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Awareness and Vulnerability

"And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, in dimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end." -Pico Iyer


Last night I went to a bar. I shattered my phone screen there, but that is besides the point. It was a small place - probably better described as a dive bar - but fit my aesthetic, I'd say. There was a smoky haze floating in the air, a pool table in the back and actual records being spun, switching between Jazz and Hip Hop. There's an internal shuffle to pick a drink, then an internal panic not to screw up my order in German.

Two women are already playing pool so we watch and wait for a turn. Scratches, missed shots, and close calls all cause for friendly banter between us and the locals. There's a lot of nodding, agreeing, and short phrases. It only takes a little while for our cover as locals to break. For the remainder of the night, it's a continual switch between German and English.

This seems to be the trend so far. I'm in this heightened state of awareness, as the quote above suggests. I am always on guard for the one time I'm asked a question and might be able to respond appropriately but also extremely conscious of my actions, so as to be respectful and not stick out too much. It's exhausting, to be honest. My German is good enough to understand about 60% of a conversation, but I miss when the subject changes, am not able to respond very fast, and just generally cannot keep up with how quick everyone speaks - yet. It can be discouraging, not knowing the language that every one of your surroundings is speaking, but it's a good challenge. It's also extremely exciting when you actually know exactly what's said and how to answer.

Languages are sources of power. There's a definite advantage one has speaking their native or fluent language versus someone not. In this language you're able to clearly and specifically say and do what you're trying to. You can inflect your words to mean something totally different and you're aware of the different uses some words may have. In another language there's an innate vulnerability that comes with. It's an internal trust you have to give - whether to the people you're speaking with, to a translator, etc - to get through a conversation, even if only in the slightest bit. Right now, for me to have a conversation in German, I have to rely on the other person so so much, but for me in English, I clearly hold the upper hand. It's a strange dichotomy I've been flipping between, but I am curious to see how much of that changes in the next six months.

In the last 10 days, I've begun to get accustomed to my life here in Germany. I moved in with my two new roommates, started my final co-op rotation, and have begun exploring the port city I'm calling home (see photo). I'm still struggling with German keyboards (just the y and z) and my body clock is thrown off by how early it gets dark, but I'm always excited for what's next!

Spoiler alert: I'm going to a castle next weekend...

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