Jet Noise

Yesterday (Wednesday the 31st) we said goodbye to Freiburg, the sunniest city in Germany. Randall’s first Deutsch language class was over at the Goethe-Institut.

See a gallery of photos from our month in Freiburg

When we left, Randall came out with us.

This was not the original plan. Initially the idea was that he would stay on in the city, learn German for a year, then go to college in Germany — probably in Munich. Carol and I, meanwhile, would wander around other parts of Europe looking for some place to put down roots — but always close enough to Germany that we could respond quickly if Randall had an emergency.

While all of us, especially Randall, threw ourselves into the plan wholeheartedly, we knew that it was an experiment with a great many unknowns.

Over his weeks at the Goethe-Institut, Randall did a magnificent job of linguistic learning and adapting as quickly as possible to his new foreign environment. But as the time wore on, far from his friends, his mom, his girlfriend, and the town he grew up in — surrounded by an unfamiliar culture and a (still mostly) foreign language — he began to feel unbearably isolated and homesick. With the day looming when Carol and I would leave as well, it became increasingly clear that it was time for Randall to go back home to Charlottesville and the good care of his mom and his buds.

He is still enthusiastic about the idea of learning German — at home — and then attending a German university when he has the linguistic tools in place to make a realistic go of it. Alternatively, he may decide to go to college in the US after taking the rest of this fall as a gap semester.

But either way he will be based in Charlottesville for the foreseeable future.

photo of Randall

I love all my children awful, and whatever time we can spend together is precious to me. Randall is a little different from the others, though, in the amount of his growing up that he and I have been joined at the hip.

When he was a toddler and he would wake up in the night, he would run to my futon and jump in (often on my head). As he grew up, we explored train museums, went to autumn festivals, watched Power Ranger movies, and read aloud a veritable library of child and young adult books together. We saw so many movies with each other we can have whole conversations in film quotes. Wherever I’ve been he’s been there too, all these last 18 years.

About 48 hours elapsed between the time we realized Randall needed to go home and the time I sent him through airport security this morning to climb on the big silver bird. 48 hours to get used to the idea that, instead of being a few hours drive from one another, we’ll be on opposite sides of an ocean until circumstances once again bring us together.

As I write this, he is hopefully enjoying the last leg of his air trip. I know after his three months in Europe — two in the UK and the last, difficult one in Freiburg — he can’t wait to get back home and rejoin all those folks he’s been missing. And I have been genuinely joyful myself to see him so excited at the prospect of going back.

But the space he occupied in my life just this morning feels awfully empty tonight as I watch the sun go down in France.

I took the photo above of Randall outside a little French bakery, right before we took him to the airport. Next time I see him it will be on a blurry Skype connection.

There are a lot of melancholy things in this world, but this much I know for sure: jet noise is the saddest sound.


Herzlich Willkommen

Or, how I came to be in Freiburg writing this entry

If you’ve read our About page, you have a clue why we’re in Germany on this fine sunny day in August. On the first of the month, we installed Randall at the Goethe-Institut here in Freiburg, where he’ll learn the German language for 10 months or so, in order to attend university here next fall (2017).

Most German public universities are tuition-free, outside of a modest administrative fee, even for international students. You still have to pay for books and supplies, of course, as well as all your living expenses in this not-inexpensive country. Still, when you consider the caliber of the schools here — the university Randall is aiming for is rated something like number 14 in the world for his specialty, Physics — it’s still a screaming bargain.

I’ve read that the reason Germany does this is to attract motivated, well-educated young people in the hope that many will stay and contribute to the country’s success once they graduate. Which makes a lot of sense.

Meantime, our route here has been a bit circuitous.

In May, Carol left the US to take the Queen Mary to the UK, in preparation for Tamsyn’s graduation from the University of Edinburgh. Why the boat trip? you may ask. It was all for Pippin the Wonderdog. Slightly too big to fit in an under-seat airplane carrier, and too old and fragile to travel in airline cargo, His Fuzziness’s only transport alternative was a kennel on the QM2.

Randall and I joined them after his high school graduation in early June, taking a more prosaic approach via Icelandair.

After spending a couple months in the UK, we took the Chunnel and raced across France to Freiburg. Check out the photo gallery links below for an idea of what we’ve been up to.