I’ve come to the point in my trip where I’ve begun to say goodbye—to people, to places, to foods. The first of the goodbyes was at dinner last night, when Tina and I had our last kebab (döner), a food I first fell in love with during my high school exchange to Berlin five years ago. (I maintain that the ones in Berlin are the best, but I don’t think I’ll ever turn down a good döner kebab.) I’ve been fortunate to have had multiple experiences abroad, and I’ve learned that it’s practically impossible to live abroad—whether it’s for three weeks or twelve—and not be changed by the experience. Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” I think this is true, but there’s something about being removed from all that is familiar that forces you to have those new eyes, to look at even the most everyday things in a new way, and that level of observation and reflection can really shape a person.
One of the things I did this semester more than I’ve done in the past is to travel to other places. In the past, I’ve studied abroad, but I’ve stayed in that base country. These four months, I’ve learned from the culture of hyggae in Denmark, I’ve sung “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” while prancing around the gazebo from The Sound of Music, and I’ve stood in a reconstruction of The Globe, suspended in a state of awe. I’ve sipped wine in the light of a shining Eiffel Tower and hot chocolate in the fjord of Oslo, Norway. I’ve wandered into bookstores, read on trains (and buses and planes), and eaten more delicious foods than I can name. I have been so fortunate in my travels, but I’ve learned that trips aren’t all about checking off those big-ticket items. The Eiffel Tower is great, but maybe there’s a really awesome bookstore you’ll love more. Big cities have their advantages, but maybe you’ll fall in love with a small town just over the border. Museums may display priceless artifacts from the past, but sometimes walking around a city can help you discover the wonder of the present. Ray Bradbury said that “half the fun of travel is the esthetic of lostness.” I do think there’s something valuable about being lost. It comes back to that level of observation, of being outside of your comfort zone, and actively seeking things. When you travel off the beaten path—or maybe just go to unexpected places—you can blaze your own way a bit more. You lose even more of those expectations and just create your own experience. When you’re lost, you try to find your way again. When you travel, you create an experience, because everything is one big adventure.
Speaking of adventures, I think my whole experience this semester—with both travel and teaching—has taught me a lot about the value of being flexible, of making the best of situations, and adapting. I’ve been reading a lot of quotes about travel recently, if you haven’t been able to tell, and I think one by John Steinbeck applies here: “A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” You can plan, yes, but you don’t control what happens when you travel or when you teach. There are too many other factors, too many other people involved in the process, but that’s what keeps things interesting, that’s what makes each day new and exciting, and that’s what, in the end, makes the whole journey worth it. In my last lesson with my language section today, I had them do oral interpretations (readings) of the poems that we’ve read together this semester. (I also gave them the option of reading a poem they wrote this semester. Two took this option, and I am so proud of them for doing so!) The purpose of the oral interpretations is not only, for them, pronunciation practice, but also a chance to get to know the poem on a different level, because reading a poem out loud for an audience requires a closer analysis, and I wanted them to have that experience. I also thought it would be a nice way for us to end our time together—hearing all of the poems we’ve worked on together, and just enjoying some good poetry. My favorite poem of the class, though, was an unexpected one, something that I had not anticipated and something that I had no control over—they wrote me an ode. We talked about odes (and the differences between odes and elegies) a few weeks ago, so it was something we’ve covered together, and it was perfect—and a perfect example of how, sometimes, the unplanned things are the best parts of the journey.
I’ve learned quite a bit about both teaching and myself this semester, which is definitely a good thing, but I’ve also missed a lot of things about being home. At the top of this list is the companionship of the people I know and love, both my family and my friends. I’ve made some really lovely friends here, but being away from everyone hasn’t been easy. Katherine Butler Hathway said, “A person needs at intervals to separate from family and companions and go to new places. One must go without familiars in order to be open to influences, to change.” As hard as being away this semester has been, I agree with her. Being away from everyone you know is just another way of stepping outside of your comfort zone. In one of my classes last year, we talked about Julia Cameron’s idea of an “Artist’s Date,” where you go on a date with yourself in order to refresh your pool of creativity—you go out and just be, observing and noticing new things. I feel like this whole semester has been one big Artist’s Date, a time away from everything and everyone I know, a period of heightened observation, reflection, and learning.
This student teaching experience is far from the experience I would have had in the States, but I am walking (or I guess walking, driving, and flying would be more accurate) away from the experience feeling more prepared for teaching than I was when I arrived. Teaching here has given me the opportunity to meet some incredible people, learn about new cultures, and gain necessary experience in front of the classroom. There are many things that I will miss about Luxembourg and my time here, but I know that I will take them—and the lessons I’ve learned here—with me as I continue on, both in life and in my teaching career. I found a quote (lots of quotes in this post, I know) by Jack Kerouac that applies here: “What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? —it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” I’ve experienced another part of the world this semester, but now it’s time to say good-bye. I’m not quite sure what my next crazy venture beneath the skies will be, but I’ll start with celebrating Christmas with my family and finishing my undergraduate degree. From there, well, “the skies” is pretty ambiguous—who knows where I’ll end up?