Every morning when I wake up, one of my first moves is to have a glance at a number on my phone. Today it says 14. That’s 14 days I have left in the United States, before I will leave Castleton to move back to my home country, Germany.
With only two weeks left of the semester, my inner thoughts and feelings couldn’t be more of an emotional rollercoaster ride. There are these moments when I don´t want the semester, and hence my time in the States, to be over yet, when I wish I could find a secret button to pause time.
Then there are these moments when I´m thinking about my home, about my family and friends and how excited I am to see them again. Suddenly, two weeks seems so indefinitely long, and I feel like a little impatient child so desperately waiting for Christmas to finally arrive. Not having lived through it yourself, it is hard to comprehend my feelings about the past nine months of living in the States.
When I left Germany on Aug. 15, 2021, little did I know how transforming the time ahead would be for me. Born and raised in a small town in rural East Germany, going abroad was a huge step out of my comfort zone, but at the same time, the best decision of my life.
What made this year so special for me was not only the places I went, but especially the people I met.
I came into Castleton´s Nordic ski team as the first international skier they ever had, yet my nervousness about fitting in was unfounded. My coach and team made me feel like part of the team from the outset. Looking back, it is not only the big moments like winning the sprint race at Nationals, but especially all the small moments with this team that I will never forget. The daily training grind, long van rides and all the small conversations with teammates made every day feel unreal.
While I learned a complete new set of ski-specific vocabulary; my American teammates now not only know how to cheer for someone in German and how much I love (and miss) German bread but will never stop making fun of Europeans for being afraid of the cold.
For me, ski racing in Germany was always connected with a huge amount of pressure to perform well, diminishing the pleasure I used to find in skiing. Skiing in Castleton, I finally started to enjoy racing again and ultimately realized that you can have fun doing your sport and still improve. The past ski season was not only the best I could have ever imagined, but at the same time the best way possible to end my competitive skiing career.
My best friends I made at Castleton come from the Czech Republic, Australia, and Serbia. If you ask me, I enjoy nothing more than having endless conversations about different ways of growing up, different cultures, different languages or different school systems – just to conclude that while all these differences are super interesting to learn about, they don’t really matter, because true friendship knows no borders.
These friendships made the bad times good, and the good times unforgettable. They made Castleton become my little home away from home.
At my real home in Germany, I would often see antipathy and almost animosity between neighboring towns and people, believing they can´t get along with each other simply because people from the other town would be so “different.” What often starts off as a joke embeds as a stereotype in many people´s mind.
Sometimes, I would love nothing more than to put these people in my shoes, let them go abroad all by themselves, live in a completely new setting where they don’t know anybody and see what they would do. Through my time here, I encountered so many different people from so many different countries, speaking so many different languages and being connected to so many different cultures. What I soon had to find out, and what I would love to let all these prejudiced people from home find out, is that no matter the differences, in the end, “what unites is so much greater than what divides us.”
I came to America not only to ski but also to escape the German study system. Not only is it almost impossible to combine professional athletics with academics, but studying in Germany forces you to completely commit to your chosen major. Changing your major usually means you have to start all over again. With no clarity for what field I wanted to pursue a degree in, I´m glad I could escape this setting and enjoy a year of taking classes in all different kinds of fields and not only change my major once, but twice, without any difficulties.
While many at home, including myself, used to joke about the idea of going abroad for “self-discovery” purposes, that’s pretty much exactly what this year encompassed for me.
Throughout all the experiences this year, I feel like I finally found what I was looking for and got a better understanding of what I want to do and where I want to go in my life. I feel like my little “mission,” my goal with which I came to Castleton, is completed, and it is time to close this unforgettable chapter and move on to the next one.
While I am incredibly sad to leave the Castleton community and all the friends I made here, I believe that every end is a new beginning and I am excited for my next stop: Grünbach, my home sweet home in Germany.