On August 17 I left Chicago. The days before that were a little bit crazy - so many things to do!
I prepared goodbye gifts for my elders and invited them to a goodbye luncheon at Golden Corral. It's a huge buffet that offers lots of dishes and even has a chocolate fountain! So, it's the perfect place for my elders who apparently can never get enough food. We had a great time but somehow nobody was really that hungry. We all knew that this was going to be our last lunch together and we would eventually have to say goodbye to each other. It was very, very sad! We spent so much time together in the last year and we became so close. I will miss each and every one of them so much - even the ones that drove me a little bit crazy sometimes!
A friend from Germany was in town and we went to the observation deck of the Willis Tower. It has a few cubicles completely out of glass from where you can see 103 floors down to the streets of Chicago. It was super cool but also very scary to stand on the glass and look all the way down!
It was sunny and warm in Chicago, so my roomies and I went to the beach. But only after they surprised me with an American brunch at a café. Such a beautiful day!
I organized a little goodbye dinner in a Thai restaurant with my friends. It was a great night which included wine, hugs, food, live guitar music - and also some tears.. The next day, my friend Rob invited us for brunch at his place and we then went to celebrate the Market Days together. It's a big street festival in Chicago with lots of good music and crazy people - and this time even with the cast of Sense8, which is one of my favorite TV shows! So awesome!
Pepa and I went to Broadway in Chicago, one of the free events in Millennium Park. They performed parts of different Broadway musicals with the actual singers and a live band. It was great! And also the biggest crowd I have ever seen in Millennium Park. The police had to close off the area and some people were even sitting on the streets around the park to listen to the performances!
We celebrated Anja's birthday with a nice dinner and drinks afterwards. Even though we didn't win the Louis Vuitton bag that was raffled at the bar, we had a nice evening. It was unfortunately also my last one in Chicago.
I also got sick in these last days and had to pack my suitcases, which was the not so great part. But all in all, I tried to do as much as possible before the 17th: eating lots of deep dish pizza, spending time with my friends, enjoying the city and completing my bucket list!
When I arrived in Chicago, I made a bucket list. I just wrote down everything that I wanted to do during this year regardless of how possible it was. However, after one year, I actually ended up ticking almost all the things off the list - so cool!
There are three things that I wasn't able to do. First, I didn't eat a cronut in New York. The Dominique Ansel Bakery is the only bakery that sells them and they were sold out of cronuts when I arrived. Second, I didn't get to visit Milwaukee, probably because Chicago was just too exciting! Third, I did not shoot a gun. Anja and I wanted to do something super American and were planning on going to a shooting range. But then it was already August and we didn't have any more time for that.
Technically, there's also a fourth thing I didn't do. We went on a whale watching tour in Long Beach but didn't actually see whales. However, we saw dolphins and a mola mola and I think you can count that!
So now I have even 3.5 more reasons to come back to the States!
During the past year, I saw many different areas of the country and every time I returned to Chicago, I had this certain feeling of coming home. Sweet Home Chicago! So, clearly it was gonna be hard to say goodbye to my friends, to Little Brothers, to the city. To my new home. But the last day of my volunteer year approached. I cleaned up my desk in the office, packed my suitcases (how is it possible to have that much stuff after just one year?!), returned my keys and my Little Brothers ID card. But still I didn't realize that I was leaving - or maybe just avoided to think about it. That was until the moment I was at the airport hugging my friends and roomies one last time with tears running down my face. Then it hit me - my Chicago experience really was over. It just broke my heart to say goodbye to my roomies, my friends and everybody at Little Brothers and not to know when we would all see each other again. And regarding my elders: if we would ever see each other again. It's hard to admit but I don't know if they will still be around in one or two years - thus it might have been a goodbye forever..
It was just weird to leave Chicago behind because everything had become so normal. I was so sad to leave. But at the same time so very lucky - lucky to have something that made saying goodbye so hard!
And also very lucky to have a nice man working at the airline counter who didn't make me pay the 120$ for my extra luggage.
