Greta’s Reflection on a Year Abroad

While we are no longer actively writing on this blog – Ruth has started her own, and Jason continues to write on his – we thought it was appropriate to share a piece of Greta’s writing here. She had an assignment in 7th grade Langauge Arts to write an essay about something significant in her life, and she wrote the following about her year abroad. It’s particularly timely to share it now, as we leave for 3 weeks back in Germany tomorrow! 

The Year That Changed my Life: Abroad in Göttingen, Germany

Greta Hardy-Mittell

When I was little, I never imagined I would live anywhere but the small town of East Middlebury, Vermont, let alone a country far across the sea. But years later, after living in Göttingen, Germany for eleven months, looking back, I know it was the most significant year of my life, and I will never be the same because of it. I knew from the start that living in Göttingen would change my life, but I did not fully grasp how difficult it would be. I thought it would all be one big, enjoyable adventure, a day at the beach. But suddenly, when I was in a German school, fully surrounded by a different language, I realized how hard the year would actually be. I would have to learn a lot, but I knew that it would be worth it. I was right: although it was tough, I had a great year, traveling Europe and having many amazing experiences. I am lucky to have been there, for living in Germany influenced my life in so many ways, and it made me an improved person. I overcame a lot of vigorous challenges, including learning German, becoming more aware of myself and others, and acquiring a better understanding of the world, but my challenges were what altered my life for the better.

Before I lived in Göttingen, I didn’t know the German language very much; I had been tutored, but I had only learned simple things, vocabulary and grammar that would provide a foundation for the language. Tutoring once a week was not much compared to school in another language every day, though, so I was obliged to learn German through immersion if I wanted to understand anything. That process is what made a difference in my life. I had to be persistent, even though it was hard and often very frustrating–imagine not being able to communicate freely with friends, not comprehending the teacher’s instructions, not being able to be independent in practically anything. I had to keep trying, stay motivated, refuse to give up. It took long, hard work, but suddenly everything clicked–I realized I had caught on to the language. I began to participate more often in class, and even started to help other people with work. Learning a language made me more confident in myself, because I realized that if I could do it, anything was possible. I benefited so much from the process, and now, as a result, I am bilingual, which will continue to affect my life. Learning German was hard, but it taught me not to give up, especially faced with a challenge, and I learned about myself through my struggles.

Having more challenging experiences, like being engrossed in the German language, taught me more about myself and what I could do. While in Germany, I learned to become more independent, because I could not rely on others to help me through all my problems. I also had to persevere, even through the hard tasks that I had to accomplish, like writing in German or making friends in a new school. Before I went to Germany, most of the toughest challenges I had were only minor, like playing an especially difficult piece of music, playing against a particularly good soccer team, finishing an onerous homework assignment. Living in another country trumped all that. I experienced greater challenges than I had gone through before, but learned that I could rise to the occasion, so I became more certain in myself. My conflicts also helped me to understand that life is a winding road, and you never know what will be around the next turn. Many people have to endure hard times regularly, and it is not easy. Being put in a challenging situation made me more aware of that, and gave me sympathy for those people who struggle much more than I had. Thus, living in Germany not only helped me to be more aware of myself, but of the whole world, as well.

Furthermore, living in somewhere other than Vermont opened my eyes to how immense and diverse the world  really is. While in Europe, I got to see new and exciting places up close: Rome, Paris, Berlin, cities with buildings so old they crumbled before my eyes, landscapes littered with castles and gently flowing rivers, gardens scented with flowers of every kind. Visiting these areas showed me how different communities can be than a small town in Vermont or even an average-sized German city. Actually living in a different country made me see what life is like somewhere else outside of the museums and palaces. It made me fully grasp that normal, everyday activity goes on in other towns, they are not just sites to visit on vacation. The way of life in Göttingen was very different than I was used to, but in some ways, it was also the same. Kids still went to school, adults still went to work, life still went on. The regions of the world may be distinct, but they are in many ways not so different after all. My year in Germany helped me understand this and acquire a broader perspective of the world.

Living in Göttingen had an even bigger impact on my life than I thought it would, because in the end, it changed who I was and how I looked at the world; I became a more understanding and mature person. Göttingen has become a special place for me, a second home, because I went through so much there. Learning German, becoming more confident in myself and gaining a more full view on the world have all enhanced my life, all because of that fateful day I boarded the plane overseas. My year abroad was enormously enriching for me, and I will always remember that time as the most significant year of my life.

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