Germany: Around the world in 90 days

“Do the things you fear most and the death of fear is certain” – Mark Twain



The Road less Traveled

So it’s been a little over 2 months since I first arrived in Germany. A lot of my posts these past few months have been concerning travel. I’ve been to Paris, Strasbourg, Amsterdam, Bavaria, Mannheim, Frankfurt, etc. I’ve been traveling most weekends and haven’t really had time to reflect on the experience as a whole.

Before this experience, I had rarely traveled outside of Oregon. And in fact, I had barely spent time exploring my home city of Portland. I lived in a very tiny bubble. I remember the spark that planted the seed of adventure, the desire to see the world. By chance, I got a letter in the mail from an organization called “People to People” to be a student ambassador for non other than bowling (fun fact: I was in a bowling league for 10 years and president of my high school bowling club). Had I gone, I would’ve traveled to the Netherlands and competed with kids from all over the globe, but alas, it was not meant to be. Yet since that moment, I have waited for the day when the planets aligned and I could finally travel. That day never came, so I said “you know what, [insert expletive here] it, I’m going anyway”. Originally the idea was to travel to South America, as I was taking Spanish at the time and wanted to improve my Spanish while immersing myself in the culture. Yet I kept pushing the trip aside until, surprise, I was a Freshman in college. Then life happened, I grew up, started focusing on my career, and became highly involved around campus. Then I had a choice.

I could focus my energy on graduation, to have a diploma in my hand and a real sense of security, or I could push graduation back a few terms and go abroad. Not an easy decision. But as fate would have it, I decided to take summer classes a year ago. And during that time, there was an info session. And I remembered. 8 years ago, the excitement I felt when I was asked to travel to the Netherlands, the disappointment when I found out I couldn’t go. The years of Spanish, the desire to immerse myself in another culture. So I finally decided I would say yes. No matter what, I would go abroad. And here I am. Is it everything I dreamed it would be? It is. It is the single best decision I’ve made in my entire life. I’m not going to lie and say it was smooth sailing from that point out. In fact, it was anything but. As confident as I sound now, I had a lot of anxiety and reservation even after I made the commitment to myself. There were many times when I was ready to drop the program, when I wanted to say I had too much on my plate and I simply couldn’t afford to take a term abroad. But I asked myself, “When all is said and done, do I want to live a life of regrets”? To always wonder what would’ve been had I gone abroad. And that’s all I needed. A reminder that this was the next step in my journey. That, wherever life takes me, let it be forward. So why Germany?


Germany

Maybe it was all the history channel I watched as a kid, the pure fascination with the world and the association of Europe with cultural heritage. Perhaps it was the fabled rumors of delicious beer, beer that far surpasses any beer in America. Or it might of been the allure of magical castles or simply the idea itself (to experience something new). Yet if I’m to be honest, there were a few main reasons I chose Germany.

It’s centrally located

Want to spend a weekend in Paris? No problem. A weekend in Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Italy? Absolutely no problem. In fact, London and Ireland are a short flight away as well. If you’re looking for easy travel, look no further than Germany.

It’s got history

Mosbach, while small, is the perfect embodiment when you think of a German town. Each building… Well… Just take a look for yourself. This is Mosbach and I’m actually living here! No joke, it’s pretty much straight out of a fairy tale. Oktoberfest is pretty cool as well, and Lederhosen are very stylish. Of course there’s more history than that, tis’ but a snippet.

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Following my roots

In the 8th grade, I had the privilege of being in Australia for my cousin’s wedding. While there, I hunted down my great great great grandfathers grave. It was fun and made me realize the importance of heritage. I take great pride in where I come and while I’m still trying to piece together the family tree, I can say I have a lot of German in me. In fact, on the name sheet for my classes, my nationality says German; was it a mistake or something more? I can’t really say. I’ve also learned ein bisschen Deutsch, so… Anyways, it’s a lot of fun if you have heritage from the country you’re going to! It’s something to consider, but not necessary to have a great time.

The U.S. 2016 presidential election

I picked the right time to go abroad. Will The U.S. collapse or prosper? Who knows, I’m in Germany. If I want to, I can simply come back here and live a peaceful existence, regardless of what the election outcome is.


Closing Thoughts

Am I a different person? Yes. Life is about taking risk. If we don’t takes risks, we don’t grow. And when we’re not growing, we’re stagnant or worse, stumbling backwards. I never want to wake up one morning and realize that I’m exactly the same as I was yesterday. The thought absolutely terrifies me. I want each day of my life to be an adventure and the best way to do so is to constantly set new goals. So my message is go out, be bold, and don’t waste your time worrying. If you’re on the fence about going abroad, don’t be. You don’t want to be the student that regrets not taking the opportunity while you had it. In fact, I honestly can’t imagine what my college experience would be like without this opportunity.

