*This is a long read, explaining some changes going forward… if you just want the TLDR; version, skip to the end!
I still have yet to write about Berlin, I haven’t been able to wrap my fingers around coherent thoughts on a keyboard… but there was one moment that stuck with me in regard to my own path over the years. (There were MANY intense and wonderful moments that stuck with me concerning my time in Berlin and the program, but this one that I’m about to talk about is strictly related to my “life choices”, so to speak – my time at UW and with future work.)
During my second last night in Berlin – after the program was over and when Husband had come to visit – Husband & I stopped in for dessert and drinks at a little Italian restaurant next to our AirBnB. Our server (who also turned out to be the owner) was very much an Italian. So of course I broke out my (limited) Italian language skills which were more than enough to order for husband & I and make nice. I swooned a little bit, as I always do when it comes to the Romance languages and I thought, “maybe I should just stick to Italian or French, instead of German?” I rationalized that Arabic was my hard, “practical” language so why not allow myself a pretty, easy, and “fun” language? (And, I reminded Husband – they do have refugees in Italy, after all! It could be useful?) This is typical of me, though – shiny object! what?! I reminded myself that I really need to stick to plan this year, no getting distracted for this last push.
I have no idea why I chose to start learning German a couple years ago. I guess I had just decided to conquer it since it was one language that I had struggled with decades ago. (I think I had just spent so much time on Romance languages and Czech, the sounds of German gave me trouble.) When I went to pick it back up, it suddenly became very easy. I had somehow taught myself enough to speak a fair bit during my time in Berlin – a fair enough bit to get me in trouble! It’s wonderful to realize you’re saying things well enough that people assume you can actually speak German and they respond to you in German… but then I’m left giving my best “deer in the headlights” imitation because they start spewing a ton of words I don’t know at a speed that is far too quick for me to manage.
Berlin did not sink it’s claws into my heart as I had expected. I thought I’d fall head over heels and never want to leave – I mean, it’s BERLIN, ya know? I loved my experience there, the people I met, and the friends I made. But one night, as we were strolling through Victoria Park, I looked up at one of the apartment buildings and remarked, “Can you imagine living there, next to this park?” We talked about how amazing it would be to spend your days in the park and then have people come over to hang a little while longer in an apartment with a balcony with this stunning view. Husband had stars in his eyes and said maybe we could, he LOVED Berlin. I found myself saying, “I love Berlin for it’s proximity to the rest of Europe.” I realized that the things I loved about Berlin were things that I loved about European cities in general – I long for my daily life to include walking miles a day, hopping “bahns” and buses and trams. It’s one of the things I spend the most time waxing nostalgic for about my years in Prague. But Berlin itself didn’t inspire me the way all of Spain does, for example.
I realized that I am a “Latin” girl, through and through. Spain has my heart, forever – in fact, we’re going back this Christmas to the Basque region again and are thinking of Formentera next Summer. I still swoon over Portugal and France. Italy… even during the hottest, sweatiest, most miserable time of the year, Florence had me feeling like I could spend a lifetime there. These are the languages I love most and always go back to. I would LOVE to spend a year or more focusing on Italian but at this point, I feel I need to focus on things I love that are ALSO useful towards my future plans.
But I still got swept up in the excitement of being in Berlin – Europe, really. So when I realized I was reminded, again, of the upcoming Fulbright scholarship deadline, I jumped on it. I started writing a proposal for a research project in Berlin and reaching out for recommendation letters but it never felt quite right. Had I completed the application and been awarded the Fulbright, I’d have gotten a ride to spend 8 months in Berlin working on my own independent research project. I was going to study German for a year at UW, starting in Fall, along with my second year of Arabic. My proposal entailed further exploration of a primarily Arab space in Berlin and working with the refugee community that I had begun a relationship with this past Summer. In my proposal, I spoke about my use of the Arabic language and learning German… as the internal UW deadline approached, I realized that as enticing as it was, 8 months in Berlin honing my German skills really wasn’t what I wanted. I had let Berlin distract me, thinking who on earth wouldn’t do everything in their power to be there? Husband and I talked about the possibility of taking the Kid with me and giving him a year of school in Berlin; He and I would be able to fly back and forth every couple of months. I also felt somewhat pressured to keep going with this idea because husband LOVED Berlin. (I considered the possibility of then applying to Grad school there and we could ALL officially move to Berlin for awhile – he could easily find a job in his field there.)
I mistook my unease for wanting it so badly… then I realized my unease was just that. All my life I’ve wanted to be officially bilingual, fluent in at least one other language. I didn’t really need (or want) for my second language to be German which I think is what would have happened had I spent nearly a year in Berlin. Sure, I’d use some Arabic but it would be mostly German. Also, I spent four years home with my son, then I began working part time and freelancing again and this will be my third year as a student. I LOVE academics and learning more than I can possibly put into words – grad school *sounds* like a “fun” idea. The truth is I’m done (for now.) I want to start pursuing the work I’ve been wanting (translating and interpreting) and 8 months in Berlin will be another 8 months of not working. Eight months in Berlin would be exciting to most people but I have to be honest… I’ve kind of been there, done that. The stress of either not seeing my son & Husband for 8 months OR solo parenting in Berlin while figuring out schools and visa issues isn’t something I’m really up for.
Most importantly… my original plan was to take an Arabic immersion course over the summer, after I graduate from UW. I knew that I wanted to be fluent (or close to) in Arabic and be conversant in a couple of others. I could not do the entire Summer AND a year in Berlin. So I pulled back and decided to not complete my Fulbright application. (I’m currently trying to decide between two Arabic programs – an immersive one in California or a non-immersive but advanced on in Jordan. As in the country!) AND THEN I’d like to possibly take a part time certification program in translation and interpreting.
As for grad school… sigh. It’s expensive. And time consuming. These past couple of years at UW, I’ve envied people who have time for like… hobbies and things…!! (I started knitting again the other week and it was SO NICE to just have time to sit my a** on the couch and zone out on a pair of gloves.)
I cannot let go of doing a formal year of study for another language, though. This is my senior year at UW and I intend to kick back and enjoy it. Languages are fun for me. German was out. I like the language a lot and was feeling really comfortable with it but German isn’t very useful with Arabic unless I’m IN GERMANY. Then let’s go back to how giddy I get over the Romance languages… do you know what language IS useful with Arabic? French. Many Arabs speak French – French is spoken widely around the world and used in both the Middle East and North Africa. Even outside of these regions and with Arabic, French is extraordinarily useful. Bonus – I already know a little French! (Because, of course I do.)
I’ve hesitated to say anything to anyone because for those who know me, I sure have bounced around a lot in the past few years! But what I’ve realized is that, after all the exploration and getting giddy over so many new things and discovering how much I love Chemistry and math and all else… I’ve finally come full circle. French and the Humanities and my love of languages, in general, is how I started out so long ago.
*TLDR; I realized Berlin distracted me from my goals so I’ve pulled back and refocused. My original intent was to spend the Summer after graduation taking an immersion/advanced course in Arabic so that I can work in translation & interpreting. As much as I enjoy German, I don’t have much use for it. Rather than taking a year of German along with my second year of Arabic this coming year, I’ll be taking a year of French. French is widely spoken in the Arab world – in the regions of the Middle East and North Africa. This isn’t a new idea – I’ve learned French off and on (both self-study and actual lessons) for the last couple of decades!)