Postcard from a newcomer


On various occasions I’ve thought about recording a tape and pressing “play” whenever I meet yet another new person:

“Hi! My name is Maria, I’m an exchange student from Germany. I’m from a city called Freiburg, in southwest Germany. I major in English and minor in Portuguese; and I’m in my third year. The biggest differences between Germany and the United States, I find, are that everybody seems to be more friendly here (but also more superficial); Austin’s missing pedestrian areas, a historic city center, and the one million bicycles that can be found in Freiburg. Here, unlike there, the University isn’t all over town, but on one massive (and very beautiful) campus.”

I can’t count the times I’ve shared these pieces of information in one order or another since I arrived here three weeks ago. I wonder if people are really interested in hearing that kind of stuff, or if they’d rather know my favorite poem, how I met my boyfriend, or what I hope to find when I’m traveling.

Starting classes has been a nice change, the chance to discuss literature, something more meaningful than small talk and something I love. It also gives me the possibility to finally experience university in the United States. From what I’ve seen so far, the classes are smaller and less formal. I have to get used to doing regular homework, though, and to writing various essays instead of one final exam or term paper. I also have to stop knocking on my table at the end of each session. That is a tradition in Germany: At the end a class or a lecture all students knock on their tables to show that they appreciate the effort the professor put into the session. During the last week, I was the only one who knocked on her table and that was a bit awkward.

But I guess that’s what going abroad is about: Getting out of your routine, forcing yourself to cope with new situations, leaving behind what you’re familiar with. Choosing courses without really knowing what the instructor is like. Getting lost in the city without Google maps. Not knowing where you can get a really good coffee.

Going abroad means exposing yourself to loneliness for a while. But also means I have possibilities, many of them I might not have back home. This is an open road, who knows what’s behind the next turn of it.

And if someone asks me a little more than about the surface, I will tell them. My favorite poem is Henley’s “Invictus”. I met my boyfriend at a night club. And when I’m traveling I hope to find people with a story to tell, because I love stories, and I hope to find people who like listening to stories because they love them, too.

Hardt is an English major from Freiburg, Germany.