 

 

Embracing Chaos

So let’s start where it all began; The Big Bang. The Universe was in harmony, molecules bonded, planets formed, life was created. The Universe was in order. Every moment that passes the Universe expands ever faster and the unforeseen happens, bringing a little more chaos into our lives. Is it bad? Not at all! I may sound like a mad man, but hear me out.

So, what is chaos? Chaos represents that which we cannot control and that scares a lot of people. Control gives us a sense of stability, so as humans we seek to control the world around us. Yet this is a futile effort. We have this illusion of control, that somehow our lives will be better tomorrow than they are today. This is not guaranteed. Some may say it comes down to perspective, that if you think positive, your life is all sunshine and rainbows. This is a false assumption. Optimism only goes so far and it can be a slippery slope. Being overly optimistic can lead to a false sense of security. It can become easier to ignore reality than face that the world can be a cruel, unforgiving place. “Good to Great” wisely stated (I’m paraphrasing, but you’ll get the gist) that optimists don’t survive in the real world. The people who survive believe they will prevail but set realistic expectations. So pessimists rejoice, you have the right attitude (just don’t have a rain cloud over your head)!

I have spent my entire college career trying to answer what role chaos has played in my life. Like the great human being I am, I spent the the first two years trying to control the chaos with no avail. Then I simply let the chaos control me. And then, I invested a lot of time and energy building myself from the ground up, the typical reinventing that many-a -college-student goes through. What did I find? Once I understood how to control myself, how to self manage and all that good jazz, I didn’t see chaos as such a detriment. I wouldn’t say chaos and myself are BFF’s right now, but I’ve found life to simply be more enjoyable. I know what you may be thinking “hey, he figured himself out, that’s great! But doesn’t the act of finding/creating yourself help reduce chaos?” Yes and no. The way I see it, investing in yourself is the equivalent of being handed a compass. A compass may point you in the right direction but at the end of the day you can choose any map you want to follow. But there’s a difference between looking at a map and having direction vs. actually setting down the path you’ve chosen. All the preparation and tools in the world won’t prepare you for reality, the environment and situations you may or may not come across. You may find that the road you chose to wander down is a dead end. If you are afraid of chaos, you’ll turn around and retread your steps. The familiar will  always give a false sense of stability. If however, you embrace chaos, you might say “this road is blocked, but I know where I’m headed, so here’s another road that’ll get me there”.  So go ahead and embrace chaos, you won’t be disappointed.

The Power of Context: Life isn’t a one size fits all label

Ever heard the phrase “it’s the little things that matter most”? Of course you have, unless you’ve lived under a rock your entire life; no judgments here. Is it true? Yes, yes it is. That’s not to say big moments don’t matter but it’s often the little moments that add up and create big moments. So why then, as human beings, are we stuck in a vicious cycle of oversimplifying the complexities of life? We can say criminals are evil but that’s an easy answer that doesn’t add up. If I volunteer on the weekends, I’m perceived as a good person. As flattering as that is, that’s a generalization. So what makes everything add up, where you can say, “oh, now that makes a lot of sense”? Well, my friends, it’s context. We are not always good and we are not always evil. Context explains why “good” people do “bad” things and “bad” people do “good” things.

Why Context Matters:

Context matters because it allows us to make better sense of the world. Instead of saying someone did something out of “character”, we can analyze and break down what they did and why they did it. When we make generalizations, we are left scratching our heads. If I’m perceived as a good person people will dismiss when I do something out of line, or worse, change their view of who I am with this one instance. If, for example, I call someone a “bad” name, rather than trying to understand the context and what lead to the name calling, they can simply say I’m a “bad” person. And due to personal bias, once they make this new assumption, they will look for anything that will reaffirm their new belief that I am a “bad” person. Yet, flip the story around. Let’s say I compliment that person and reaffirm their world views. Then I am a “good” person. So, simple. Just be a “good” person. This would work in a perfect world. Yet what as human beings do we tend to do? We focus on the negative. We are hard-wired to do so. Everyone wants to feel as though they have worth and we seek this through the approval of our peers. Humans are social creatures, so it makes sense. In a perfect world, we would be 100% intrinsically motivated and not care what others thought of us, but once again, we do not live in a perfect world. So back to my previous example. We can have a thousand positive interactions with an individual yet it only takes one moment to destroy a relationship. Does this seem logical? No, yet we do it all the time. We hold grudges and we put up walls. So an understanding of context in a sense can overwrite what we are hard-wired to do and make forgiving others much easier.

Asking the right questions:

A question we don’t ask enough is why. Such a simple question yet so powerful. Why is a question of trying to understand context. It encourages discussion and facilitates results. It not only helps you understand the situation better but shows appreciation of the other party. Ask why enough times and you have an answer. Instead of “good” or “bad” we get “Oh, I never saw it that way” or “Oh, that makes a lot of sense”. That’s the power of understanding context. It’s understanding. Context encourages us to break down labels and try to understand the other person on a situation-by-situation basis. “Heat of the moment” now makes a lot more sense. So go ahead, ask the question “why” and let the results speak for themselves.

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