When I was eighteen, I had the chance to move to Germany and live with a German family for six months. While in grade twelve, I had befriended a German exchange student named Jutta. We had become close. I knew I wanted to take a year off to travel before starting University, so before long, Jutta and I had hatched a plan that I would move to her hometown of Bielefeld and experience the language and culture.
So after my high school grad, I worked, saved up my money, then on December 27, 1993, I boarded a plane (my first time on a Boeing 767) and headed across the pond.
Her family was made up of educator parents and two other siblings, one in University and the other in middle school. As the family settled into their winter routine, I enrolled in a "German as a second language" course to immerse myself in the language.
My class was five days per week, from about 9 to 1 pm. I would study with other international students, then wander throughout the city for the afternoon, learning my way around and practicing my conversational skills at the bank, or the grocery store, or a coffee shop.
The class consisted of people from all over the world - Croatia, Liberia, and even a woman from Kentucky, USA (the only other English speaker).
As the weeks passed, our German skills continued to improve. One cool winter morning, I remember we began to talk candidly about life in our home countries. Then, finally, the man from Croatia spoke. He began to share about his 10-month experience of being captured and tortured by the Serbian army and how he spent his days not knowing if he would ever see his family again.
I remember at that moment - fully recognizing (more than I ever had before) the fact that none of us controls where we are born. There was such a life lesson in that for me. Well, that and being raised by a step-father who immigrated from Poland who drove home to me my entire childhood how incredibly lucky we were to have been born here. I've been struggling with the recent news coming out of Afghanistan. I was nearly (or actually) in tears imagining the desperation people must feel to actually cling to the tires of a moving plane just to escape the fear you're living through. It again made my heart hurt for the people who just want to live some semblance of a normal life but cannot. Yet, here we are... due to sheer luck & geography. I was so glad for that lesson I learned at eighteen nearly thirty years ago...
I hope you're all safe and well.
Thanks for reading.
This post is part of Billi's website blog called "Stories from the Heart". For more click here, to subscribe click here. Billi J Miller is an author, photographer, speaker, and writer from east-central Alberta, Canada, and is the creator of "The Women Among Us". Previously a city-living, 9-5 government worker, Billi moved to the country to marry the man of her dreams, a 4th generation Canadian farmer. Billi noticed there were very few photographs of their rich, 100-year farming heritage. So, harnessing her entrepreneurial spirit, she created a successful business as a photographer and writer “telling stories from the heart and stories that matter.” In 2016, she authored the first of a two-book series about the remarkable contributions of farmwives and has since been recognized on CBC, Global TV, City TV, as well as countless newspapers and magazines both in Canada and in the US. Billi continues the dialogue with her online blog series, “The Women Among Us." When she isn’t working Billi loves to travel, read, and unwind watching true crime documentaries.