Leaving Chicago didn't only mean to say goodbye but also to say hello to my friends and family in Germany soon! I landed in Düsseldorf, pushed the cart with my suitcases out of the terminal and almost couldn't breathe because I was so excited! Or maybe just because the cart was so heavy.. Anyway, the first thing I saw was ballons. Then I heard my mom scream There she is! and the next thing I know is that we're hugging each other, crying our eyes out and standing in the middle of the hallway blocking off the way for everybody else.. oopsie. I was so happy to see my parents again! It's such a crazy mixed feeling: sad to leave Chicago but happy to come back to Germany. To calm down from all of this excitement, we drove home and had a super German barbecue with my grandpa and my friend Louise.. ohhh, how I missed this! The next day, my parents threw me a surprise party. Well, it was not so much of a surprise because my grandpa totally gave away the secret before.. haha! But it was great anyway and I was so happy to see everybody's face. Crazy how you don't see each other for a whole year but when you're reunited it feels like you were never separated!
The following days I didn't really do that much because I was still sick. I enjoyed the sun, relaxed in our garden and tried to drive. Yes, tried - it was actually so difficult to drive with a stickshift again after a year of driving an automatic car!
What I also found a little bit weird to get used to was the German people. No cashier asks you how you're doing, nobody who passes by smiles at you and people generally love to complain about stuff. The Germans are famous for being the serious ones and I think that is (partly) very true. Imagine walking down the street here in Germany and just wishing random people a wonderful day. They would probably think you're crazy.
In August and September I went on some little trips in Europe. I went to Leiden (the city I did my Master's degree in) with my friends that I got to know there. It was a surprise and they really had no idea that I was joining them! A week later I went to Oostende in Belgium for a girlsweekend. We went to the beach, had fries and frikandel and listened to High School Musical - it was great! I also went to Basel in Switzerland for a few days to visit Anja. We spent a day in the mountains and on the lake, we relaxed in the spa and ate lots of Swiss cheese - I wish we could do that every week! At the end of September, I met Kalina and Kate in Munich for the Oktoberfest. We had so much fun - and so much beer.
I went to Travemünde by the Baltic Sea for the final seminar with World-Horizon, my volunteer organization. We were around 30 volunteers who left Germany to volunteer in other
countries or who came to Germany to volunteer here. At the seminar, we all came together and gave presentations about our volunteer projects and impressions of the country we have stayed in. It
was very interesting to hear what the other volunteers experienced during this year! Besides that, we also did a scavenger hunt through the town of Travemünde and some olympic games. My team
actually won both the hunt and the games.. which is weird because I'm usually never involved in winning anything that is sports-related. Haha. But fortunately, the games included a
discipline that I am very good in: beer-chugging! While I was chugging the beer with at least the speed of light, I accidentally broke off part of my front tooth. Well if
that's not effort, then I don't know what is!
There are many things that changed during the 358 days I spent on the other side of the Atlantic ocean. For example, my view on seniors and on aging. I somehow thought that seniors are kind of boring but - oh, was I wrong - they're actually lots of fun! When you get older, you might become slower, hard of hearing or easily exhausted but you can still do great things. Life is always what you make of it!
Second thing that changed was: my driving! I drove through the streets of Chicago every single day and I never got in any kind of accident. I just got a flat tire and once got pulled over by the police because I forgot to turn on the lights of the car. I never got a ticket for anything and I have to say that this was kind of suspicious - I usually just have to drive faster than the speed limit only once and, here we go, I get a ticket. Well, maybe I learned how to be a proper driver after all!
The third thing that changed was to realize how present racism actually is. I wasn't as aware of that in Germany as I was in the States.
For me, racism doesn't start with the obvious, loud, aggressive kind like in some of the stories you hear on the news: unarmed black people getting shot by the police, rants in public places, the Nazi march in Charlottesville.
For me, racism already starts with the word race. It's the term that describes your background or origin and it is used very commonly in the USA. However, I refused to use it because I actually find it kind of insulting. It just brings with it the idea that we are all very different from each other depending on the color of our skin. We're either of this kind or of that kind. There are no in-betweens, no similarities. If I ever had to fill out a form that asks for my race, I'd simply write down human - because that's what I am!
For me, racism already starts with people asking me where I'm really from after I tell them that I'm German. I may not look like the German stereotype that they have in their head. I may not have white skin, blonde hair and a thick accent. But I was born in Germany, I have a German passport - so I am German. Some people unfortunately don't understand this concept. Of course it's a different thing if you ask about my background or where
my parents are from. But asking me where I'm really from, in a way that presupposes me not telling you the truth, is simply being rude. On another note, I also don't understand why the question about somebody's background is so often used to start a conversation. Aren't there like millions of other things about people that catch your attention than their color of skin? Like how cool their pants look or how nice their smile is or how bright their eyes are? Why not use Hey, how are you doing today instead of You look Hawaiian, are you from Hawaii?
