What I Learned in Germany

Dogs enjoying the German countryside.

Dogs enjoying the German countryside.

Don’t worry, guys. I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth after graduation. I just spent the past two weeks in Germany with Hans. I’ve never been one for travel blogging, with the exception of the Asia series, so I won’t tell you how to spend your next vacation. Instead, I’ll tell you what I learned about myself during my repose, most of which has little to do with Germany. For a little bit of context, this trip came at a precarious point in life, in many different respects. We left the day after my graduation and it felt bittersweet, like running away from a former lover with a new one. Oh college, how I would miss those four years of time during which I learned how to learn, how to love, how to fail. How I would miss the joy and forgiveness that accompany the privilege of experiencing adult freedoms without adult responsibilities. I took mementos of my former lover into my new world — during bouts of nostalgia, I sought solace in Gabriel García Márquez’s lyrical Spanish in Love in the Time of Cholera.

Ready for my flight!

(Somewhat) ready for my flight.

For the most part, while I was in Germany, I was happy to be disconnected from my life in Ann Arbor. Besides the occasional nightmare about failing a class and the job situation, I successfully avoided thinking about the past and the future. All that, I thought, could wait for my return. Surprisingly, though, I must have tackled many of the question marks looming over my head without recognizing it. Because now, as I sit at my laptop less than 24 hours after setting foot on American soil, the answers are sitting patiently at my fingertips.

This morning, the first thing I felt was the urge to write. Once I opened up a blank page in front of me, I knew, the rest would come. So without further ado, new revelations in the life of Rebecca Cao, courtesy of Germany:

  1. Even the most experienced travelers can experience culture shock. At this point, I thought I’d seen it all — neither China’s squatting toilets nor Paris’ homeless families appalled me. Yet being immersed in a foreign culture, one that I knew little about prior, was overwhelming.
  2. I still don’t like traveling. I don’t mean that I don’t like to travel to other countries; I mean that I don’t like to do the typical tourist hit-and-run. This is why I enjoyed my time at Hans’ parents’ village home more than our brief voyages to Budapest and Munich.
  3. America is, undeniably, one of the best places to live. I never really understood why people from all over the world come to the US. I thought that China was more fun, Taiwan had better food, Spain had more history, France was more beautiful. Now, I finally understand that America is comfortable in a way that nowhere else matches.
  4. I didn’t make a mistake in signing my lease. After apartment-hunting for one grueling month, I ended up taking a place rather hastily. As I worried about making rent and being flat broke, I wondered if this was a mistake. This morning, as I contemplated the prospect of staying home at my mom’s place all day, I realized I couldn’t live here another year.
  5. I’m going to work hard, play hard. Now that I’m on a budget, I didn’t know if I could keep up luxuries such as driving, horseback riding, and my unpaid job. I now know that I want to keep those things, for my own happiness, and I’m going to take on as many additional jobs as necessary to do that.
  6. I’m going to keep editing and writing. I’ve been less than productive on the novel end, partially because I’ve been waiting on my agent’s feedback. When I go to China in a week, I’m going to get back to editing, even if I haven’t heard from her by then. After I’m finished editing, I’m going to start a new novel.
  7. My happiness is my own responsibility. This is something I’ve known for a while, but I’ve been reminded of it these past few weeks. Sometimes, you have to take care of yourself, because no one else can.
  8. You will always hurt people and you can never be completely fair. Sometimes, the least and the most you can do is to be honest.
  9. I’m still dependent on my parents, and that’s okay. I’ve been putting pressure on myself to be financially independent of my parents and to live as though the savings in my account are all I have to fall back on. But the truth is that I am lucky to have supportive parents and it’s okay to lean on them a little if I need it.
  10. I want to attend NYU law. So it’s a bit early for that, and I’m still applying to a handful of schools in the fall. But I’m increasingly convinced that it’s the right place for me, and that international law is what I want to do.

What are some post-grad lessons you learned? What do you miss about college?




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