Actually I wanted to write here in German on a regular base about my year but somehow I never found time for this 😅 Some posts are half finished but have never found an end and probably never will. Nevertheless, to give the blog a conclusion, I decided to publish my final report. Each participant of my program must write a final report towards the end of the program year (may) to reflect on the experience and report to the Bundestag (German parliament). Is this the complete end of the blog? Probably, but who knows maybe I will write another one someday about coming back to Germany. 🙂
PPP (the German name for my program, English: CBYX) – THE year of my life or just a year in my life? Political program or individual career and travel program?
For a long time, I thought about what I would like to write in this report and how I should start. Like many others, I had set myself the motto to call it my yes year, but besides this motto, these questions have accompanied me again and again in my year. In my report, I would like to briefly describe my experience and try to answer these questions.
But first, I would like to define the PPP’s period for myself because, for me, the PPP’s period is not only the time in America, it goes beyond that.
But when does the PPP start? With the application? With the preparation? – The experience consciously begins with the preparation in person. The preparation seminar was a unique and intensive time in which I actively and consciously dealt with what it means to go to the USA for a year and act as a Junior Ambassador. In addition, I met wonderful people there, some of whom have become essential people in my life. Now the only question is when does it end? To anticipate some things that will follow here, I believe it never stops! The experiences and encounters will accompany me throughout my life. It is generally challenging to summarize and count the year as complete. In the whole year, so much happened within a short time that I did not have the time to understand and process.
My placement, all I never wanted
When I got my placement, it was a real shock to me! As part of the LGBTQ+ community and a vegetarian, a year in Kansas? A year in the middle of nowhere? That’s exactly what I didn’t want, and that’s exactly what I expressed. I quickly asked around when I found out about the placement and learned more bad things about Emporia. I had many fears, worries and doubts. One thought that took a lot of space was that I would not leave Germany. After a lot of back and forth, I finally got over it.
Conclusion: It was one of the best experiences and placements I could have imagined. The community in Emporia is shaped by the university and especially when you live in the dorms, it feels like everything revolves around university life. In general, life in a dorm is very special, you spend a lot of time together and something is always happening. Whether it is the usual gossip, game nights, birthday parties, studying together, going to sporting events together or singing and playing guitar together.
There are many international students at Emporia State University (ESU), so it is easy to find people to relate to. A great role and contact point is the Office of International Education (OIE). The office provides assistance to students in every situation to make the experience the best possible for everyone. During the orientation phase, particular attention is paid to building a sense of unity among the students, which has led, for example, to us always sitting together in the cafeteria, just like in American movies. The OIE also quickly became an important contact point for me to find volunteer opportunities and a job. I will talk about my job in a separate section. Overall, I was able to settle in quickly at the university and got involved in clubs. I was a contact person for many people and I firmly believe that I made the time in the USA a special experience for some of my friends. My friends have often called me “mom” as a joke. I think this is partly because I drove a family van and partly because I was always there for everyone and included everyone. We as a group of international students, as well as some Americans, also often called each other family, so the role of mom probably fits in quite well, especially since I was the oldest. Most of the students are between 17 and 22 years old.
My year was characterized by international cultures, impressions that have not been processed yet, political involvement and a lot of time in the car. Emporia and also Kansas have relatively little to offer except endless nothing. It is a 2-hour drive from Emporia (population 25,000) to the nearest city, which also brings me to the point that I often wished my placement had been different. I often wished that my placement was more central and also closer to an airport.
Since the job search as a part-timer was difficult, among other things because of the time pressure, I got the opportunity to work in the OIE. In general, I would recommend new students at ESU to contact the OIE and take advantage of the help. Part of my work has been to support students in any life situation, as well as to revise and improve the website and the related communication with students. The website is now more easily accessible to international students and to American students who want to study abroad.
In addition, I helped with event planning and preparation. Since the corresponding events, such as international cultural shows or food festivals, usually took place on weekends, the implementation was part of my volunteer work. Often my work went beyond the actual working hours. My co-students often took the opportunities to ask their questions outside of my working hours. Which quickly made me a connection part for my friends* and the OIE. So being a very social person and well connected has also been beneficial to my work in the US.
The work was a valuable experience. It was especially exciting to get an insight into the organizational processes of international students and their visas. All in all, this work experience has only advanced my career to a limited extent. However, it has strengthened my decision that I made the right choice with my career as a computer scientist. I am sure that I took away the most from my courses. Getting into the right courses that corresponded to my knowledge level was very difficult at the beginning, but with some discussion and course changes in the middle of the semester, it still worked out well.
One advantage of my job at OIE was definitely the freedom! I was able to talk to my colleagues without restraint, learn more about cultures and arrange my own working hours. So I had the chance to accumulate my hours and spend two wonderful weeks with my parents. For the first time and probably the last time, I was able to actively show my parents where and how I work. What my job entails or doesn’t entail. Without the freedom of my job, that wouldn’t have been possible.
