At the relatively young age of 15, I was fortunate enough to be presented with the opportunity to live in the U.S. with a local host family for about one month.
Although this seems like an amazing opportunity from today´s standpoint off, but back then it was a tough decision for me. I´ve been living a normal life in my beautiful hometown Stuttgart without staying longer in another location for longer than a vacation. At this time, I surely was excited about traveling, especially to other continents but never did I consider living somewhere else.
I was stuck in the comfort zone. Until this point I have never left my comfortable life for experiencing something new, something different or something uncertain that could potentially enlarge my horizon by a huge portion.
But thanks to my wonderful parents I finally agreed to go on this journey, for which I am very grateful.
The whole trip started with flights from Germany to Seattle, the capital of Washington state. At the airport, our group of German students, who travelled with me, was welcomed with hearth-warming smiles and cheers. Then I was picked by my host family which took me up north to Arlington, which is an about 1 hour drive. With a population of just under 20,000 this hidden gem represented for me not only a totally different environment but also a sort of typical American lifestyle I imagined.
My host family was super kind, involved me in several trips and integrated me into family life like a normal family member. I also shared my bedroom with my host brother, which led to a good friendship and the opportunity to constantly improve my English-speaking skills. As part of the family, I voluntarily accompanied my host brother into church every morning at 6 am.
It was tough but totally worth it. I could see a totally different culture with different beliefs and religion in general. Having enjoyed this opportunity not because I wanted to convert my beliefs into a different direction but rather because I learned to highly appreciate individuals with other points of views and, from my perspective, unusual religious traditions. I also became positively curious about the mentioned differences. But this was just one aspect of many more, I was able to experience during my time in Arlington.
Cultural differences and high school life
After church in the morning I took the bus with other local kids to high school. As a sophomore, back then it was a totally distinctive experience than at the Gymnasium in Germany. In the mornings, you salute to the American flag, on Friday´s you go the football match of the high school team with pretty much the entire school kids and you enjoy the freedom of chosen classes. These seem to be little things, but they really underline the cultural difference to the Swabian region in Germany. The Arlington High School really was amazing. The amount of classes to choose from and the range of offered sports activities was unimaginable in the German system (not saying that the German system is in any case bad).
The days in school passed by really fast and with lots of traveling in the region, the time was over even before it really started. In my opinion, it really means something if in the first five days of the trip I wanted anything but stay and during the last five days I wanted anything but leave. This shows how your perception of living abroad can change so easily, and how have a bloody good time while experiencing it.
Step out of your comfort zone
It´s those little tweeks in cultural differences you see and feel everyday that make the difference between a two week all-inclusive vacation and traveling or living abroad.
Over the course of this trip I began to love experiencing something new, seeing different things and landscapes. Most importantly I learned to step out my own comfort zone which limited me for a long time. It prevented me from doing these trips and it kept me away from these wonderful and unique experiences. This trip was basically the start of everything. My frequent travels, my international career path, my ability to talk in multiple languages and most importantly seeing the importance of appreciating difference were all triggered by stepping out of my comfort zone.
I can only highly encourage all of you to travel, experience and enjoy the differences in human beings across the world. Step out of your comfort zone and never let fear control your behavior (especially when it comes to traveling).