A Chance to See Beyond Oneself
Guten Tag!

And so my time in Germany comes to an end and a new home awaits me in Austria. When I moved in with the family in Germany, we had agreed that I would stay one month; I have also completed the first level of the German language course I was taking in Lindau (Level A1). I am now going to be staying with family friends who live near Salzburg in Austria to continue studying German and begin my job search. I am incredibly grateful for the family's hospitality in Germany and feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to live with them (see photo).

In this blog entry I would like to share some observations that stood out from my time in Germany. Bear in mind that I only lived in the country for a month and a half, so my observations are limited.


Observation 1 - Solar Panels Everywhere

In Bavaria, there is an astounding number of photovoltaic solar panels on the houses, which in many cases, cover the entire roof (see photos below). The reason for this has nothing to do with people being environmentally-minded. The government has created an incentive program that requires utilities to purchase electricity generated from residential renewable energy resources. This specific region of Bavaria, the Allgau, has the most sunshine per year in German. Compared to the number of sunny days in my home state of California as well as many of the Southwestern States in the US, you would think that Solar panels would be more widely adopted  but alas, the US is lagging.

Observation 2 - Simple Meals and Eating Local

Compared to the usual diversity and size of meals in USA I have experienced, the typical meals consumed in Bavaria are much smaller and much more simple. For the majority of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, we ate bread with sliced meat and vegetables (primarily tomatoes and cucumbers from their garden). These meals were often prepared at the dinner table while eating. It's interesting how this method of preparing while eating slows down the meal process, allowing you time to digest and eat less. In addition, the time spent preparing the food while eating creates longer meal times which results in more conversation and relationship development.     

In addition, the family I lived with would get several crates of bottled juices, carbonated mineral water (a favorite among Germans), and beer delivered by truck. When the truck came for the next delivery, the used glass bottles are returned to the companies, cleaned, and refilled to be used again - a great method! This is a common method of purchasing drinks and reusing the bottles that I noticed in a number homes.

Observation 3 - Church-State Connection

There is a unique financial relationship between the German government and Catholic Church. If you are baptized by the Catholic church, you are obliged to pay somewhere between .2%-1.5% of your income to the church. It is automatically taken out of your paycheck. If you wish to no longer pay this obligatory tithe to the Church, you will not be able to receive communion at church (a fairly important part of the church service for Catholics). With this in mind, one can understand how the churches have been able to afford such elaborate decorations.

Also interesting is that there are number of crucifixes all over the landscape in Bavaria, such as on many of the walking paths and in front of peoples houses (see photo below).

Observation 4 - Networks of Villages

One thing I absolutely love about this region is the manner in which the villages are spaced apart by woodland and pastureland (see photos). It offers beautiful scenery with enough farm and pasture land for the locals to live off the land. Though the generic supermarkets still offer produce from hundreds of kilometers away, many of the villages have their own bakeries, delis, and markets where you can buy fresh local food products that come directly from the town you live in.   

Many tourists come to this region to enjoy the natural beauty, partaking in such activities as nordic walking, cycling, and hiking. There are continuous walking paths that  lead throughout the entire region from one village to the next (all well labeled I might add) (see photo below).

Observation 5 - Learning a New Language is Humbling

It has been a very humbling experience learning a new language. You feel incredibly helpless when your limited vocabulary, incorrect pronunciation, and mixed-up word order leaves a local staring at you with uncertainty. You just have to laugh at your self at times and keep trying your best - the more mistakes you are willing to make, the better you learn the language. As I have been reading about language learning online, I have come across some interesting articles on the topic of language anxiety that explain that learning a language can cause greater anxiety than learning most other subjects; this is an experience I can certainly relate with and often struggle to overcome. But there are also those great moments when you realize you just rattled off a sentence in a foreign language without even thinking about it. Though it's tough, it's worth it.

In addition, learning a new language creates a sense of equality with the other students around you. One's status, age, finances, success, experience, etc. don't really make much of difference when you can't speech the language - you are as helpless as the person sitting in the chair next to you who doesn't have a clue what the teacher just said. All you can do is feebly raise your hand and utter, "Ich verstehe nicht" (I don't understand).

Try It!

It is these experiences of living abroad that help one to put their home culture and norms in context. The experience of living abroad opens one's mind to new ways of living and helps one empathize with those that are different. Traveling can teach us many of these lessons but living in a foreign country gives a much deeper and transforming experience. For all of those that are interested in living abroad, I highly encourage you to start taking steps to make it a reality. There are many options out there for living abroad temporarily or permanently; find one that works for you, and make it happen!

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