13.7.13

No song unsung

I'm not the first exchange student, and I certainly won't be the last. I'm also not the first to travel the world or to have seemingly incredible dreams. But this was a first for me. A first with a whole bunch of other firsts inside it, an adventure that brought me to my knees with sadness and lifted me up higher than I've been before.
Many, many people have tried to describe a year of exchange, with varying degrees of success. There is something so inexplicable about what I've experienced for the past ten months and twelve days, since I landed in Germany with little idea of what to say, what to expect and what was going to happen to me. When I think about what this year has been, even to myself, the best words that I come up with have been so often used that they sound trite and meaningless: 'the time of my life;' 'amazing;' 'the best thing to ever happen to me.'
I'd dreamed of going on exchange for years, learning German to fully feel a part of my German heritage and family, meeting people from all over the world, seeing and trying new things, and seeing if I was brave enough, strong enough, to be alone in a new place and to build something for myself there.
In the day-to-day that became my life relatively soon after I arrived, I sometimes forgot that I was an 'exchange student:' that this year was, in fact, just a visit and that I hadn't lived here for as long as I could remember. Every day brought something new to discover, be it a grandiose sunset, a new piece in choir or orchestra, exploring a new city or visiting other exchange students. It was the most natural thing to go to school (though I couldn't understand much), speak (in broken German) with my host family, spend hours and days with my newfound friends (though I couldn't have imagined growing so close to them in such a short space of time). Over time, that became my life, instead of something I was doing for a year, until now, when being any other way than I am seems strange and wrong.
This year has been inscribed into the 'posterity' of the internet on this blog, a way to share tiny parts of my time here. I am so glad and thankful that I could write something to you, to give a glimpse of what seems the most glorious tapestry I could have been woven into.
In less than twelve hours I will be bidding my home here goodbye, reversing the journey I took in September and returning to the United States. Even now, it's hard to believe that I have to leave; up until about the end of May I believed that my time here would go on forever.
On Thursday night I gathered with the Neuer Kammerchor for a party celebrating our choir competition in Italy. That evening we roasted Spanferkel, a whole pig on a spit, and enjoyed summer salads, German cake and lots of bread alongside. Around midnight, the evening of laughter and dancing had to come to an end; my best friend from Colombia was leaving for the airport in just a few hours and I had to begin packing my suitcases.
As we began the long process of thank yous and goodbyes, the choir gathered around us. One light from the house shines into the corner of the memory I carry with me, as I stand under a tree surrounded by altos, sopranos, basses and tenors, holding their hands. With laughter and a few false notes, a song begins. I know all the words, though they are German, know them by heart. I've sung this song in my school, in a basilica in Rome, in neighborhood churches in Germany. As we begin, I suddenly cannot sing anymore. My voice quivers; I've just realized that this is the last time. The last time I will sing with this choir I dreamed of joining, with the people that have become my closest friends, and go home to my family, in the German town with the castle. In that moment, I know that my heart has grown larger than I could imagine, and also that it is going to be soon irrevocably split in two. And despite that great sadness, the happiness is a million times greater; I would do it all, again, the same way, in a heartbeat.
There are no words, no tears or laughter, no pictures that can completely sum up my exchange year in Germany. Nor is there a way to express my gratitude and joy that this opportunity was mine. To my families on both sides of the ocean, my friends old and new now scattered across the world, and to Rotary, the organization that made this year possible for me. It was an honor to be here, an honor to write about my adventures, an honor to realize that I am not the first. I am not the first, and not the last. I return laden with chocolates, postcards and stories, having grabbed everything I could out of this year, but not knowing a lot more than I did when I ate that ice cream back in September. I only know now how much I don't know--how much there is still see, to learn, to make and sing and do.
I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for sharing this year with me. As they say, exchange is not a year in a life; it's a life in a year. And there is a life ahead of me too, one that has been made so much fuller by my time in Germany.
As I said during my countless farewells, we'll see each other again.

With love and gratitude,

Emma
8. September 2012

12. July, 2013

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