Our eldest has been in Texas for the past year attending high school, after spending most of her life in Europe – some in Ireland, but mostly in Germany. She is sixteen, and with that comes the sixteen-year-old way of looking at the world. She’s been back for a week, and after announcing that she no longer speaks German, she seems to be settling in okay. And yes, she does still speak German. You can’t lose it that easily!
When she moved to Texas, there were a couple of things that she was worried about. She only knew American high school from movies: cliques, sports, cheerleaders, nerds, etc. German school is just not like that. The stratifications are not so clear, and the groups are not so defined. I told her that it might really be like the movies. And when she started school she said, “It’s like Save the Last Dance!” My daughter is in a high school near Dallas that is very diverse. I think the non-white portion of the school is something like 90%. Heidelberg is also diverse, but not in the same way. She was scared to death of the bus — she told me they called her “Snowflake” — but I think in the end she fits in in a way that she didn’t expect. Growing up in Europe, she didn’t have any experience with American race issues, again except for movies. She didn’t grow up with the stereotypes about black people, or white people, or Mexicans, or whomever. We are pretty liberal in our house politically. I think landing in this school in Texas was a huge shock, but it was also an amazing chance for her. She has friends across all groups of kids, black, white, Christian, Hispanic, straight, and gay. And she is surviving and thriving.
My daughter moved to her dad’s in Texas after three years in Ireland and a couple of months back in Germany because school was just not working for her here in Heidelberg. She was in Realschule and was absolutely not interested or motivated. The teachers are not as positive with the kids as they are in Ireland. They have high expectations and are quick to tell you what you are doing wrong. Having the right materials with you (Hefte, Stifte, etc.) for each class and actually participating in discussions are weighted heftily in grades. She wasn’t having it. She had no more interest in doing her homework and felt completely inadequate. She found the party crowd pretty quickly and it all went downhill from there. We didn’t see a way out for her. Repeating 9th grade at 16 is not really a great approach. Future options and future career paths were simply not on her radar. No amount of hassling and chasing and prodding, or any other form of support or discipline were helping.
So we finally decided to give the US a go. It was a very difficult decision, but in the end, I still feel it was the right one for her. American high school is always through 12th grade. No finishing in 10th grade with no plan and no job. She has a very supportive person in her life over there that pushes her in the right way and helps her through. And her grades went way up. She says that American high school is much easier. I am sure that is the case. But what we want is for her to do well and to find her way. I firmly believe that she can do that in Texas.
So what does she think about Germany after a year away? Well, in her opinion, America is best. How can we live without cold water, or ice? Why do people always stare at you here, not even breaking eye contact when you stare back? Why does she have to speak German? The food? She hasn’t really complained about that, but she quickly found her Arizona iced tea and is still looking for good tortilla chips. People are not as friendly here – ah the American Oberflächlichkeit, how I miss it. I get that. I have continuous discussions with my German and American colleagues about our supposed superficiality. To my mind, this friendliness is not superficial. It makes our daily lives easier. I mean, who enjoys the bakery lady’s “bitte schön” snarled at you early in the morning? But I have lived here for twenty years and I can see both sides of the coin. I will live with a bit of unfriendliness when I know that my friends here are real friends. And yes, it takes years to build up those friendships, but they are worth it.
Here are her impressions:
“Living in the States for a year and coming back to Germany made me realize how different it really is. In general the people in the US are much more hospitable and friendly. No matter where you go, if it’s a restaurant or the grocery store, people will greet you and ask if you need help with anything. In Germany most of the time they won’t even say hello to you when you walk in.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that it’s not considered rude to stare at people here. Especially if you sit somewhere, like a restaurant. People will stare at you, even when you make direct eye contact they don’t stop. I guess when I lived here I was used to it, but now being back I notice it much more.
Some positive aspects though, it’s much easier to get around here due to all the public transportation. Where I live in Texas everyone drives everywhere, taking the tram or the bus in Germany is much safer than it is in the States. That also gives me more to do since I can get places easier. It’s especially good for people that are too young to get their license but can’t have their parents drive them around everywhere.”
Some positive, some negative: the rest, it will come. I will be interested in seeing how it all pans out for her when she is 21, or 25. Will she return to Europe? I hope so. Will her perspective change as she becomes an adult? I really think that eventually she will appreciate what she has gained by growing up in Europe. And of course, we miss her and would love to have her back when she is ready. But for now, Texas it is. Who can complain about the school year in Texas and summers in Europe?