How language classes taught me way more than just German

sprachcaffe-class

Today, I completed the last day of my intensive German classes, an experience that taught me more than I signed up for. Not only did I start chipping away at my understanding of this ridiculously hard but intriguing language (Got an A1 “diploma” under my belt, peeps!), but I also gained some incredible insights about people, other cultures and myself.

For the last three weeks, I’ve been going Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and churning out nightly hausafgaben (homework). OOF! It’s been pretty intense, but it’s been great. If my job training didn’t begin next week, I probably would’ve signed up for another week with this eclectic crew!

(The hubs and I had originally registered online to take two weeks together starting Dec. 29, but on that Monday morning, we arrived to a note on the front door saying Sprachcaffe would be closed until Jan. 5. Waw wawww. Unfortunately this threw a wrench into David’s plan of attack with work. So, long story short, he had to dip out of classes altogether.)

On the Sunday before these classes started, I was bah-humbugging big-time. We had just spent 17 straight days together, and I didn’t want them to end.

This was truly one of the best. stretches. ever.

It kicked off with four nights in Rome, followed by the most dreamy overdose of home-cooked meals, champagne, Christmas movies, “Big Bang Theory” benders, wine, family FaceTime dates, sleeping in, recording my dreams, blogging, city strolls and a few parties sprinkled in.

I didn’t know how Christmas would feel being away from family, but by focusing on what this holiday season WAS, rather than what it WASN’T, everything felt exactly the way it needed to be. I realized how much I’ve taken for granted on holidays while also learning the power of being truly present in what’s in front of you.

It was also during this time that I had two huge realizations: 1) For the first time in YEARS, I was completely immersed in and 200% OK with pure and utter relaxation. 2) Since arriving in Germany, this experience has been unintended rehab for the workaholic in me. (More on that epiphany-in-progress later.)

So, when it came time for this first-and-likely-last-ultimate-holiday-vacation-bender to actually come to an end, I was pissed. I wasn’t ready to dive into a routine with responsibilities. I had no idea what to expect with these classes. Knowing that you’re about to spend days upon days cooped up in a room with people you’ve never met is a little intimidating, you know?

As D and I were walking down to the gym that Sunday, my mind was riddled with whining, which for the record, has been a very rare mindset since moving here. With how fleeting this journey has been and will be, I refuse to spend too much energy in the dumps about how different, new and challenging almost everything is. I’m trying to embrace it as much as humanly possible.

You see, I’ve been practicing the art of seeing every challenge as a blessing in disguise, a lesson from God, proof that I have more room to grow, or all of the above. It’s been remarkable to think this way. It’s been life-changing.

SO, it was only fitting that right when I was in the thick of my bah-humbugging…SPLAT! A bird POOPED on me. In all of its white, bright glory, right on my black North Face coat…a dollop of doo-doo had descended onto my chest, just barely missing my face. We started dying laughing.

THEN, it hit me: BIRD POOP IS GOOD LUCK! It was a sign from the Big Man Upstairs and all the birds I’ve been stalking to SNAP out of it.

See? Not everyone can say that shit landing on their coat turned their frown upside down, but that’s the power of positive thinking, people!

Now that all these pre-class jitters have turned into memories, I’m anxious to share what I’ve learned.

1. I’m officially obsessed with international environments.

You guys. I was the ONLY person from the States that stepped foot into this class for three weeks, with the exception of one guy who dropped in for a day from California. All the other students were from Hungary, Spain, India, Japan, Iran, Turkey, Czech Republic, Mexico, Colombia, China, Russia and France.

Some came and went depending on their level or instructor availability, but how COOL is that to be with people from ALL over the planet? People of all different ages, origins, interests and personalities cramming together into one room to learn the same language…THAT was fun. I want more.

Dusseldorf is a massive melting pot. I love it.

2. Assumptions are dangerous!

When I found out on the first day that mostly everyone in the class wasn’t even living in Dusseldorf, I was a little bummed. “These people won’t care to get to know me. Why spend energy becoming friends with people who don’t even live here?”

Well, that was a silly way to think, and I’m glad that mindset quickly faded.

