My year in Germany: the adventure of a lifetime



Gabriel Nigrovic reflects on his year spent in Germany and the experiences along the way.

If I ever travel to Sofia in Bulgaria or Nottingham in England, I have friends with whom I can lodge. I have been invited to private art exhibitions in Florence, and I have been offered an internship in Oslo. I have dined with the sommelier to the princess of Liechtenstein and had authentic home-brewed Turkish coffee. In Vienna, I took part in an impromptu jazz performance, and in Würzburg I breached a 900-year-old castle at midnight. I have heard Russians and Ukrainians singing in unison and experienced the organ of the Cologne cathedral. I have skied into Austria and hiked in the Swiss Alps among mountain goats. All of these incredible friends I have met and moments I have experienced are a result of the decision I made last New Year’s Day, the decision to go on an adventure.

My paternal grandmother is German and my father can speak the language. This side of my heritage has always interested me, and the ability to speak with my grandmother in her mother tongue was particularly exciting. In this light, I spent two weeks at a German immersion summer camp in Minnesota after eighth grade. Two years later I went back, this time for four weeks. Having gained a sense of the language, we started reaching out to contacts in Germany in an effort to find someone who would take me for a summer. One family responded with a counteroffer: to spend the next year with them in Stuttgart, Germany, where I would attend a local high school.

The prospect intrigued me. Instead of turning it down, as was my first instinct, I decided to mull it over for a while. It did not take much thought to reason that it was the right decision: an unprecedented opportunity for personal growth and language learning. I did not, however, rapidly accept the offer.

The immensity of the endeavor and its harsh costs weighed heavily on me: I would have to leave friends and family in Brookline while delaying my graduation by a year. Despite these unfortunate downsides, it was logically clear to me that I should go to Germany. It took me three months to finally agree to the challenge, and I am very glad that I did.


A study done by economist Steven Levitt has proven that, when facing a major change, people almost invariably end up happier when disrupting their routine. This fact has greatly affected my decision-making process. Since I arrived in Germany, I made the effort to be as spontaneous as possible and accept every opportunity offered to me. This has manifested as a paradigm shift in my daily life: I have restarted soccer for the first time in years, I signed up untrained for a half-marathon the day before the race, I have started learning code, and I backpack through a new European city every weekend, often alone. I use extended periods of free time to explore my own city, Stuttgart, which has allowed for many fascinating conversations with strangers. Last month, I started working to help Ukrainian refugees. While traveling, I stay in hostels, which are environments conducive to meeting interesting people and having impactful excursions. This level of spontaneity is an admired characteristic of a great friend in Brookline, but is a standard I have only been able to live up to due to my time abroad.

Conversations when abroad are also different. Due to our vastly differing cultural experiences, I am interested in every German I meet, and vice versa, which brings intrigue to every discussion. I have also found people to be more open and willing to have meaningful dialogues, even though my limited German ability still prevents me from engaging at a very deep level (though I am improving).

Living surrounded by the German language has been one of the most important factors during my time here. I arrived in the country barely able to get a point across, yet can now communicate comfortably with anyone I meet. It was initially exhausting and frustrating to live without access to English, but this feeling has rapidly dissipated (although the difficulty has not). Speaking German gives me great pleasure, creating the sense of a secret language shared with eighty million people.

Immersing myself in a foreign language has also made me realize how the different linguistic structures alter the way I think, in addition to how language proficiency greatly affects one’s ability to think intelligently and precisely. In larger social settings, people often speak many languages, and I have had many fantastic trilingual conversations, between German, English, and Spanish (thanks Señora Cruz Lopez, Profe Allen and Profe Mendez!). I love the moment when, while talking with someone in English, I find out my conversation partner is German and I surprise them with a “dann sollen wir auf Deutsch reden.” The difficult nature of German grammar satisfyingly makes every sentence a puzzle to solve.

There is also a need to study the language intensively, as it is so beneficial to my daily life. German is a very difficult language, with three noun genders, four cases and counterintuitive (to native English speakers) sentence structures; as Mark Twain comically put it, he “[n]ever knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German.” I must study German daily, however, the ability to immediately implement what I learn makes the process very rewarding. I also enjoy the structure I have found by making myself study German for thirty minutes a day.

This contributed article is thus a billboard for many causes. My travels have made clear to me that a gap year before college, especially in a foreign language, can be an invaluable experience – and it can happen even before graduation from Brookline High. If possible, do a gap year without a program, as these greatly limit the authenticity of the experience. This is especially true for semester abroad programs in college, which group international students


together (as I see through the experiences of my older siblings in Spain and Italy). Act quickly to take such opportunities when they present themselves, since the incentive is to go right to work or grad school after college, and few jobs will make allowances for it later. Leaving for Germany has been the greatest and most important decision I have ever made, and I would recommend to anyone the value of seeking out a major change in your life.

Due to my newfound language ability, adventures, and most importantly, friends, my time abroad has made me at least a little bit different, and I hope better, as a person. Recognizing what I had to give up and what I have gained, I feel acutely the melancholy but even more the joy within Robert Frost’s famous lines, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- // I took the one less traveled by, // and that has made all the difference.”