Und so beginnt es…
I arrived a little over two weeks ago and have finally had time to dedicate an entry to the blog.
^This was on March 15th. It is now July 1st (third edit, August 14th) and I finally have enough time and confidence to properly catalog my thoughts over the past few (five) months. I’ve been writing personal entries during my time here but never comfortable enough to post it publicly because I wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about my experience nor did I have the words to properly capture my emotions at the time. So, here goes.
March was a period of exploration. I was involved within the orientation program at Konstanz in addition to a language and culture class that met every day for 3 hours. It was intensive, but helped me to finally be comfortable speaking around the city and also meet people from a variety of countries- Syria, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Romania, and Turkey to name a few. I was also able to meet up with Schola from UR during their tour in the Baltics which helped to frame my understanding of Eastern European culture that I was hoping to be exposed to. I had already tasted a bit of that with my layover in Moscow but the stoic and proud that I heard about proved to be true and with good reason. Their hardship was apparent through their retelling of history and explanation of their flag’s meaning but one thing still was missing from the conversation: Race.
There aren’t a lot of POC in Europe. And by mean not a lot I mean less than 5%. Compare that to the United States’ 37%, and you will understand why I felt it to be a stark contrast. Granted, there still discrepancies between ethnic minorities within Europe (specifically the Roma population), the contrast between “white” and “non-white” is extremely strong here. I felt tension in a way I never felt before and I wasn’t sure how to process it. I was told to be cautious about labeling Europe as being “racist” because it had a different type of intolerance problem, but being exposed to it and watching it occur first hand, it might be different, but it’s still racism.
Not only this, the homophobia within a fairly large portion of European countries was extremely disappointing to see. Germany still has not approved gay marriages/adoptions (although Civil Unions are legal) which was frustrating come Pride month since there was still a sense of uncomfortability within the Catholic states (interestingly enough, the South). While most younger people were extremely supportive of the endeavor for true equity between genders, sexual orientation, and race, there were still troubling pockets of nationalistic ignorance spread throughout the country. This was especially apparent when the elections resulted in the AFD (the right-wing, nationalist party) garnered a whopping 12.6% of votes in Baden-Württemburg and a similarly significant proportion elsewhere in Germany. Not only this, after the various attacks in Belgium and the Brexit vote, it became clear that the neo-nationalist ideals of the past are (sadly) alive and well in the modern era. Intolerance is truly a universal problem.
This is not to say that Europe did not excel in a plethora of other areas. While it was frustrating getting used to almost everything being closed on Sundays, this naturally created a breathing period for people to take care of themselves physically and mentally. Not only this, the welfare systems put in place result in a happier, healthier community overall. Yes, the bureaucracy was irritating and the tax rate is a little daunting but the utilitarian approach clearly works within those “socialist” nations. I have also never felt safer or healthier in my life.
My experience overall has been one that led me to appreciate more aspects of life I had previously overlooked or deemed trivial. This is not to say I don’t have more room to grow, but the sense of satisfaction I now have for the smallest of things has changed my worldview in ways unimaginable before going abroad. And for this reason, I am truly grateful.
I hope to compile a more in-depth and specific account of the various things I experienced while abroad but figured this was a decent segue into the blog itself. My journey has yet to finish seeing as how I am still re-acclimating to American culture but I hope it results in a more securely defined and confident sense of self for the upcoming semester.
Bis bald 🙂