How It Felt to Return Home After My J-1 Experience

Filed in American Culture by on September 5, 2014 0 Comments
Photo by Barnyz.

Photo by Barnyz.

Heinke Conrad was J-1 Participant in Billerica, MA. She is originally from Germany.

Before describing how it felt to come home to Germany after working in the United States, I should mention that I had visited Germany twice during my 18 month stay as a trainee in the field of biology in the Boston area. Nonetheless, it was an interesting experience then and still is.

My biggest surprise was how deeply I have “imbibed” the English language. It was strange to arrive at the Frankfurt airport and hear German everywhere again. However, it was much stranger that I had difficulties switching to the German language and had to concentrate on not addressing everybody in English, including my own family. Having been back in Germany for two weeks, I still switch to English whenever I use an English expression, and I think in English half the time. Interestingly, I have been told this doesn’t seem to have any effect on my German.

Some people who come back to their home countries crave some special food. In my case, it was a “Schnitzel”, which is really funny because that hadn’t been a dish I especially missed. In the long run, the German bakeries are heaven on earth for me now.

There are big differences between the U.S. and Germany concerning cars and their use that I became aware of. During my stay in the U.S., I was used to seeing mainly big cars. I was astonished by how many different small cars one sees on German roads. Another thing is that outside the U.S., you can walk almost everywhere and bicycles are commonly used as normal means of transportation.

Having lived in another country for a year and a half made me see Germany through a different lens. The social security in Germany is much better than in the U.S., but people always complain in Germany that it isn’t good enough and how it used to be much better. Complaints on  issues seem to be typical for Germans in many situations and unfortunately, I cannot exclude myself. This is something I am now more aware of. However, in one area, Americans are worse than Germans in complaining: politics. Before I left for the U.S., I thought the German political landscape was boring because the parties agreed on most points and it can be difficult to decide for whom to vote. Now, I think that this is very fortunate and is also caused by the fact that most people in Germany just have very similar political views, which makes politics itself much easier.

Another general thing I became aware of during my time in the U.S. was traveling on a visa. Although I didn’t have any problems traveling with my J-1 visa and got all the help I needed from the American Immigration Council, it feels much freer staying in a country where one doesn’t need a visa. The experience living with a visa gave me a deeper understanding of how people all over the world might feel when they depend on some temporary permit to stay in the country they want to be in. Even if one is treated with all respect and doesn’t have to stay, as in my case, one always feels a bit insecure and hopes to do nothing wrong that might compromise a potential future visa. How much worse might this be for people who are not as lucky to depend on staying?

In sum, my stay in the U.S. was a great experience and taught me a lot also about myself and my home country.