It is impossible to become close to fluent in a language without ever experiencing its country of origin. An event that aided my language progression to an incredible extent was the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Language. The years of my life had been simply leading up to the experience since the time I was five-years-old, when my father recounted stories of his time with the exchange program years before and sang me lullabies in German. After my brother completed the program in 2010, it was my turn. My destination was Krefeld, Germany.
The process began back in October of 2012 with placement tests and application after application. In January 2013 I received the news: I had been accepted! The dream slowly transitioned into reality in April, when I made the two-hour trip from Evansville, Indiana to Bloomington, Indiana in order to complete orientation. All the faces were new and the prospect of the trip so exciting! The next month, I began corresponding with what would be my guest family. A month passed after the end of the school year and my anticipation grew.
Boarding the plane in Indianapolis with the twenty-nine other students and our four new teachers seemed unreal, and the nine-hour flight between the next stop, Atlanta, and Düsseldorf, Germany passed in the blink of an eye. After our arrival, we piled onto a bus and began the trip to Krefeld. To participate in the program, we made a language commitment, meaning that we only spoke, heard, and saw the German language from the time the wheels of our plane touched down in Düsseldorf to the time they left again seven weeks later. As one can imagine, the first bus ride was a quiet one. There, with nerves like never before, I met strangers that would become my family.
The next seven weeks were full of adventures and learning that I could not have imagined. From class five days a week to group trips in other cities, I was immersed in the language at all times. Krefeld provided learning a language in a way that could never have been possible otherwise, and forming bonds I am positive will last a lifetime.
Most importantly, the trip offered me self-growth. I was able to leave the mundane life of Indiana behind for almost two months, and concentrate on who I was and who I wanted to be. Maturity snuck its way in along with my newfound proficiency in the language. I had to make decisions for myself and be responsible for where I was and what I was doing at all times, from seemingly small ordeals like traveling with the bus for the first time in my life to exploring the capital of Germany with a group of students. The opportunity, and at times, the temptation to break the language commitment was ever-present, as the day-to-day struggle to communicate was at times taxing. However, I knew what I would gain if I followed the rules explicitly and with full dedication: a familiarity with a language. In this way, I gained a stronger sense of self-control. The memories from the trip remain vivid and I would not trade my time there for anything; it was the shortest seven weeks of my life. Mein Herz bleibt in Deutschland, und die Sprache davon bleibt immer bei mir. (My heart stays in Germany, and the language from there stays always with me.)