Rewind 13 years. I am now 15 again.
It is Saturday, August 5th. I am due to fly to the US on the 8th to spend a year living there with a strange family, going to a strange school and, hopefully, making memories that will last forever. But I do not know yet where I will go. I don’t know the family yet that will take me. All I know is that I will probably end up in the South somewhere.
As on every other day for the past 5 months, I am anxious as I look in the mailbox. There is a letter from my exchange organization Youth for Understanding. I tear it open. And there I have it. I am going to El Paso, Texas. My hostparents are both 35 years old (not much older than I am now). I will have two little host sisters aged 4 and 7.
It is now Tuesday, August 8th. I am smiling as I pass through security, waving at my crying mother. I am excited and full of naive anticipation. I have so much to look forward to.
Fast forward one year. I am now 16.
It is July 10th. On my way to the airport, I am holding hands with my friends Angela and Jesse. I am sadder than I have ever been before. I want to go home to Germany. But this, El Paso, is now my home, too. I have memories here. Friends. A family. I am so confused. I don’t know any longer where I belong.
On July 11th I arrive at Hamburg airport. At baggage claim I feel like my legs are shaking so much that they must give in at any second. What will it be like to see my family? I walk through the doors. There is a blur of laughing faces and bright yellow. I am being picked up by my parents, my sisters and ten friends. Everyone of them holds a sun flower for me. I laugh and cry at the same time.
Fast forward three years. I am now 19.
I am going back to the El Paso for a three week vacation. My littel host sisters are now 8 and 11. They have grown so much. Most of my friends are home from college. I fall in love. I turn 20. I sneak away a drink at a restaurant and get all nervous about it. I drive my host dad’s car on the freeway, windows open on a hot desert night. I cry almost my entire transatlantic flight back.
Fast forward to the present day. I am 28.
I have not been to the US in nine years. I have met up with my host family in Europe, four years ago, and I have seen my host sisters grow on their facebook profiles. I won’t get to see my family this time around. I am not even going back home, home to El Paso. I am going to visit one of my favourite people in the world, my friend Jesse, in Chicago, a city he loves to live in.
There are countless What’sApp messages between Jesse and me in preparation. „What’s the weather like so I can pack properly, Jesse?“ „Mariella, what time do you get in so I can take time off work?“ „Dude, I just saw in my travel guide there were BEACHES in Chicago!!“ „Hey, you wanna do an architecture tour when you’re here?“ „I just learned about the Grant Park Music Festival. Jesse, we have GOT to go!“ „And also, we have got to go sing karaoke in the German neighborhood. Check!“
Germans call this Vorfreude, which literally translateds to pre-happiness. It is something like the English anticipation, although to me that is closer to German Erwartung which also means expectation. Vorfreude is purer, cleaner. Expectations can be disappointed. Vorfreude is just a feeling of great great joy in the face of something happening at all, not necessarily a clear cut idea of what that something is going to look like. Granted, I have some ideas. I think there will be discussions on life and friendship and career and love and music. There will be reminiscing of old times. There will be my 29th birthday. There will be lots of laughter. And there will be the long big bear hug I am planning on giving my friend when I see him again after nine years. All the rest is a big surprise. I am so excited to go to the States again. I am so excited to, in a way, come home.
What’s your home away from home?