The PPP is definitely not a travel program, but a program that strengthened my political interests and desire to be more involved, yet I think travel was a big part of that realization for me. During the holidays (fall, Thanksgiving, winter, and spring) I did not have the opportunity to continue working. At first, this had bothered me since my job only paid me $10 an hour ($200 a week). However, it also gave me the opportunity to travel the US and see the different facets of this country. During the shorter holidays I traveled with friends from Emporia and was able to see Colorado and Chicago. I used the winter vacations (4 weeks) for a longer road trip with other PPP participants to DC for a seminar. First, I flew to NYC for a few days and then took a bus to my host family in Washington DC.
The family had accompanied me during my first days in the USA and invited me over Christmas. When I came to the USA, I first stayed in DC for several days, because my dorm was still closed. Then I went to Miami together with the family, where we had some nice days and could escape the cold front a little bit. At this time there was a cold front in the USA, due to this there were e.g. in my home placement low temperatures of up to -30°C. After the holidays, I took a flight back to Kansas and went with other PPP participants on the road trip to DC. We had the opportunity to see beautiful landscapes and typical US cities. In addition to the incredible memories burned into my brain, the countless hours spent in the different states showed me once again how important European Union is. I was always aware of the economic and political relevance of the EU, but I often took it for granted. Sharing these experiences with my international friends, e.g. from Japan, Ukraine, China and Bolivia, showed me more than ever how important this union is. The EU gives us the freedom to travel around the countries of Europe, to express opinions freely and to trade freely. In addition, the union gives us peace and stability in our lives. More than ever I feel a European “we” and the relevance to contribute to the political cohesion in Germany.
A year filled with highlights
If I would write down all the highlights of this year here, there wouldn’t be an end. My year was marked by many wonderful moments that made it a unique experience. However, I would like to mention one emotional highlight here.
One of my emotional highlights was that my friends and colleagues nominated me as participant of the month. Not because I really wanted to or because the “title” means a lot to me, but because it showed me that I’m leaving footprints. It showed me that I encourage people and have managed to awaken their interest in Germany. Furthermore, it showed me that my volunteer work was worth it. Related to this, I have also noticed a change in myself and my viewpoint of my sexual orientation.
Many times in my life I have hidden and pushed around myself because of my sexuality as soon as the topic sexual orientation came up. In some situations I have hidden, suppressed myself and not admitted who I am. I have felt embarrassed to talk about this topic in unfamiliar social groups and have been afraid to come out. With the PPP, for the first time since I came out almost 10 years ago, I have completely admitted that I am a lesbian and I have come out with it. The chance to reinvent myself has given me strength and courage. In addition to openly admitting to myself, I also quickly began advocating for this community through a club at ESU. I am firmly convinced that I will take this self-confidence with me to Germany and get involved there as well. Through this involvement, I also realized that I had some preconceived notions about the progress of these issues in the US. I was able to learn that the U.S. is ahead of us in some things towards a more queer open society, as well as that some changes that have already occurred were made here earlier.
Despite the fact that my report and my summary of my year so far is very positive, I also had low points. In such an experience, in which you deal so much with yourself and other cultures, it is not excluded that low points occur. Here and there homesickness, fears or money problems, but I would like to go into more detail about three “bigger” issues.
Two of my lows were right at the beginning of the year. One of them was certainly buying a car. It quickly became apparent that buying a car would be more difficult than I thought, especially since I was only able to search for cars within Emporia. It was not possible for me to leave Emporia and thus look at cars more widely. Especially in the beginning it would have made many things easier to have someone at hand who owns a car and can help you with it. Because of this, the other PPP student and I had to arrange many things by driving around with e-scooters, which was also more expensive than expected. After I had already searched for some time, I realized that my budget would definitely not be enough and I had to spend more than I thought. That has me in connection with my low earnings certainly the one or other time to doubt whether my savings will be enough. Now that I want to sell my car again, the prices for used cars in the U.S. have also dropped, so that I have made a considerable minus business with the car purchase.
Another low was definitely my roommate. I had already worried in advance how it will be to have a roommate, since I was already used to live alone for a long time. As you can obviously guess, the whole thing didn’t end well. If I would to say at this point that we just didn’t get along, I would definitely lye. Besides the fact that we had fundamentally different world views, she used discriminatory statements towards me and generally tried to lure me out of the reserve. To give examples: she broke my glasses, woke me up at night and when she left the room she claimed that I had threatened her with violence. I’m not sure that discriminatory statements do it justice. She kept offering to pray for me based on my sexual orientation so that I would get back on the “right” path of God in her eyes. Another offer was for me to come to church with her in conversion classes. I’m glad that by this time I had already made good connections in the dorm, as well as with other students. These people, my family, friends and other PPP students believed me and supported me so that I could stay on my floor and as a result I had a single room for the rest of my year after 3 to 4 weeks. Another low was definitely my birthday. I was convinced that I had made good friends and we had planned to go travel my birthday, which was on a Sunday. I had even agreed to cover most of the costs, as I wanted to spend time with people important to me and knew that some of them were short of money. Then one night before we were to leave, these people canceled on me simply because they didn’t want to go anymore. For me, the moment was very sad and emotionally challenging. I decided to go on the trip alone, since I had already pre-booked, and spent the time talking on the phone with other people who rebuilt me and showed me how important I was to them. When I came back on my birthday in the evening, I thought that my friends would at least come over to congratulate me, which they did not, with two exceptions. In the following days I felt very lonely, because from some of them I did not even get an apology, but with others I quickly got along again. In this situation, I realized how important it is to have access to other PPP students in addition to your regular support system. The group is important for you throughout the year and can help you cope with some difficult situations.