I sat next to this adorable couple who lives on the island of Majorka in Spain, and let me just say that David and I are SO going to visit them. IT is GORGEOUS. Apparently this is where tons of Germans flock to, hence why they were here studying up on Deutsch.

And it turns out that this college student from Mexico, who just moved to Dusseldorf, will be taking German and English classes at Berlitz. He may just be one of my students! He also seems to have a pretty good green chili hook-up. 😉

Then, there was this hilarious, pony-tailed guy from the Czech Republic, who on the first day was wearing suspenders and a tight T-shirt that accentuated his beer belly and said “GO HARD.” He spoke often and proudly about his two main hobbies: trinken bier and hören Heavy Metal. He also gave me a pretty stellar list of the best places to drink bier and wein when we go to Prague and beyond.

3. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong place.

After the second class, I tried to get a one-on-one tutor. I felt super intimidated and way behind. I felt like I was holding the class up with all my questions and confusion. This Russian mother-daughter duo was already rattling off the German alphabet, impressive vocab and full sentences…AH!!! BUT, I’m soooo glad my instructor encouraged me to stick it out. We ALL struggled at times, and we ALL helped each other at times.

FRAN, if you’re reading this, I’m so grateful for you always pointing me to the right pages and sections…and ALL the vocabulary keys that I seemed to never notice!

In short: It’s good to surround yourself with people who keep you growing. It’s OK to ask for help! We’re all in this together.

4. Living here is like getting a second chance at growing up. 

Speaking of the alphabet, I feel like I’m growing up all over again. It’s hilarious sitting in a room of all adults as we stumble over our words. It’s SO exciting to be recognizing certain words on signs or in people’s conversations on the tram.

I’m learning at LEAST one new thing every hour. If only my brain were as fresh and spongy as a child’s…

5. Laughter, smiles, music and hugs are universal.

We may not have always understood each other, but we laughed…A LOT. This guy from Japan even beatboxed for me one day.

And today??? My heart SANG when these people got up to give me the biggest hugs goodbye when they knew I was done with the class. One guy from Turkey barely spoke English (OH MAN, I felt for him and how lost he was!), but he had the biggest heart and made me laugh.

6. I miss being around the same people every day.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to go to the same place with the same people for weeks in a row. I think that’s partly why I loved this so much. In the States, I was working solo much of the time at home, coffee shops or client sites, and meeting spots and faces were always revolving.

7. I’ve been lying to myself. I’m SO not used to shorter days and grey skies.

OK, that’s not really something I learned. It’s more of a complaint. OOPS! I can’t tell you how many days I overslept and slugged my way to Sprachcaffe (The sun is still not rising until 8:30 a.m. Bahhh!), but once I arrived, everyone’s energy got me movin’ and groovin’.

8. Attempting to speak German with people here is more FUN than it is intimidating.

OK, I’m still a HUGE beginner, but I’m finding it so fun to have mini conversations with people and attempt to ask properly for things at restaurants, bars, cafes and the grocery store. I’m finding that people really do appreciate your efforts to speak German. Their demeanor really changes as soon as you say “Entschuldigung, aber ich lerne Deutsch.”

Last weekend, I was even talking to the woman behind the cheese counter at EDEKA and a guy next to me about how Colorado is beautiful, has great mountains, lots of sunshine, and thanks to the guy pointing it out…that Robert Redford is from there…ha ha ha! I told him he went to my college! Of course, half of this convo was in English, because if someone knows it, they’re either excited to practice it or they simply prefer efficiency. 😉

Yesterday on the tram, I was even having a mini chat with an elderly woman from Poland. I love it.

9. The world’s a more tolerant, peaceful place when you’re in language class.

It’s pretty unreal how many cultures came together and got along as well as we did. We’ve got a LONG way to go out there as a human race, but at least this class gave me a little taste of what I wish for this world.

10. We can be the change we want to see. 

I’m more inspired than ever to interact with as many different people and cultures as possible out here, whether it’s through butchered attempts at German or the native language at hand, more smiles, more questions, more attempts to make people laugh…or maybe even some dancing!

This country hasn’t been introduced to my notorious, injury-inducing dance moves…yet.

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