Four years ago, we glanced nervously around us as we pushed two trolleys of precariously balanced bags, car seats, and a double umbrella stroller through the doors of the Stuttgart Airport into the great unknown. We had arrived in Germany, two adults, two toddlers, three cats and a dog. We weren’t sure of what awaited us, we had little understanding of the language or the culture, but we were armed with a phrasebook and ready for adventure.
Sometimes we got a little more adventure than we bargained for, like on one of our first trips from Stuttgart when the GPS died. Of course, the only map we had in the car was a travel map of Europe. That helped us determine that we were in fact in the right country. I was on the phone with Garmin, trying to fit conversations in between tunnels – desperately trying to restart the GPS. Nothing worked. We needed to download a patch, and we had neither a home nor the internet to do so, not to mention the fact that we were currently lost in the middle of Stuttgart. The expensive navigation system I had so carefully selected was as worthless to us now as a bobble head doll, and not nearly as decorative. We stopped to pick up a map, and I decided to let my husband drive while I navigated. I soon discovered that this wasn’t quite the same as reading a map in English. I couldn’t read the road names on the map, or on the street signs in front of us. I wasn’t reading anymore, I was trying match symbols, before we missed the turns. That didn’t work. We were lost. The language seemed impenetrable. Then the children decided this would be the perfect time to practice screaming over one another at the top of their lungs, for the entire drive. Nothing could persuade them to stop. Trying to think in English was becoming painful and trying to read German – forget it. I began to wonder how we were going to survive here, and if I would ever be able to read a German street sign.
Eventually, we found the way back to our new city. Soon we moved into our new home. Finally, we were able to fix the GPS, and there came a day when I was comfortable driving without it. We didn’t just survive, we learned how to thrive.
So much has changed since that first day, since that first month. Our beloved family dog developed cancer and had to be put down not quite a year into our assignment. When we arrived, the children were toddlers just learning to speak English, today they are completely bilingual. We have become comfortable navigating the day-to-day aspects of living in another language, and most of the unexpected moments that we’ve faced. We each experienced the shock of settling into a new culture at different times in different ways, but we figured out how to get through it. We’ve made friends and visited many places we’d only dreamed of.
Looking back now, it’s difficult to imagine how adrift we felt after our passports were stamped at customs. Jetlagged and uncertain, we took a deep breath, and stepped through the doors to face the unknown. What began as a two-year assignment turned into a third year, then evolved into a second assignment in another part of Germany. We’ve packed a lot of experiences into these first four years. Our world has grown beyond the boundaries of any one country, we are connected by the friendships we’ve forged since our arrival.
I’ve been a bit melancholy lately, thinking about the beginning of the end of our time in Germany. We’ve always known that one day, we would need to say goodbye, but I’m still not ready to think about that.
One of the hardest things about leaving Germany will be the children’s loss of home. Since beginning Kindergarten, they have created an internal identity different from mine. They have become true Third Culture Kids, living somewhere between the country of their birth – a country they don’t remember at all, and the country they’ve come to love as their own. Leaving Germany is going to be most difficult for them. I have already begun the process of preparing them for our next move. I want to keep them involved and informed with the process, but there is a balance to strike there, too much information is as bad as too little.
For me, this is the beginning of an emotional year. While there is definitely a good deal of sadness that our time in Germany is coming to a close, I’m not going to spend the year in mourning. I gave myself a few days to wallow in the fact that my time here is coming to a close, but now it’s time to go out and see everything I want to see, experience everything I want to experience to make sure I leave with no regrets. I am grateful for the experience and I want to take advantage of the time I have remaining here.
There are other emotions present as well. There is the excitement to begin our new assignment, there is the anticipation of getting to know a new city in a new country, and the anxiety I always feel between moves until I have all of the necessary paperwork in my hand.
I may not know exactly what the future has in store for us, but I do know that I will continue to enjoy the unique aspects of living in this part of Europe. There is still so much to explore. I will continue to engage in the community I am a part of, and I will prepare my family for our upcoming move. It’s nearly time to dust off my moving books and begin the process of disentangling myself from Germany. Until then, I’ll continue along one day, and one adventure at a time.