Part of my year was also throwing out some of my values and beliefs. Part of living in a dorm was eating in the cafeteria. Right on my first day in Emporia, I found out that my fears about my vegetarian diet might come true. When I left the country, I had already been a vegetarian for several years and was determined to stay that way. What can I say, after two weeks of eating salad I gave up. In Kansas, where many cars are provided with stickers “I ❤️MEAT” and mashed potatoes come with bacon, it was not possible for me to continue to live vegetarian. Shortly I had considered to change my placement because of this, but I had already found connection and did not want to lose it. At first I was very careful to eat little meat, but what can I say, once you have gone beyond your convictions, it is easy to go beyond and put aside other values. Reducing plastic, being vegetarian and avoiding unnecessary driving are only examples that I pursued out of ecological thinking. There were many more things, including some that didn’t relate to my ecological footprint. When the realization came, I was disappointed in myself for a short time, but I know that I can get back there and partly already am. I had to find and redefine myself during that time, but it only strengthened me in my previous values and morals.
In summary, the year was one of my most eventful years. I got to know new cultures from all over the world, worked in new areas, saw bison & bears, experienced a typical American bachelor party, discovered endless expanses, experienced a tornado, traveled to cities with millions of people, spent time with the families of my American friends, found my faith again, discovered new tastes, threw convictions overboard and found them again. But most of all, I learned about myself and outgrew myself.
To return to my questions from the beginning was it THE year of my life? I don’t know, but it was definitely a very good one 😊 I don’t think I’ll ever be able to call it that either, because I want to keep that term, because I never know what’s coming in life.
The PPP is definitely a travel program and I think that’s a good thing! Because as Goethe said “The best education a clever person finds while traveling.”. I have experienced political education and a new political feeling on my travels in the US. One thing the PPP is definitely not is a career program – yes, it will be a career boost, even if it didn’t advance me much professionally. Within the year, there are many political and volunteer opportunities to get involved and develop. Rarely in life do you have the opportunity to have such an experience and to be taken by the hand in the further development of your political interest. The PPP showed me how important such programs are and how much they can strengthen intercontinental cohesion. Personally, the political experience will accompany me because I now have friends all over the world, a better understanding of a European “we” and the desire to get involved politically. In addition to the intercontinental idea, I have also come to love and appreciate my home region again. Since my mother has been politically active at the regional level for several years and I have seen how much stress that can cause, I have never had the desire to be actively involved. I grew up doing volunteer work and so have always been socially engaged but the challenge of political office never appealed to me. However, the PPP has awakened in me a desire to become politically involved and strong on behalf of the LGBTQI+ community and my home region. On what level? I have no idea! Time will tell 😊
What is missing now? Well, the farewell! I had already a difficult goodbye. I said goodbye on 13.05.2023 to my placement, work colleagues and friends who became family. The days of saying goodbye were physically and mentally one of the most exhausting times in a long time. I had to pack my things, wanted to spend time with friends and said goodbye to many people. Especially in the last 3 days, I never slept more than 2 hours at a time because someone was constantly leaving. It was a tone of: get up, pack, meet friends, laugh, cry, wave, eat, pack and go back to bed.
If someone had told me when I announced my placement that I would cry when I left Emporia, I probably would have laughed at that person! Not only because I didn’t like my placement, but also that I would cry in front of others. I guess the year has also made me “softer” – actually, it’s made a strength for emotions. The good thing about all the tears is I now have friends and family all over the world.
The second big goodbye I will experience soon with great people. I’m going to say goodbye to the U.S. and celebrate by going on a roadtrip around U.S. with old friends and new friends I’ve made through the PPP. A friend from Emporia said to me: “Everyone always talks about how great it is to live abroad, but no one talks about the sad goodbyes, the anticipation of home and the uncertainty of the future”.
Last but not least, I would like to thank you here. Doreen Paap, Jana Wiggenhauser, Melanie and Marvin, to name a few names I would like to thank for their preparation for the year. Without the preparation, even of those I have not mentioned by name, my year would certainly not have been the same. The preparation phase has strengthened me and given me help that has accompanied me throughout the year. Another special thanks goes to Kader Gümüs and her family. The family took me in during the first days of my trip and during Christmas. I knew throughout my time here that I would be able to draw on this valuable encounter and that I would feed on the intense conversations for a long time to come. Here in America, I would like to thank all my friends and colleagues from the bottom of my heart. Throughout all my ups and downs, these people have accompanied me and helped shape this special year. The biggest thanks, however, go to my family and friends in Germany. I know that I demanded a lot of patience and understanding from these people with my decision to go to the USA. Thank you for your support in every situation! ❤️ Lastly, thank you to Mechthild Heil for nominating me for this great program and for doing a great job for our shared home region.