarmac where all of us from the enormous jet crammed in, sweating, late, exhausted. We were finally loaded and drove to the main terminal where I pushed past the slow walkers and confused tourists, sprinted in my winter boots to customs where I was asked no questions, ran up the stairs and all the way to my gate. Just in the nick of time, just as another younger kid was getting there too.
“Fulbright?” He questioned me.
“Yup. Where you from?”
“New Hampshire, you?”
“Near Boston,” I replied, huffing and puffing.
We trundled down the jetway and found our seats, meeting another Fulbrighter from Beverly, Ma.
We made it safely to Cologne, got our bags, and found another Fulbrighter along the way. Together we took the S-Bahn to the Hauptbahnhof, talking about life, getting to know each other, and how we needed to shower so badly. At the train station, we headed to our meeting point and, over the next hour, collected the rest of our 140 person group at 3 pm. Germans tripped over us, stared at us, and practically cursed us out with their glares for taking up the majority of the giant space. It got better when all 140 of us walked through the station and out to the bus stop where we crossed like a herd of turtles and loaded our luggage onto a small trailer before boarding two coach buses.
On the bus, I felt rather unobligated to seek out new friends. Maybe it is because I’ve been out of college for a year or maybe it was my jet lag, but I plopped down in an empty seat at the front of the bus (forever the “uncool” place to sit) and waited for someone to sit with me. Low and behold another 2014 graduate found me and we discussed life as the bus found its way out of the city and into the countryside. Jet lag caught up with me and I woke up with my face pressed against the glass window. Outside, fields rolled by; horses and cows dotted the landscape, and red brick houses stood right on the side of the road winding narrow roads.
We arrived in the village Wermelskirchen and were told that we had to walk a kilometer down the road to the hotel as it was too narrow for the buses. It was so hot. We were all so sweaty. I had winter boots on and had been traveling for over 14 hours. But we walked and saw horses, smelled the fresh air and chatted with everyone else who needed showers as badly as I did. After a sweltering intro where we were reminded of Europe’s lack of air conditioning, we got room keys and roommates.
My roommate, an Oberlin grad from the Hudson New York area, and I were matched up based on placement proximity in Germany and had lots in common. After showering and rinsing the airplane grime off, I felt minorly better. My body was in shock, but my brain was in shock for other reasons. Why was I so stunned to be back in Germany, the country I know so well? I never expected the transition to be such a challenge. I couldn’t help but feel lonely and like I’d made the wrong decision.
That night, we ate a typical German dinner of bread, meat, cheese and assorted salads. The night concluded with another brief meeting before heading down to the hotel bar and meeting other Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs).