studying cacti and culture

A friend of mine from Dresden, Germany just arrived in Austin with his wife and their two daughters (ages: 2 years, 8 weeks). He’s a mechanical engineer researching the structure of cacti for his dissertation. So obviously his path led him to Texas. But it also brings my path full circle.

I met Hannes in 2003 while working as a resident assistant for the Boston University Dresden study abroad programs. We dated, we travelled together, we broke up, and we stayed in touch. I celebrated Karneval in Bonn, I stayed with his sister in Berlin, I met his relatives in Vienna, I was hosted by his friend in Luxembourg. (Actually, it was his sister’s friend’s half-Swedish/half-German colleague at the European Court of Justice, but that bit of accuracy would have ruined the flow of my sentence).

Hannes had a big part in the development of my communicative competence and transcultural awareness while living in Germany. In terms of language learning, he provided authentic input, opportunities for meaningful interaction, and gentle error correction. He modeled pronunciation of both High German and of the Rhineland dialect. He introduced me to cultural products and practices, like the ritual of getting fresh rolls for breakfast from the nearby bakery. He was patient with my frustration when I didn’t understand something linguistically, culturally, pragmatically, etc. When living abroad in a foreign language and culture, your whole identity shifts. You can’t always communicate your thoughts, needs, ideas. Things you consider normal are turned upside down. There’s a new “normal”. And Hannes helped me to navigate that early on. So I’m excited to help him navigate life here for a few months.

Tax is not included in the listed price of your lunch. Highway signs sometimes use cardinal directions instead of only listing destination cities. Professors invite you to call them by their first names on your first day in the lab. All paper currency is green, regardless of the denomination. These things have become normal and automatic to Elmar and I, but are upside down to Hannes. These little things show me how much Elmar and I have (re)integrated into American life. We’ve actually created a hybrid of our two national cultures: German and American. Devmarican?

In any case, it’s neat that Hannes made it to this side of the “pond” and I can give back to him and his family. For the next three months, we’re only separated by the UT Turtle Pond.

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