I can clearly see for the first time in my adult life how days, once the right season comes around, really do get shorter. Leaving my office at 6pm and not being overcome by pitch black darkness, mingled with the Bratwurst smells from round the corner, where the Metzger is, is a surprising yet obvious consequence of the aforementioned. It’s hard to believe that I am approaching the 6 month mark of my year abroad. I feel as though it somehow should’ve felt like it has either dragged on or flown by, rather than a combination of the two.It has been so tough at times, but now it really does feel like it’s actually taking on a routine and veering towards the enjoyable.
The first months were spent wistfully scrolling through Instagram, glumly unaware of in-jokes on the JCR page, and sniffing in my bed after talking on Whatsapp call to my dad, as well as being sat in an office which I initially loved ( my own office!) , which very quickly became insufferably silent. I am still completely unaware of how to make something sound witty in German and of how to deal with all the horrid letters asking me to PAY URGENT SUM OF when I shouldn’t have had to. The hardest part by far has been my being terribly homesick for the first time in my life: torn away from my friends, still too far from my family to just go home for the weekend, I was confused and unsettled, riddled with jealousy and bitterness most days. People seemed to be able to share their year abroad with others, whereas I had the opposite of that.
I spent a lot of time indoors, snuggled in bed, watching Fresh Meat, Josh, Siblings, all these terrible programmes I could watch on iPlayer, and sleeping, the long-lasting effects of a second year riddled with insomnia still lagging behind me. The winter months didn’t do much to disencourage this behaviour, as Stuttgart fell into one of the coldest winters I have been through: it snowed for two weeks, walks into the S-Bahn halted by an icy cover over each and every pavement. But despite the snow and my socially icy few months, both melted – I think after a business trip with my Miranda Priestly – ish boss (truly lovely, but just as intimidating to me initially), which saw me sit for seven hours on a car trip to Leipzig with her, and gradually be able to sink into real conversation, not much can scare me anymore when it comes to German interaction (she said, pretending not to know about Oxford orals).
Things following that trip to Eastern Germany included an illuminating flight back to Oxford, and a rather fun work Christmas dinner, as I mentioned in a past post (by the way, I didn’t have to sing after all). I can contribute (if somewhat dimly, and relying far too much on emojis) to a Whatsapp chat group with three of the colleagues who have become my regular lunch buddies. I can book a bus online and navigate my way through unfamiliar train stations, bus stops, and airports, be it Munich, Bonn, or Zurich. I can even pick up a phone ringing on Martina, my colleague’s, desk as it rings incessantly, and calmly state she’ll be right back and should I take a message? (My phone, incidentally, never rings).
I proudly chaperoned my mum and auntie, who came to visit me for a belated 21st birthday celebration and booked a hotel in Munich, around town, showing them the Glockenspiel, and patiently waiting as they crooned over the shiny Peugeot saucepans in Galeria Kaufhof, buying far too much kitchen equipment (I gave up on attempting to take them to Lenbach art gallery. I think the thing they bought most of was dried mango in the Viktualienmarkt, even though I ushered them towards cuckoo clocks and various other typical things. The following week, I went to Bonn, staying with my friend Fran (who is staying in the most ridiculously gorgeous house I could’ve imagined anyone could rent as a student), who sweetly celebrated my birthday by bringing me a surprise doughnut tray at midnight and giving me a parcel of love including a German decoupage magazine and DM face masks.
Amongst other achievements, I have managed to write to the national electricity company (this is the bit I could insert a swear word between brackets, but will refrain from doing so…), argue with them on the phone, finally being listened to and cleared of non-existent payments. I have sat my way through one theatre show , two solo cinema dates, twenty-ish Zumba classes and many work lunches picking up sayings and jokes, understanding everything and yet unable to fish out the right words to slot in. This is what I struggle the most with still: the full comprehension, yet weak self-inclusion.In an office which has an incredibly friendly atmosphere, where people hang “Happy birthday” bunting on people’s doors and abandon their work to complain about someone eating chicken on the road outside, leave far too much cake in the kitchen daily, and organise bowling evenings together, I am scared of coming across as cold and uninterested when I am anything but. There is not much I can do about this but simply work on self-improvement.
Unfortunately, German distractions from my Hammer Grammar and vocabulary book abund, be it watching Germany’s Next Top Super Model or people watching (earwagging!) sat inside the Markthalle. I tell myself this counts nonetheless as improving. The enthusiasm with which my colleagues propose Mädelsabends and gossip over things at lunch makes me feel included, even if I resemble one of the mute statues on Covent Garden: trust has been bought up, as has comfort, and it makes me feel good to be able to still fulfil the role of someone who can be a good friend. Me and Martina now give each other cough sweets and make each other tea. I laugh at her “Alte Schwede” and she laughs at my occasional sigh and “Oh dear…” We follow each other on Instagram, send each other stupid Buzzfeed links constantly, and she is most probably coming to see me in Oxford. Even if a slightly Borat-ish one, I think I am being counted as a friend.
