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The American Dream – My US Experience

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.

Innocent and young, before my departure to the States

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.

Jesse and I

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.

Turning 20 in El Paso

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.

Bag on my back, ready to go

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?

12 Comments

  1. Awww, I really feel with you. I lived in all sorts of places within Europe but only Caen (Normandy) got to be my second home. I even have a friend there who keeps on telling me that I still have „my room“ (ma chambre) at her place – it’s the living-room sofa. Otherwise, I always quickly adapted to my surroundings, so home is where I am. I have to admit that it was coming home as well to move back to Hamburg. I’d never have thought that this would ever happen and I’m still thrilled.

    • Es hört sich so großartig an und da ich auch ständig voller Vorfreuden bin fühle ich mit dir!!!
      Hab eine ganz phantastische Zeit,Mariellchen!!!!!!!!!!!

      • bridgekeeper

        August 4, 2013 at 5:30 pm

        Du bist süß – genieß auch du deinen Sommerurlaub in meinem gemütlichen und geliebten Europa 🙂

    • bridgekeeper

      August 4, 2013 at 5:30 pm

      It is a great luxury to have several homes. I keep thinking about what that means at all. I take it a big chunk of it is the memories that are made in a place. We’re very lucky!

  2. Oh, the question about „home“. I don’t know how to properly answer that anymore, as given the fact that I have lived in so many places, I cannot honestly say that there are feelings of attachment that are strong enough for me to call them home. I have lived in Buffalo, NY for 7 years; I could call that home. But at the same time, when I was there, I knew that was a temporary thing. I guess, for me, the meaning of „home“ evolved; it is not about the location anymore, but the people I love and cherish the most.

    I have a home in Buffalo as I have plenty of friends who are still there. I have a home in New York City because my super awesome sister is there. I have a home in many other cities around the world, because I know that my friends can take me in and let me crash on their sofa in case I need to. I guess „home“ is where you have a small set of people who you are comfortable with, and knows you well enough that you can easily put your guard down and be yourself.

    Have fun on the trip, and Happy Birthday!

    PS: You live in Berlin, right? What do you say to coffee/tea/lunch when you come back?

    • bridgekeeper

      August 4, 2013 at 5:32 pm

      I agree very much, Jeruen – the people are what makes a place a home. I am noticing that now more than ever. I feel a bit estranged from the States, but the friend I am visting is making me feel at home again. Sure, coffee sometime can be done 🙂 we’ll be in touch.

  3. My dear
    Words can not describe how happy I am for you. Make the best out of it. Love, Joy, relax and just live the moment! I know you can,I know you will and more than that-I know you deserve it.

    Hugs and kisses
    Weebee

    • bridgekeeper

      August 4, 2013 at 5:33 pm

      Thank you, my dear!! It’s different from sharing my travel adventures with you last year. Much to write about already though. Kisses! xx

  4. Eeeeek how exciting! I had no idea about your time in El Paso and Texas. I’ve never been, despite being Texan, it is a 10 hr drive from my home 🙂 I hope you have the best reunion in Chicago, I know it will not disappoint. I actually teared up reading this for some reason – maybe it’s the thoughts of leaving Germany and how distant the memories can become. Anywho, gute reise!

    • bridgekeeper

      August 4, 2013 at 5:35 pm

      Aw, thank you Alex!! Yes, most Texans have never been to El Paso I feel. It’s not like it’s the most exciting city in the state. But I had a marvelous time there. Are you saying you will be leaving Germany soon??

  5. You know I can relate to this so very well! My first real experience of traveling and being on my own abroad was during a summer in the U.S. back in 2005 and I’ve been dreaming of going back ever since. Have an amazing time in Chicago — from everything I’ve heard it must be such a great city!

    • bridgekeeper

      August 4, 2013 at 5:36 pm

      It is really an awesome city! I am liking it much, although I have to say that being back in the States overwhelms me a little. I am glad to be in good and much valued company!!

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