Closure to the Most Amazing Year of My Life

In the year of 2010 I visited 23 countries and traveled well over 25,000 Miles.  This abundance of travel gave me the unique chance to explore many different and unique cultures throughout Europe and meet so many wonderful people.  When I think of the vast variety of individuals I’ve encountered on these journeys, it simply blows my mind.  One of the reasons for creating this blog is for me to remember these special times and people I shared them with.  It was a life changing experience that I will never forget. Being able to travel so often and so cheaply was something truly special and unique to Europe.  In America, one could never find the train connections and ridiculously cheap flights that they have in Europe.  RyanAir and EuRail/InterRail passes were truly the way to go.  I am amazed that I accomplished all that I did with the extremely small budget of saved up money I had.  It all truly comes down to planning efficiently and being able to roll with the punches as nothing ever goes 100% as planned.  Below is a map tracking every journey I’ve taken throughout Europe.  Click on the image or the link below in order to view an interactive map.

During my time in Deggendorf, my home city, I felt as if I had been adopted by my wonderful host family, the Löffelmans.  The university in Deggendorf has a program where they match up international students with a local family in the community.  I visited my family usually once a week to spend half the day with them, eat and go on local excursions.  Being so far away from “home”, I began to feel as if I were “home” with the Löffelmans.  We established a bond that will be carried many years into the future I’m sure.  When I left for Germany a year ago, I was saying goodbye to my family with the idea of seeing them in a year.  Now here I was in Germany, saying Goodbye to my “family” once again saying, I’ll see you summer of 2012!

For the entire year Sabine, mom of Nadine, a girlon the softball team I helped coach, was kind enough to invite me over once a month to her house to cut my hair.  It was things like this that made me really start to feel part of the community in Deggendorf and not just an International Student at the University.  I'm very thankful to Sabine for going out of her way to do such a nice thing!

Of course, being my last night in Deggendorf, we celebrated it to commemorate all the wonderful memories of the past year.   Lucas and I put on a going away party for the two of us at the local dormitory common rooms which eventually made its way to the local bars downtown.  It was a wonderful last night to have one final goodbye to all my amazing friends.  Many people left goodbye notes which for Lucas or Me which I didn't open until I was waiting for a connection in Chicago.  When I did read them, I literally broke out into tears as people shared how much I had touched their lives as they had likewise done to mine....

When I look back on it, it’s truly the people who I met from all over the world that made my year in Germany so amazing.  The environment we lived in was something truly unique.  Having people from all corners of the world together in one small German town sharing a similar experience of living abroad was something special.  I wish every young person could experience this once in their lives because it’s at times like these that all stereotypes, social/political barriers and discriminations completely vanish and people are appreciated for who they are and not judged by where they come from, their faith, background or the current or historical actions of their country.  Something that is incredibly hard to ever find back at “home”.

Nearly the entire baseball and softball team showed up the final night and even brought an American flag-stamped Leberkäss, my favorite Bavarian food.  Nadine painted for me a beautiful baseball portrait and Flo put together a framed college of baseball memories throughout the past season.  At the end of the season I had turned my jersey in thinking I would never see it again, but received it back as a gift signed by every member of the team with personal messages.  Today, this hangs on my wall and is one of my most cherished physical items from Europe.  I bonded so much with this Deggendorf Dragons baseball and softball family that it’s difficult to even put into words.  These guys became true friends of mine and we all shared tears as we gave our last hugs….. it was a difficult night in that respect.  I look forward to playing baseball with these guys again in the summer of 2012 when I will be back in Germany.

The city of Deggendorf really grew on me.  It is such a beautiful small little city on the Danube River at the foot of the Bavarian Forest.  I began to see Deggendorf as a European version of Chico, California as these two small university cities share a lot in common.  Sometimes Deggendorf feels as if it is even my “home”.  Here are some photos of beautiful Deggendorf that I took in the weeks before leaving.

I've signified the word "home" in this post because as I returning back to the States, I was seriously confused inside what really was my home and where I felt at “home”.   This feeling of "homelessness" and confusion lasted for months after being back in America and the reality is, “home” will never be the same as it was before.  After speaking with other Americans who have assimilated into another culture I’ve heard similar responses in the fact that once you truly see your “home” from an outside perspective, it never does feel the same as before once going back.

As for now, my European story is on pause.  I’ve returned to California where I’m finishing up my bachelors degree in Business Administration focusing in Logistics.  I have loaded my course load up with 21 units each semester in order to finish as soon as possible and return to Europe.  I am in the process now of preparing to apply for masters programs in Germany, France and Scandinavia.  I’m confident that when I go back to Europe in 2012 it will be for the long haul as I don’t have any plans to return to the US in the near future.  My goal as of now is to finish my Master's Degree in Europe and than begin working abroad.

To end this final post I’d like to share two videos with you.  The first is a collection of photos where I tried to find a photo with every single person I met in Europe.  The second is a piece of art I created with all the photography I’ve taken over the past few years, most of which is from this past year in Europe.  Thank you all who took the time to read my blog, it was always nice to see the view count shoot up after every new post as I knew people were actually having a look into this amazing adventure :)  I encourage everyone to get out there and experience this beautiful world we live in.  Step outside of your comfort zone, establish connections with others from around the world and get to truly know a culture other than your own.  It will enrich your life in ways you can't even imagine and be a memorable experience that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.

Video #1 "Most Amazing Year of My Life"  Video could not be embedded but may be seen at the link!

Video #2 "A Photographic Journey" Video could not be embedded but may be seen at the link!