Sunday, March 17, 2013

Germany — Day 46!

Press play. Read. Enjoy.

Saturday night sunset over Frankfurt!

Left: Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, where the American sector used to come to an end... Right: German parliament building in Berlin!

I woke up on Saturday morning to a Google calendar reminder. "DAY 45!!!" I read. "YOU'RE HALFWAY DONE!"

I stared at the ceiling. "There is no way in heck this experience is halfway over," I thought as I fought with the pancake of a pillow my hotel gave me. (If you ever stay at a hotel in Germany, bring your own pillow!)

As I went throughout my day on Saturday (breakfast, filming the German newsroom videos in Dusseldorf, driving back to Frankfurt, movie night with Gwyn, Jake and Dylan, eating way too much junk food...), I got to thinking about my time in Germany.
I sometimes still feel like "the new girl" and like I'm still getting my feet underneath me. But when I really think about it, I've seen, learned and experienced so, so much during my first 46 days in Germany!

It doesn't seem real that from here on out, I will be on the downhill slide. In just 44 days, I'll be back at Frankfurt am Main International Airport, boarding a plane bound for Dallas. And it just doesn't seem real that it's that close.

Brad Paisley's "Southern Comfort Zone" has pretty much been my theme song during this experience. During my first month here, I probably listened to it at least thee times a day.

Today, one of the senior missionary couples I work with drove me home from church — the same ones that drove me home after my first day of work. The weather was almost identical today as it was that first day in Germany. And as we drove through the German countryside, I couldn't help but remember the way I felt that first day.

"When your wheelhouse is the land of cotton, the first time you leave it can be strange. It can be shocking..."

I remember looking at all the road signs that looked so different than what I was used to. I was disheartened looking at all the stores, billboards and signs with words I didn't know the meaning of. I stared in bewilderment at the cars that didn't resemble anything I knew.  I was terrified. I was confused. I was so full of doubt. All I really wanted was to get on a plane and go back home.

But today, driving down that exact same road, I didn't feel any of that.

"Not everybody drives a truck, not everybody drinks sweet tea. Not everybody owns a gun, wears a ball cap, boots and jeans. Not everybody goes to church, or watches every Nascar race. Not everybody knows the words to Ring of Fire or Amazing Grace."

Today, I realized how much I've grown during this experience. I realized I'm learning so much more than I ever could sitting in a classroom at BYU. I realized just how eye-opening this experience has been and how much I really needed it.

During my first 45 days in Germany, I....

• have not gotten lost! Not once!
• visited 8 German cities outside of Frankfurt (and there are plenty more to come!)
• spent an evening at the Frankfurt temple, and did all of the work in German!
• went on a date! With a German!
• rode a train almost every single day. Public transportation is my new best friend.
• went on a business trip to a big city all by myself. And survived!
• ate more chocolate than I probably have in the past year. (Germans sure know what they're doing when it comes to chocolate!)
• learned how to use Euros.
• made friends. I have friends from Germany, the UK, Spain, Peru, Hungary and a bunch of other places!
• tried wiener schnitzel!
• stayed up way too late (on more than one occasion) watching movies and talking with my cool British friends (sleep when you're dead!!)
• met a General Authority!!
• successfully made chocolate chip cookies!
• got WAY too little sleep.
• worked in a really cool job (I love the Church! I love public affairs!)
• had my articles published all over Europe in several different languages.
• wore a skirt/dress 6 out of 7 days of the week (I'm sometimes shocked at how professional and grown up I look!)
• did not have a free weekend. Ever. I've either been traveling, working or hanging out with friends around Frankfurt every weekend. 
• went running regularly (evening runs through the German countryside...Wow.)
• understood very little of what was going on around me.
• missed my friends and family.
• learned new things.
overcame doubt.
• realized I'm stronger than I ever thought possible.

But most importantly, I learned how to get outside of my comfort zone.

"And I miss my WYOMING home, but I can see the ways that I've grown. And I can't see this world unless I go outside my southern comfort zone."

One of my high school history teachers told our class that life is about stretching yourself. It's about gradually getting outside of yourself and growing a little bit every single day. It's about looking back on your accomplishments and thinking, "Wow. I never thought I would be able to do that."

