It was shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall when I decided high school in the States was not for me. Most of my teachers were disinterested in me by then, so I began to fly under the radar, unnoticed. My German teacher, being the exception, was an overly jovial man in his mid forties with what seemed to be too much time on his hands. He made German class interesting and to my teenage sensibilities, even fun, although I dared not show it.
I cannot however deny that I began to believe him when he stated that I too could travel to Germany and other countries and start memories of my own. I envied him his travels. So, when the flyer for Rotary International came, bright yellow with the words:" SPEND YOUR SENIOR YEAR OVERSEAS", I thought that it to be divine intervention.
After all the office assistant did interrupt our prayers when insisting the teacher let her in to give the flyers to her. One dropped just in front of my seat and I pushed my foot out, coaxing it over under the refuge of my desk. My teacher did not notice. She was immersed in being holy and praying, trying to forgive the poor sinner (office assistant) for interrupting a devotional moment.
Fast forward to months after rescuing the flyer from the floor some six months, and I was the chosen candidate to represent the United States in Germany for what would have been my senior year. Being in Germany, going to school there and living there was nauseating for the first three months. EVERYTHING was in German! That was my main complaint, although idiotic and ethnocentric even in nature, German was simply too hard for me to learn. My host family thought so too and told me as much. "Du kannst nicht Deutsch." Thanks for the vote of confidence, there!
Every day, I dreaded waking up only to hear more German, the guttural utterances and the way people contorted their faces to force the sounds out of their bodies.
I began to mimic the motion of people talking. Mimicry helped me to embody the posture and tame my mouth into obedience. But, what really helped was when I discovered the secret, German friends. Friends, who would not betray me, with practicing their proficient English speaking skills at my deficient German speaking skills expense. Hearing the way they pronounced the words combined with mimicking their body gestures ushered me in to the percentage of Americans not monolingual.