Five years. Five years ago today was the first day I stepped foot in Germany—and though I didn’t see it at the time, it was the more concrete beginning of my journey to where I am now.
Looking back, it’s as difficult to believe that it was so long ago as it is to believe that it wasn’t that long ago at all.
I made the decision to visit Germany somewhat on a whim. After everything falling apart in my life in 2008, I was broken and tired and in need of a change. I didn’t know what, but I had a few ideas… and one of them was to fly to Germany.
Now, I never had an intense desire to visit the country. My siblings had taken German in high school, and they both spent a month as students in Germany during a cultural exchange, something I naturally thought I would do too. But when I started foreign language at a high school in a new city, my options were Spanish and French. So I did the former and never thought much more about visiting Germany or learning the language.
Then, in 2003, I met someone through a website where people posted their mixtapes. At first, we commented back and forth on one another’s mixes. But gradually, our correspondence grew, as did our friendship, and our musical libraries, and J. became a very important person in my life. So when I needed to get away from it all and go some place new, it made sense to visit J. I bought a plane ticket to Cologne, Germany, and began my first solo transatlantic voyage.
The 12 days I spent in Germany were simply unforgettable. J. was the perfect tour guide, taking me all over his city, introducing me to his friends and family, and teaching me key German phrases (e.g. how to order Kölsch). There were also a couple firsts, such as experiencing both the UEFA final and Eurovision, two things that seem so normal in my life now. And there were countless other moments, many too difficult to put into words; they simply exist in my memories.
While on that trip, I also like to think that I began to find a bit of myself. It was there, in a completely foreign environment (in more than one capacity), that I was able to examine where I was in life, how I had gotten there, and what I wanted out of it going forward. And it took a few years, but I think I am, for the most part, there.
That said, I am so grateful for friends like J. I am also so amazed at how a seemingly small decision, such as flying abroad for a couple weeks, can alter the entire trajectory of someone’s life.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Germany changed my life. I dare to say that it even saved it.