Sixty-eight new faces greeted us in session 1 of 10 late-night, early-morning weekend leadership training sessions spread out over 5 months. One new face, sitting across from us, greeted us on the train with a short and friendly conversation. Thirty faces of Spanish speakers greeted us while taking coffee and dessert to celebrate the 7th anniversary of the Spanish service. Three of those assumed we were German and started speaking to us in German rather than Spanish. One new face surprised us with a greeting after church, and we had coffee and talked for an hour with our new friend.
Someone asked me to talk about the people that we’ve been meeting in Germany. We met so many this weekend, which is unusual for us in just three days. We typically have short moments in time, which connect us momentarily to other strangers who offer assistance when we get on or off the trains or who cede the way so that we may go first. We typically try to stay connected to friends here and abroad on a regular basis by sending them little texts or messages to say, “I’m thinking of you.” And we occasionally meet someone new.
Everywhere we go is like a gathering of the nations, especially at our church, but even on the trains and on the streets, there are people from Spain, from Venezuela, from Togo, from Ethiopia, from Iran, from Italy, from Turkey, from Hungary, from the US, from Chile, from Egypt, from Brazil, from Portugal … you get the idea. It is truly amazing to me to think about all the different nationalities of people that I’ve met and gotten to know to varying degrees. I’m sure it’s more than I ever met in the States.
Even our apartment building is a melding of countries. We’re from the US. Three families are originally from Germany. Two are from Italy. One is from Hungary. And one is from Kazakhstan. Amazing!
One family that attends the Spanish-speaking group at church is from Ecuador. They moved to Spain to live for 14 years, and a couple years ago they moved to Germany because the economy in Spain was not good, and they couldn’t find work. Now they struggle to learn German while working and raising two small girls.
The same situation with economically necessary migration has happened with people of all nationalities, including an Italian nurse that cared for Michael at one of the hospitals. She has the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in nursing, but she couldn’t find employment in her country and now works and lives in Germany where nurses are trained via apprenticeship. We communicated mostly via Italian on her part and Spanish on my part and occasional German, where useful.
And besides her, we had nurses from all kinds of different countries, and they were wonderful, and through interacting with them I learned a lot of German — hack German. That’s funny because one German friend was shocked I could understand the nurses. He said he could never understand nurses because most of them were not native German speakers. And I said I could only understand them because I learned the language from them. That’s why my German was so poor. I learned it “on the streets” from immigrants.
That was then, though, and this is now. My German is better, and now I can meet more people. We’ve actually met a couple Americans here and there. We don’t go out of our way to find Americans or spend time with them. However, non-American English speakers are another story entirely. Our best friends here are English speakers, naturally, as it’s hard to develop mutually deep relationships without language. But I still continue to use German constantly with others, and the relationships that I’ve developed with English speakers has given me a couple of people I feel very comfortable with practicing and refining my German and asking questions about the language and culture. They have been a wonderful help, and I’m so grateful to them for their friendship!
The next steps for both Michael and me in learning the language have come in the form of a language course and a leadership seminar. The leadership seminar is hosted free by our church and occurs one weekend a month for five months. We just had our first meeting this past weekend, which made for a super packed weekend! And the morning language course will start next Tuesday. I’m excited for Michael to have some constructive space dedicated to practicing the language, and I’m also excited for myself, as I’ll be accompanying Michael to assist him, so I’ll be present the whole time and can listen in and bolster the basics.
Our leadership seminar is a whole ‘nother can of worms. It’s by Germans, for Germans, in German. There’s no dumbing down for people with sub-par language skills like mine, so I’m really pumped to have the extra incentive for learning. I really don’t like having to learn something just because. It is so much more motivating and exciting to learn things either out of necessity or out of pure fascination. We have to read a book, which I’ll do my best to do in German. And Michael has purchased a Kindle version in the original English language. He was actually unable to really understand anything from the course over the weekend and spent most of the time working on his phone. Afterwards, I explained to him what I had understood.
I’m really excited about the seminar, and I’m also really glad it’s only one weekend a month. With the elevator broken at the station closest to our house, we have to walk to another one, which means leaving a half hour earlier. Then on Friday night the class goes until 9:30 pm; then there’s still an hour to get home. And then we have to be at class at 9:30 am on Saturday morning, which means about 6 hours of sleep. I hardly need to mention that it definitely fills up a good chunk of those two days.
I just hope they offer us pretzel brunch every Saturday session, because I swear those were the best and biggest pretzels I’ve ever eaten! If not, we might have to make it tradition to pick up a couple pretzels on the way there … if we can manage to get out the door even earlier to have time to stop by a bakery. I think a pretzel with butter for breakfast is fairly motivating.
May we all continue to find joy in shifting seasons, literally and figuratively, and in each of our new adventures.
With love from Germany,