Friday, September 11, 2015

A lesson in humility

In my previous blog post I thought that I was going to be going to Celle, Germany for a language camp for the first 4 weeks.  Surprise, surprise however, I was finally informed 2 days before departing for Germany that a final host family has been found for me in the city of Flintbek in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany’s northernmost region.  I’ll be 15 minutes away from the bustling port city of Kiel and 100km away from the border of Denmark.

So I am currently sitting a train from Frankfurt headed towards the city of Hamburg where I’ll be switching trains and taking one for Kiel, my final destination where my host family is eagerly waiting for my arrival!  This has been an eventful 6 days since I last saw my family.  We began our CBYX gateway orientation on Tuesday when I arrived at the Crowne Plaza hotel.  During my time there I had the amazing opportunity to visit the State Department where we had a few guest speakers that were part of the Foreign Service tell us all about international relations and how to become student diplomats ourselves in this upcoming year abroad.  After, each of us made appointments and met up with the office of our regional Congressional representatives.  Our mission was to thank them for their continued support to fund the CBYX program with over $3 million a year alongside the German Bundestag.  Perhaps my most favorite part of the orientation was when I had the honor of being able to visit the German Embassy and have a presentation directed toward us by the German ambassador about what we should expect this upcoming year in Germany, different functions of an embassy and the main objective of this scholarship that I received, which was in turn to be an unofficial student ambassador between the U.S.A and Germany, teaching one culture about the other and vice versa.   Meeting with these international ambassadors and Foreign Service members really got me thinking of a possible career in working for the State Department as a Foreign Service officer.  One of the guest speakers I had the pleasure of meeting was Alice, she has been in the Foreign Service for over 28 years and has visited over 89 countries!!  She has been part of several peacekeeping missions between Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq and has learned in her travels over 6 different languages.  For anyone interested in a career that involves travel and making an impact in the world you should seriously consider work in the Foreign Service!  I sure am glad that I have been exposed to this field of work and have something to keep in mind when I begin looking for a job in the future.

 I have met so many new people, each with their own unique experiences and backgrounds.  So far I have made a few good friends with whom I plan to meet up with in Germany and hopefully have the opportunity to call them lifelong friends.   Among those is a kid named Thomas, a fellow Ohioan; Spencer, a 16-year old amateur DJ from Pennsylvania; 2 Belgian guys named Lucas and Arnold and Carolyn, a girl from New York that has been with me the past day in the hostel in Frankfurt in which about 50 AFS students where required to stay overnight for train scheduling reasons.  I’m thankful for this opportunity because it was the first time being integrated with students from several other cultures.  We had kids from Brazil, Argentina, Belgium, Spain, Japan, Thailand, Denmark, Norway and many more!  Surprisingly, one of the most captivating people I have met so far was not one of my new good friends or any AFS student for that matter, but a fellow in his 20’s named Josef on the train ride from Frankfurt to Hamburg.  At first he looked like your typical biker, leather jacket, leather pants and bulky helmet right beside him.  We began to introduce ourselves and I soon found out that there was a lot more to him than meets the eye.  His passions seemed to be motorcycles and travelling the world.  He told me that last year he took a semester off of school in order to travel from Germany all the way down to Cape Town, South Africa!  He started with a map and a couple thousand Euros in his pocket and ventured off into the unknown just like that!  He told me how he would mainly sleep in his tent on the side of a road or in a jungle, but at times he said it was easy to start up conversations with the locals and find yourself a free place to stay for the night.  This amazed me beyond belief and the more he told me about his 7 month escapade, the more I became inspired by his free-spirited nature and absolute love for travel.  I was awestruck at some of the stories he told me of the people he had met in several war-torn African countries.  These stories in which random strangers and families treated him with such intense generosity and placed such heavy trust in him gave me goose bumps!  In one instance, he met a man who had helped him with a flat tire.  The man proceeded to house and feed him for the next week, insisting that he stay as long as he wants and one day actually entrusted him to babysit his kids while he was away.  That to many others and myself sounds insane!  When asked why he did so much for a stranger, the man replied, “This is my country and you are my guest.  I will treat you with the same respect I treat my family and show you the best my country has to offer.  So I know that if one day I will visit your country you will do the same”. This made me feel a bit disgusted looking back at many societies in 1st world countries where people have more than enough to give and share with others, but if a foreigner were to come over the U.S or Europe for example, with no money or connections he would be left to starve on the streets.   Most of us have so much that we should be ever so grateful for, yet we don’t realize it in our daily lives.  In essence, there is one valuable lesson that Josef taught me about travelling.  It is not always about the adventures and the sights, but the most important aspect of travelling to him was that is constantly forces you to change the way you perceive life and world around you.  Travelling, in itself, is a life lesson in humility.  This year I hope to meet individuals, such as Josef that will open my eyes to new ways of thought and vigorously inspire me to branch out and learn to get rid of any preconceived notions of self-importance and thoughts that I have some privileged place in this world and to be able to interact with others simply as one human being to another.  We eventually said our goodbyes and he gave me his blog which he insisted that I read (only problem is that it’s in German..) so maybe once I become a bit more fluent I will attempt to give it a read! For any of you reading that might know a bit of German you should totally go and give it a look at !

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