And I think that's just what I've been able to do in Germany. Whether it's grocery shopping, corresponding with people all over Europe, scripting and directing a video, attending church activities, using public transportation or making friends, I've had to learn to get outside of myself and really (really, really, really, REALLY) stretch my comfort zone. And I've been able to keep a smile on my face while I do it! Gone are the days when I was constantly fighting back tears.

But at the same time, I've also come to appreciate things back home. I would be lying if I said I didn't want the next 44 days to go quickly. I would be lying if I said I wasn't excited about that 11-hour flight back home. 

"I miss your biscuits and your gravy. Fireflies dancing in the night. You have fed me, you have saved me, Billy Graham and Martha White.
I have since become a gypsy and I just can't wait to pack, 'cause I know the route I leave on will always bring me back."

But I would also be lying if I said I wasn't extremely excited about what the next 44 days hold. I'm excited to travel some more (I have four trips planned!!). I'm excited to meet more people and grow closer to the people I've already met. I'm excited for my projects at work. 
But most importantly, I'm excited to continue to get outside of my comfort zone. My first 46 days in Germany have been such an adventure, and I have no doubt the next 44 will be any different.

Adventure is out there!

"I can't see this world unless I go outside my southern comfort zone."

Left: My mommy sent me a package full of goodies because she's awesome and she loves me. Right: Sister Brande and I in Aschaffenburg!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Germany - Have I REALLY been here for a month??

Let me first apologize for the length of this post. Lord knows I tend to get long-winded.
Read and enjoy. Love y'all!

Left: A remnant of the Berlin wall. So eerie. Right: My "I'm trying not to get lost in Berlin" face."

I survived a month (and FIVE DAYS!) in Germany. Say whaaaat? Have I really been here for a month? Have I really been able to survive a month in Germany without knowing the culture, language or a single soul?

Yes, yes I have.

But I decided today that I have been able to do oh so much more than just survive in Germany. I've been able to thrive in Germany. I've been able to get around Frankfurt (and not get lost! not once!), go grocery shopping, work in a really awesome job, use public transportation, go sightseeing and act like a tourist, attend church, try new things and make new friends in Germany.

Kudos to me!!

In celebration of my one-month mark, I took a trip to Berlin! It was a business trip, but it was a celebration nonetheless. After a four-hour train ride from Frankfurt to Berlin, I took one of those really cliche bus tours of the city. I saw so much and so little at the same time. Berlin has so many wonderful bits and pieces of history and yet, the things I saw only scratched the surface.

I was able to see Brandenburg Gate, the Parliament Building, the East Side Gallery (a portion of the Berlin Wall that is painted over and is one of the largest outdoor art exhibits in the world. So cool!), Checkpoint Charlie, the Jewish Memorial and another portion of the Berlin Wall. I also had some Dunkin Donuts. Can't forget about those!!

I stayed the night in Potsdam, which is a 20-minute train ride from Berlin. I was equipped with a Google map of how to get from the train station to my hotel.
"Head west on Friedrich-List Strasse/B1 toward B2. Continue to follow Friedrich-List-Strasse."
I stepped out into the chilly night air. Where the heck was west? I knew by looking at the map that I had to cross a river, but where the heck was the river?! I had a decision to make. Which way did I think was west? Should I walk to the left or to the right?

I chose to go right. I reassured myself as I walked past people who knew where they were going. "Right. Right is west. I think."
I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I walked about 200 meters up the road and saw my hotel - all 13 stories of it - standing in the distance. Across the river, as promised. Lucky guess.

"Score! Taylor: 1, Potsdam: 0," I chuckled as I skipped toward my hotel. Pretty sure the guy riding his bike past me thought I was a crazy person for my mini celebration, but whatever.

After triumphantly checking myself into the hotel, I decided to explore Potsdam. It's such a cool little city, so I couldn't not take a walk around. After walking for about an hour, I decided all of Potsdam's major landmarks were just too far away to try and find. In the dark. By myself. 

Instead, I stopped by the nearest grocery store and bought four Ritter Sport candy bars. I had only intended to buy one, but there were four kinds that were just SCREAMING my name. 

"These all look so stinking delicious," I thought, staring at the brightly colored packages in front of me. "The checkout lady will probably judge me if this is all I buy.....Whatever. You only live once!"

