The first time I went to Germany I was seven years old. I spent it mostly with family, our sightseeing limited to areas close to relatives. Even growing up with a German mother, it was still a culture shock. I mean I was used to butter on my ham sandwiches, and the language was at least familiar. But the first time someone gave me a glass of water, I took a huge sip and spit it out. Who drinks water with bubbles in it? I longed for peanut butter and cartoons in English. Of course, I fell in love with the ice cream.
I have since been to Germany many times, at least four before I left my parents’ house. As a parent now, I know how truly lucky I was. I know my mom just wanted to visit “home” and take he family with her, but it gave me so much more as a person. I longed to introduce this experience to my children. So, I told my husband it was time. He tried to persuade me at first, thinking a nice beach in Hawaii or a grand camping trip to Yellowstone would be a better idea, but he gave in easily. I’d like to think it was my charm. Nonetheless, I’m so glad he did. This is why I’m glad I drug my 10 and 12-year-old across the globe.
What I think they learned:
- Not speaking the language is scary. I think this is a hard concept for kids or anyone who doesn’t travel to get. Living in California, we encounter people everyday who learned English after their native tongue. We are often not very patient with second language learners. Watching my kids experience this is humbling. Of course, I speak a fair amount of German and most Germans speak perfect English, but my kids were still very confused and frustrated with being on the outside. I think they are far more empathetic now of people who are not native English speakers. By the end, though, they had picked up words and phrases and were even ordering things off menus. They have never been interested in learning German before. That’s all changed. They see the world beyond their fences.
- People eat different foods. This is one of those things my kids know but didn’t really get. Again, we live in California. We can get anything. We have plenty of diverse food, but it’s all still Americanized. I mean, you can still get chicken nuggets. Germany was a great introduction for them. The food isn’t drastically different, but there were times they were forced to try something new. Now, my kids are pretty picky eaters, and without batting an eye, they did it. No complaining. I was blown away. My daughter didn’t even spit out the Sprudel when she first took a sip. Just asked for water without bubbles. My kids rarely try new things at home. By the way, my daughter now eats butter and ham sandwiches. She can’t get enough.
- The world is still small. Despite the differences, they also noticed how similar things were. Kids their age love TV, video games, YouTube and playing soccer. Despite the language barrier, my cousin’s kids and my kids communicated and played just fine. They all even watched Harry Potter in German. There are McDonald’s in most big towns, people walk around texting on their iPhones, and you can buy a Laker hat at any sporting goods store. The world is linked now in ways I didn’t experience when I was seven.
By the end of the trip, my kids were happy to come home, but I know I gave them something incredibly important in this experience. And if nothing else, we had ice cream every day. That, they already miss.