I don’t know about you, but where I’m from–a small rural town named Hamilton–I was quite insulated from the world until I came to Georgetown. In fact, before applying to this study abroad program in Trier, Germany, I had never traveled overseas. The most experience I had with other cultures until now was limited, save some interactions with Georgetown friends and peers. But now I find myself completely immersed in a different language, culture, and world. Many people are reluctant to admit they have anxiety about travelling–or perhaps they really do have no hesitations, although I am skeptical. For me, the idea of participating in a program where I’m only allowed to speak German, when I hardly know German, and must travel to a completely foreign country invites not only thrill but also nerves.
“Okay,” I thought. “Ist das sehr gut?”
However, much of my worry stems from having lived in an insulated world. I crave uniqueness, new experiences, but this craving is married to worry: the strange is attractive yet possibly dangerous. But a safe life is, in my opinion, a boring life.
In German, Heimat is a word for “Homeland.” In my first week here, we explored what Heimat is for many Germans, but also what it means to us. For example, when some people think of Heimat they think place of origin, family, where one lives, language, or culture. To me, Heimat is how I grew up: what values were instilled in me and how I perceive the world. Understanding one’s Heimat is like understanding how they perceive things that are important to them. Germans, Americans, and otherwise all share similar conceptions despite language and cultural differences, but they also view the world differently in many aspects. Even within respective countries, Heimat is not necessarily a shared conception. Many Germans have dissimilar ideas of Heimat, just like Americans have different notions of what patriotism means.
I’ve come to learn so far that my own definition of Heimat has changed since I’ve been in Germany. I still hold my upbringing close to my heart, but after reading and talking about others’ Heimat, I have noticed that my own definition is becoming more fluid. What is more, the more I learn about what others think about Heitmat, the more my notion expands.
Travelling here has challenged my discourse on life and home in just one week. This challenge is exactly what travelling is about: moving out of familiarity into unknown territory. Otherwise, what is the point of travelling if you aren’t trying to understand other Heitmats?