June marked our one-year anniversary of life in Germany. We say it all the time, don't we- time really flies when you're busy living! But it's true. It is amazing to realize how far we've come, both literally and figuratively, in this last year.
If you know Aaron and me (which you probably do if you are reading this), you know that we are not great ones for spontaneity or rash decision-making. We entered into this adventure after much thought, prayer, discussion and wise counsel. I thank God for our parents, who I know must have been screaming "Don't go so far away from us!" inside, even while they talked us through logistics, encouraged us and truly wanted what was best for us. Even after all of it, we were in for some big surprises and shocks once we got here.
Most of you have lived with us through this last year and can name our greatest challenges. The biggest has been the language: I had no idea of how slow and steep the learning curve would be. Learning a language for five years in a classroom is nothing like landing in a foreign country and actually trying to live life while learning. We knew next to NO German when we moved here. On our first trip to IKEA last summer, Aaron and I actually practiced counting to 100 together. It was that bad. Now, Aaron interacts with his colleagues primarily in German and I had someone compliment my language skills when he found out we had only been here one year. We are far from fluent but it is SO much better.
Even aside from the language barriers we have been challenged by the culture here. It's always a slow process to make friends in a new town but we were unprepared for the reticence that is the norm in northern Germany. We are eternally grateful for the exceptions to this norm. We have one friendly next-door neighbor, our friends Jan and Maren and a few of Aaron's colleagues who have been warm and welcoming. I think we would have been completely desolate without them.
But even new friends can't replace old friends and family. We have felt lonelier than we imagined. I hate to say it, but there is something different about knowing you can't just pop in to see a friend or drive to Mom and Dad's house for the weekend. All the modern technology can't compare to chatting at someone's kitchen table. Missing Thanksgiving and Easter and the 4th of July felt sad for us. But in some ways we have grown closer to our loved ones. Such a big change prompted all of us to say things we should probably say more often and to really cherish our time together. I have grown quite sentimental about the importance of family and friends (and at this point my family is saying, "Uh-oh, she was already the sappy one!").
When things look a little tough, we keep refocusing on why we came. We wanted to experience life outside the United States, to see that "different" is not always better or worse. Many of the differences fit well with how we want to live our lives. I had no idea how much I would enjoy doing all my grocery shopping on foot or by bicycle. I love that since I can't carry a lot and our refrigerator is small I have to go two or three times a week. We always have very fresh food in the house. I like that there is less emphasis on bigger, better, more. Perhaps especially so in this rural area things move a little slower and the simple things are valued. People take walks, pushing grandmas in wheelchairs and babies in buggies. People work in their gardens. People spend their vacations at home or at the nearby beaches, just relaxing with family and friends. It's a good reminder for us, having both been so immersed in a fast-track, corporate-style career world.
Maybe most of all, we wanted to travel. I can't believe all the places I've been and things I've seen and we have barely scratched the surface in Europe! We've toured castles and palaces, been in the hearts of cities like Stockholm, Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin and Copenhagen. We visited the wine country near the Rhein valley and saw the Black Forest. We stood at the remains of the Berlin Wall. We watched sunrise over the Baltic Sea and waded in the mud flats of the North Sea. I saw reindeer in Norway and a stork here in Germany. It already feels like a lifetime of memories and there is more to come! The gift of travel has far exceeded what I could have dreamt.
The challenges of life here are more than I anticipated but so are the rewards and gifts. If I had it all to do over again, I would do it the same way. Well, maybe I'd bring more chocolate chips!