I am happy to be living in the beautiful Baden Württemberg, now.Stuttgart feels the right size: sometimes I catch myself affectionately referring to it as “Stuggi” when writing to an English friend, or sitting on a tram past my stop and riding it until it reaches the end destination, then hopping onto another one, just to get more glimpses of town. The Fernsehturm has reopened, and I can see it glimmer in the distance, a strange asparagus looming over this city surrounded by both vineyards and building sites. I actually made a bucket list for the city and its surroundings itself, as I think I should place more emphasis on the place I am fortunate enough to live in than attempting to escape all the time. Routine, work, uni reading, exercise, bed, the occasional Ausflug or random road taken on foot instead of jumping on the U-Bahn. That keeps me content.
Oxford, whilst continuing to loom in my brain telling me to work (I know…), is no longer a panacea I want to return to. Sometimes I google-map the city and it hits me just how claustrophobic it is. I imagine spending my evening shut in my room, or putting up with irritating freshers in the bar, and it dissolves – the one painful note was finalist formal, which I missed, and got overly upset about. A particularly petty episode of Germany’s Next Top Model cheered me up. Being told recently me and Sara would end up next door to each other in final year has been the best news in a while, and something I am really looking forward to next year.
Above all, there is something which has revealed itself to me, which I have only fully realised when forced to be fully entrenched in it: for the first time in my life, I enjoy spending my time alone. This is not an Oxford “one hour alone” in the Tay eating my lunch skimming Cherwell surrounded by people frantically typing away on their laptops. This is weeks, months, perfectly capable of handling being surrounded by no people my age and with human interaction mainly occurring at work. Evenings are mine, and feel glorious: most days, I try to go to my gym and survive through more exercise, the sauna the award at the end of it, the walk back tiring me out completely, collapsing in bed unable to keep even one eye open to glance at Pavese.
The best investment I have made here has without doubt been my 20 euro payment for a library card, as I have come to the conclusion that I like going to the Stadtbibliothek and reading by myself far more than desperately attempting to mingle with expats in smelly Irish pubs. Spending hours there at a time, slowly making my way up each of its floors every hour or so, has gained me a few odd looks. Why would someone my age care to look around the elderly section full of old war archives and newspapers from the 80s? Something that has come back rushing towards me has been reading ( recent development- this is as fresh as this past Wednesday), as I have inhaled Dahl’s short stories for adults (I couldn’t find them anywhere!), a poetry book by Bukowski, A room of one’s own, and a very strange novel called How the light gets in, all in the past week. Guiltily done, true, as my reading list makes my shelves ache in my little postcard-plastered room. My windows are divided into books to read and books I want to read, amongst these books which have been on a mental “bucket book list” for years.
But the luxury of reading what I want is almost a novelty: so I have been converted to short stories, conceding myself one on the S-Bahn to and from work, and trying not to sigh as I pick up a copy of Jelinek drama,attempting to repeat my dad’s smug advice regarding books of “You can make anything interesting if you convince yourself well enough”, yet ready to understand zilch of the Austrian dialect used. The strange realisation of being a lone extrovert has become a normality to me: maybe I was merely tired of people. Being able to do my own thing and reserve people- interaction to trips away feels liberating – it’s always wonderful to see new places, but the new sense of relief and warmth that comes with seeing Stuttgart appear when I head home on my Postbus almost makes the trip worth it.
Next week, I’m flying to Paris, a trip I booked four months ago and which seemed to be a vague book plot David and I would talk about as if it were some strange common daydream. It’s surreal. I’m aware I’m a walking cliche, but I have been waiting to see the Orsay museum for about six years now. I have a feeling I might cry upon entering the rooms laden with Monets and Renoirs.I remain vaguely terrified on exploring town myself, but it’s about time I learn to read a map, to be honest.
My posts have absolutely taken a turn from self deprecating nonsense to vaguely wanky Gap Yah finding yourself drivel. But maybe this carries itself a message that can be universally applied: I think that this year is slowly telling me to put myself first. I’m not too bothered about my changing tone: trying to be funny can be just as tiring as academia. I guess the core of this post in itself is that maybe once you stop holding onto preconceptions, and let invisible expectations go, things improve, and I just wanted to see myself writing that. Letting go is rewarding. It took me a while to embrace that, but I do now.