Can you say DIABETES?!

I spent the rest of my Saturday night wandering Potsdam while listening to country music and eating German chocolate. An experience I would highly recommend to anyone.

Sunday was the big day! The reason I was in Berlin and Potsdam to begin with!

I'll just cut straight to the chase and say: I GOT TO MEET ELDER JEFFREY R. HOLLAND! I got to greet him as he came into the chapel in Leest and I got to shake his hand!! I got to TALK TO HIM!! His wife gave me a hug and told me I had beautiful hair!!

In all the things I've experienced in my 21 years and 4 months of life, Sunday morning was probably the coolest experience I've ever had.

After meeting him, I followed him and his entourage (I feel like that's totally not the right word at all...) into the chapel. I couldn't help but cry a little. "Did I really just meet Elder Holland? Did I really just meet an apostle of the Lord? Let alone my favorite apostle?"

I've always connected with Elder Holland's messages during conference. I have read and re-read so many of his talks in my moments of need. I know people think he's super "intense," but I've always loved his talks. It was so amazing being in his presence on Sunday morning. That tiny chapel in Leest, Germany was so full of the Spirit and was overflowing with love. I wish I could take how I felt on Sunday morning and feel that way every single day. Life would be a breeze if I could!

After church, I had the opportunity to talk to and interview several church members for some projects I was working on for my internship. They were all so friendly, so welcoming, so kind.

As I sat on the train from Berlin to Frankfurt, I couldn't help but just sit there and think, "Did that really just happen? Did I really just have an epically awesome weekend topped off with an incredibly spiritual experience?" Several days later, I still find myself wondering, "Did that really just happen? Am I really in Germany? Doing really, really cool things? Is this really my real life?"

It only took me one month and five days to realize it (better late than never, right?), but this weekend made me realize how incredibly lucky and blessed I am to be having this experience. Sure, I miss my friends, my family, my truck, my cowboy boots, throwing hot dogs at people at 3 a.m. (that's for you, Chelsea!), American pizza and Duck Dynasty, but how many people get the chance to live in a foreign country, work in a really cool job and meet really cool people while they're at it?

I've come to love Germany. I love the half-timbered houses. I love the croissants. I love seeing guys wearing well-tailored suits (SO HOT!). I love the chocolate. I love my evening runs through the German countryside at sunset. I love Apfelschorle (totally addicted!). I love how straight forward German people are (it's entertaining). I love how everyone here wears scarves (so classy!). I love wearing skirts and dresses to work everyday (I feel like a real grownup!). I love the feelings of accomplishment, independence and self-worth I get when do things I never pictured myself doing.

Moral of the story: look for the good in the world around you. Goodness knows we all have so much to be grateful for.

I was talking to a taxi driver on Sunday and he told me that Germany is boring. I wanted to ask him if he was on crack, but instead replied: "But Germany is so cool! There are so many things to see in Germany!" He promptly responded: "You always think that where you're from is boring. The familiar is never good enough." I was somewhat astounded when he said that. I didn't know it was possible to have such an intellectually stimulating conversation with a taxi driver who only speaks "school English."

But his words struck me. He was right. I think we so often get bogged down in our day-to-day lives - school, work, drama - that we forget how awesome the world is. I think we sometimes forget that we are capable of feeling so, so good about ourselves, our situations and the world around us.

My first month (and five days!) in Germany has taught me to break out of the monotony. It would be so easy to just sit in my apartment, chat with friends on Facebook all night and nap on weekends while I'm here. But I've been choosing to go on adventures, take chances on people and lose a ton of sleep while I'm at it!

Try it sometime.
Throw caution to the wind! Take an evening stroll through town while listening to your favorite songs, and make sure you have a tasty candy bar (or four!) to top things off. Talk to and get to know people you wouldn't generally think of associating with. Explore the world around you - I guarantee there are wonderful things just outside your door. Spend time by yourself. Try new things. Take chances.

And above all else, let yourself enjoy life. Because you'd be stupid not to.

Left: Saturday sunset in Berlin! Right: The Brandenburg Gate!

Left: Potsdam by night! The view from my hotel! Right: Sunday morning walk by the river turned into a "take self portraits in this cool maze I found" session.

Sunday morning in Leest! Elder Holland is such an amazing man!