COMM3224 Story 1: A stranger in a strange land

“It’s one big step for me but an insignificant step for mankind.” These words crossed my mind as I passed the exit on Gate 77B at Terminal 3 at the San Francisco International Airport on September 9, 2013. When Neil Armstrong’s first walked on the Moon in July of 1969, there were nearly 500 million people watching TV, who cared about him. Unlike Neil Armstrong no one recognized me when I set my first boot on Californian soil.  But it was such a big step for me. I left my life in Germany behind for seven months and started a new life in a foreign country on my own. Also, I was as excited as Armstrong during his walk on the moon because my dream finally went true: I got to live and study close to San Francisco and Silicon Valley – in Hayward, California, in the heart of the bay. I have been interested in IT and (web-) technologies for whole life. At age 14, I have worked and studied in that field. I love to read about and work with new multimedia technologies as well as web technologies and apps. We are living in a very interesting time, where new innovative startups come up almost every day on the market. It is by far the greatest experience for me to live and study in the San Francisco bay area where every new technology or software gets a chance to prove itself.

Before I loose myself in being over excited, I need to keep in mind that I am, 5,680 miles away from home, alone and not knowing what to expect for the next seven month. Where am I going to live, what people will I meet and what kind of challenges will I have to face? But then I remembered why I choose to life in the United States.

First you should know that from a child to an adult in Germany everyone is surrounded by American culture and products. Just to name a few: Coke and Pepsi advertisement on each corner, McDonald’s and Burger King Restaurants in cities, towns and on many places along the “Autobahn”; American television series, sadly dubbed with annoying German voices and always aired a few months after; the radio stations play almost only American songs and all these software and technology companies like Google, Facebook, eBay, Apple or Microsoft who try to win us as customers. So, from all this positive “propaganda”, it is quite normal that the United States seems like the promised land. But you should keep in mind that all these positive aspects are mainly brought or bought to you and controlled by rather companies than the media. I am completely aware of that, but still I want to keep a little of that childish greenness. I want to believe that there is still a spark of the American dream – “from rags to riches” – left and that life can be like shown in all these TV series and that everything is possible if you firmly believe in it.

As a tourist it would be very hard to choose a destination where you might want to stay for a longer time. The country is just too big and its diversity is overwhelming. However, I will spent over half a year in the United States. Despite the Bay Area’s “innovative technological spirit” it is also the nature, the national and recreation parks and cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles or Santa Cruz which excite me. I’m also looking forward to the mostly sunny but not too warm climate during the whole year. It is going to be a very interesting experience for someone like me who is from a country with dark and grey days during both fall and winter.

While passing by and marveling at “The Art of Recology” Exhibition in Terminal 3, it came to my mind that I am going to be a foreigner. But what put my mind at rest is that I am not the only one. In the east bay area, where I am going to live, 28% of the regions total population are immigrants. Over 80% of all these immigrants have arrived after 1980. Furthermore there are also over 200 other international or exchange students like me at CSU East Bay, who are going to write a new chapters in their lives. So, in a way, I’m not alone.

But still, I will be a stranger in a strange land and I get reminded of that every time when I have to say “Can you say that again?” at a store or restaurant, because I just don’t understand what they want from me. I don’t know the language perfectly and I probably never will, because English is not my native language. Even if I don’t like to ask somebody to repeat or explain the last thing he or she said, I do it, because the aim of every foreigner is to be less strange and become more local. For example, I recently learned that I can be “up” and “down” for something to do at the same time, because both expressions mean exactly the same.

I had a positive experience at a restaurant. The waitresses make you think that you are their best costumer. They are smiling at you, asking if everything is ok, and getting you free refills of your favorite soft drink. It’s also the same at shopping malls. The staff is so friendly and helpful, that makes you just feel good. It would be a huge improvement to the so called “service wasteland Germany” if the waitresses and staff members would be just half nice half they are in the United States. You have to keep in mind that wages for American waitresses are very low, therefore they depending on high tips of their guests. That’s because you often experience a faked kindness.

Not to mention the real kindness and hospitality of the people I have met so far in this country. It doesn’t matter who I’ve met, if it was a bus driver, a waitress, people who share their place via, my landlord, my international coordinator, my professors or just random people on the street.  I have never felt neglected or rejected.

There are also other brief situations which came upon me when I recognized, that I’m not in Germany anymore. For instance, when I first used an elevator. I wanted to go to the first floor. So I pushed “1”. The doors closed and immediately opened again. I was already in the first floor. I figured out that it was actually the second floor where I wanted to go. The difference is, that in Germany the first floor equals the second floor in the U.S and the first floor in the U.S equals the “ground-floor” in Germany. There is another interesting “thing” with the doors. Almost all doorknobs I have seen so far are round and must be twisted to open the door. Unlike in Germany where the doorknobs are more door handles and must be pushed down to open the door.

People say that there is a high crima rate around the bay area. Unfortunately I have experienced that, too. Together with some fellow student I went on a trip to the San Francisco by a friend’s car. During our last stop some criminals broke in to the car and stole my bag. I usually take it with me but just for this one time I forgot it. Luckily there wasn’t anything value in it, except my car- and house keys. To see it from a positive point of view: now I know how what to do to get a new car key and where to go if you want to copy a house key.

It will definitely take some time to adapt to another culture, become a part of the community and knowing my ways around. I’m looking forward to visit the Google and Apple Campus, to be educated in the courses I take and gain more experience in good and bad situations as well. To cope with all these, this attitude is going to help me: It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just different.


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