The German language has a lot of really interesting words. For example, “brustwartze,” literally translated “breast wart,” is the German word for nipple. More on topic though, and one of my recent favorites, is the word “Fernweh.” The literal translation is “far sickness.” It’s a longing for far away places, an ache for travel and exploration. Of course, the German language also produced the ever popular “wanderlust,” a desire to wander, but something about Fernweh strikes a deeper chord in me. It’s like you HAVE to get out and see the world because there’s an aching in your soul, a sickness that can only be cured by far away places. It’s the feeling that amazing things are going on all around the world and you just have to get out there and see them and you just wont feel like yourself until you do.
In my case, my Fernweh is always coupled with “Heimweh,” or homesickness. When I travel, by the end of the trip, I’m ready to go back home (whether that’s Mainz or the US), get in a routine, eat at my favorite restaurants, cook in my kitchen, binge watch Game of Thrones and New Girl, and get back to the gym (or not). I’m ready to get back to my own familiar nook in the world. In a recent episode of Girls, Hannah was hesitant to move to the midwest for grad school for multiple reasons, but the one she voiced was that she’d need to find a new yogurt place and that’s really hard to do. Truth. There’s nothing like your hometown yogurt shop. Or that sports bar around the corner that has the best ever chicken fingers. I’m looking at you Maddy’s in Dupont Circle. And then, after I’m home for awhile, I start coming down with a fresh case of Fernweh and I’m ready to set out on another adventure. In my case, Fernweh and Heimweh are like two alternating viruses whose symbiosis produces a beautiful balance. And this, I think, is a very lucky way to live with equal parts adventure and comfort, craziness and stability.
Why do we travel? New scenery, new people, new food, new passport stamp? To get away from our ordinary? To discover the different? Why do we like different? Do we like different? Is it even about liking? Or is it about learning? What are we learning about? Others? Ourselves? Both? Who knew a vacation could be so complicated?
From my travels, I’ve learned that sometimes we travel to discover and appreciate what is really important to us by shedding our familiar surroundings like a winter coat that’s preventing us from feeling the sunshine on our skin. And the discovery of that warmth is what keeps us venturing out to new places and returning to old favorites. Discovering the world around us – taking in breathtaking natural wonders, eating adventurous foods, and witnessing cultural rituals – is really the bonus. And it’s a great bonus.
So my friend, Katy, is having an amazing year. We grew up playing sports together in Catonsville, Maryland and then attended the same high school where we played basketball and lacrosse, ducked Mr. Evans as he tried to stick a pencil through our earrings (if it fit, the hoops were too big and you got detention), and cheered on Sr. Margaret Andrew as she drained threes in a basketball game against our rival high school’s faculty….in a full dominican habit. It was a pretty good time. We shared a lot of experiences growing up and I think it’s pretty cool that we’re sharing a similar experience now, although Katy’s getting a tan and learning to surf and I’m nearly translucent and learning to speak German. At the moment, Katy is also on sabbatical. She is taking six months off from her amazing job to travel the globe and is writing about it on her blog “Eat the Spider” — without a doubt the coolest title around, with an even better story behind it. You can read Katy’s blog here.
I asked Katy if she’d be interested in writing a guest post for Leap and she agreed and it’s pretty awesome. Here it is:
WHY I TRAVEL
I first got the urge to travel when I was a junior in high school. I attended the same all girls catholic school as Colleen did- Mt. de Sales- in Catonsville, Maryland. During my junior year they offered a trip to Spain that would cover a week in Madrid followed by a week in Barcelona. Despite knowing pretty much nothing about Spain or Spanish culture this seemed like a great idea to me. I wasn’t even particularly interested in Spanish class. I had spent most of my two previous years in Dr. Arellano’s Spanish class trying to convince him to give us a study hall with my friend Steph. Still I had looked up the cities and they seemed so beautiful and different that I really wanted to go. I went home and laid out the trip to my parents and asked them if I could go. “I’m not sure… it looks pretty expensive… we’ll have to wait and see..,” came the reply. Over the next couple of weeks I lightly broached the subject over and over and always got the same reply. Christmas time rolled around and the subject had not recently been discussed as we began opening presents. My mom came over to me beaming on Christmas morning and handed me a book sized package. Confused (because surely she would not have this look of great anticipation over giving me a book) I opened the package prepared to feign excitement at said book. I opened the wrapping to find my first Fromer’s guidebook on Spain. I plastered a smile on. I didn’t want to read about Spain. I wanted to go to Spain. “Thanks…?” I said-being the ungrateful 16 year old that I was. My mom being, well, my mom, noticed my lack of excitement. “Don’t you still want to go to Spain?” she said. “What…?” I was still confused. My mom cottoned on. “You’re going to Spain you idiot!! Did you think we just got you the book?! That would be cruel!” I was so excited I jumped up, hugged my mom and dad and started running laps around the house interspersed with brief periods of flamenco dancing.
I woke up so excited. Showered. Dressed in my most “I’m stylish and put together everyday, naturally, and will be a fine, upstanding, no-trouble-causing resident if you grant my visa request” outfit. I thought about wearing a suit or at least a blazer and decided it would look like I was trying too hard and had to compensate for some lack of good character. So, I wore black skinny jeans, a delicate winter white crew neck sweater with three-quarter sleeves, low black-patent wedges, and a gold and tan-leather statement necklace. I put my hair up in a neat bun and donned my long black winter coat. “Would you give me a visa?,” I asked S. “Absolutely. I’d give you two.” I showed up responsibly early to the 8:00am meeting. I had all of the documents that they told me to have: passport, passport photos, bank statement, letter of support from S and his landlord saying that I have a place to live, a copy of the lease, and a few other forms.
“once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” – e.e. cummings
Last week S and I celebrated three years together and my 29th birthday, and I am now about a month and a half into my sabbatical. This seems like a good time to check in on the progress of my year abroad.
My friend’s German colleague said to her, “Speaking German is easy. Even babies do it.” Well, okay, true, but screaming, “JUICE!”, in the middle of a restaurant only gets you so far after age five…so I decided to sign up for a language class.
“Do you speak German?”
That was the test I had to take to be able to sign up for beginners’ Deutsch at the Mainz Volkshochschule. If that was the test that my classmates had to take, then 90% of them are liars. On the first day, our teacher began the class by speaking only German. I was shocked when several people responded to her! In German! Those liars are not beginners. Despite my initial feelings of betrayal, I am happy to report that my classmates are incredibly friendly and eager to learn, I can now, after a little over a week of classes, sprechen ein bisschen Deutsch…and my accent is atrocious.
A month into my year of “anything can happen,” and I’m reminded of the trip I took last January to visit my sister in the city where anything really can happen, New York. I’m also wishing that by now someone had invented teleportation so I could beam in to NYC to celebrate the engagement of one of my very best friends to a very cool red-headed Irishman….since that hasn’t happened, I’ll have to wait for the invention of the time machine so I can go back to the party from the future….