“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
Ten years ago today, I stepped off the plane onto Californian soil for the very first time. At the time, I had no idea that by doing so, my life would forever change.
Twelve months prior, I hardly could have imagined myself living in a different country any time soon. I was close to graduating from university and was pretty much set in what I was going to do afterward (become a high school teacher).
For whatever reason, there was this tiny little voice in the back of my mind that made itself known and that reminded me of the time when I was 16 years old and accepted into a high school exchange program. A journey, on which I didn’t embark.
I don’t know. I guess, I wasn’t ready back then. I was too young, too insecure, and couldn’t see myself leaving my family behind for a whole year.
But now at the end of my studies, it dawned on me that my big dream – of living in the US for a while – would probably never ever come to fruition, if not NOW. Before graduating. Before getting a grown-up job. Before being so tied down with responsibilities that there was no way to get away for a few months.
I had originally wanted to go and spend an exchange semester on the East Coast (preferably Boston). I had looked into colleges, exchange programs, financing options. I had pretty much carried around this thought since I had put foot in my university and all throughout the first two years of my studies.
It had proven itself quite difficult to organize an exchange semester completely on your own, so finally, when I had almost finished all my classes and only the final exams stood between me and my Master’s degree, I decided that I needed to do something. Just about that time, a leaflet regarding the English department’s exchange programs magically fell into my lap. The offered an exchange program not with Boston University, but with a university in California. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it was much better than nothing.
I thought about it. I investigated. The application process was easy. You pretty much had to submit an application letter and explain why you would benefit from a stay abroad. Then, based on the number of applicants and the strength of your application, a set number of people was selected for the program. The university was going to take care of the visa stuff, there were no foreign tuition fees involved, you basically just had to cover your room and board. I really had nothing to lose.
So, I applied. For the heck of it.
To be quite honest, it seemed ludicrous to assume that I would get one of the sought-after spots in the program after having applied on a last minute whim (call me humble). What was more important to me at this point was that I wanted to be able to say “at least I tried.” No regrets later.
Imagine my surprise and excitement, when a couple of months later, I received my acceptance letter and – accompanied by a whirlwind of emotions- started planning my semester abroad. (What?)
I think I didn’t really realize what I had signed up for, until the Supershuttle Van dropped me off in front of a dark, empty apartment in Downtown Davis at around 10 p.m. on September 9th, 2001 and I was waiting for the girl who would meet me with the key to the apartment that I was subletting with another (exchange) student.
Right at this moment, it hit me. I was here. In California. 6000 miles from home. For the next few months. By myself.
It was a little daunting and quite frankly, if someone had offered me his seat on a plane back to Germany, I probably would have taken it.
But, alas, there was no return ticket. I had to jump in and feel my way through the first few days of uncertainty. It was exciting, deliberating and it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. It gave me the confidence to feel capable of doing anything that I put my mind to.
I came to love California; it’s beautiful weather, the people, the nature, the way of life. I was thrilled to be able to say that I was living within 2 hours from both amazing San Francisco (a place that every German considers a prime vacation spot!) and Lake Tahoe with its snowy peaks and beautiful views.
Part of me was still sad about not spending my exchange semester in New England, but the more intensely I looked, the more it became clear that I was put right here for a reason.
I am still enamored with the opportunities for personal growth, maturity and worldliness that my life in California has given me. I honestly don’t know where I would be today without the experiences that I was offered by being here. I am thankful for not only falling in love with a new country, but also with a special someone, who turned into my husband 5 years ago.
I can’t help but feel that fate had a hand in all this.
And that’s how I ended up in California and how my love affair (pun intended) began; exactly ten years ago today.