But back to the changes. Some things did change - but some didn't. For example, my hometown. It did not change at all. There are still not a lot of things going on, there are still way too many cell phone stores around that nobody actually ever goes to and the nature is still very beautiful.
I myself also feel like I didn't change too much. I enjoy the countryside but still prefer living in a city. I still love bacon. I'm still interested in sharks and crafts and psychology. I still listen to hip hop and still love the United States and everything about it. Well, maybe not so much the president.
Of course there are many more things that changed and didn't change after a year of being abroad. But all in all, I think nothing changed too much - I still feel like the same Kim as last year.
In June 2016, I finished my Master's degree in Clinical Psychology. Two months later I was in Chicago. I wasn't so sure about what will come after this year and it was something I definitely planned on finding out. Let's put it like this: that didn't exactly happen!
Halfway through the year I thought about extending my volunteer service for another six months but ended up not doing it. I then decided not to use my degree to become a psychotherapist but rather to go into counselling. I applied for an internship in a dolphin therapy center in South America.
And what happened? I came back to Germany and am now in the process of starting a three-year psychotherapist training, possibly doing therapeutic work in a prison next year and working as an extra for different TV- and movie productions right now. Haha, so much about my plans!
Two years ago, when World-Horizon told me that I was going to be a volunteer at Little Brothers in Chicago, I wasn't actually
that happy at first. I initially applied for a different volunteer program in a different city and couldn't really see myself spending a year with old people.. But after thinking about it for a
little while, I thought that this might actually be a great opportunity. And it was - Chicago was definitely the best thing that could have happened to me! So, thank you World-Horizon and
especially thank you Lutz for being the start to all of this and for all of your help and support throughout the year!
A super big thanks to the Chicago Chapter of Little Brothers. Little Brothers is a place where everybody comes together and all of our alleged differences just vanish. It doesn't matter how old we are, how we look like or what we believe in, we all just have one big goal: to celebrate life together! So, thank you, for offering me the opportunity to help you with this mission. Chicago's seniors are so lucky to have you guys!
Thank you Christine for all the organization, ideas and trainings. Thank you Karacan and Vicky for being such great supervisors, for always being there for me and of course for all the cute cards and crafts! Thank you Angelina for guiding us through the Christmas gift program with all those online gifts that were anonymously sent to the office, with the hours of computer work and with the hundreds (maybe even millions?) of gift cards. Thank you Tracey for your positive spirit, for making the PA office smile a little more, for the free beers and for giving us days off even if our timing was kind of bad. Thank you Simone for being such a cool CEO and for all the good hair advice.
Thanks to all of the lovely elders who I got to know during this year. You taught me so much about life and love and God - and good food!
Thank you to my roomies Pepa, Delphine, Sara, Anna & Mathilde. I have lived and worked with you for a whole year. We watched movies together, shared our hummus and guacamole, motivated each other to go to the gym, worked on the same projects, went on trips together and so much more. We always had so many things to do! During this year, you girls did not only become my friends but my sisters - my Spanish and French sisters! I couldn't have asked for better roomies and I can't wait to see you all again!
Thanks to all the strangers who became friends - thanks for wine nights, movie dates, the throwing-a-pen-with-your-bellyfat competitions, dinners, parties and hours spent on Chicago's rooftops. Thank you for being those funny, creative and positive people that you are. Thank you for always spreading happiness and for making my time in Chicago the greatest time of all!
Thanks to my girls in Germany who were always there for me even though we were thousands of miles apart from each other. Thank you for sharing your lives with me through voice messages, photos and snapchats and for making me feel like I never left!
Thanks to my mom and my stepdad who always support me no matter what. You are the best and I could never thank you enough for everything you do. I'm so lucky to have you!
Thanks to everybody who donated to my volunteer service. I reached 80% of my donation goal and I would have never ever thought that this would be possible. Thank you so, so much - you guys are awesome!
Also, thanks to myself. Thanks for being open to the experience, for staying positive, for being courageous and, of course, for never saying no to good food.
Last but not least, thank you for reading this blog - thank you for being interested in my stories with the elders, my travels and all my adventures in Chicago!
Unfortunately, this year has passed way too fast. I still can't believe it. It was really, really great and I wish I could turn back time and do it all over again - but I can't. So now, now it's time for new adventures and for making many more great memories.
And, of course, time to plan a trip back to Chicago soon!