Love in any Language

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This story is by Susie Mackel, an MSU Junior majoring in English and German.

My story is a love story. It’s a love story about my mother and father, and about me. It’s also a love story about language, and how it brings people together in unexpectedly beautiful ways. The story starts in the fall of 1991, when my mother was a junior at Michigan State University. She was going into Human Resource Management, but she had studied German throughout high school, and had always found that she felt the most at home in her German classes, so she decided to continue in college. When I was younger, I could never understand why she was drawn to Germany and German classes. It always seemed a little obsessive and silly, like the girls in high school who had pictures of the Eiffel Tower in their lockers.

I didn’t really understand until much later, when I began to feel the same excitement. Learning about language requires learning about the world. Entering the wholly unique cultural headspace of a foreign language classroom (my high school French teacher called it “the French bubble”) fosters an almost addicting development of new perspectives that my mother and I have now each found joy in. For me, loving a language is a lot like loving a person. There is always something new to discover, and each discovery deepens your love for the language. When it’s true love, that sense of discovery, excitement, and joy never seems to stop.

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It’s hard not to love a language class. My mother tells me she had always felt that the students in her German classes were “her people”, and that she really belonged. Naturally, she wanted to experience more of this feeling. She decided to participate in a study abroad program, spending two semesters in Freiburg, Germany, which turned out to be a better decision than she could’ve imagined. She always says that this was the best year of her life– which is saying a lot, considering she has had me, her own child, for 19 years. But it’s absolutely the most glowing review I’ve ever heard of the education abroad program here at MSU, so I can look past that part.

Once in Freiburg, she was placed in a Studentenwohnheim, or student housing. What took place next is the part of the story that I know by heart. One day, while she was in the community kitchen with her back turned, she heard a German man who was there eating a sandwich say, “lecker, lecker!” There are conflicting reports of the event, so my sisters and I still do not know what our father was calling delicious.

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Falling in love in a foreign country sounds like something out of a fairy tale, another part of this story that I didn’t fully appreciate until much later– specifically in high school, when I told two girlfriends about how my parents met and they practically fainted. Being the product of a magical love story is something I will probably always be a little bit grossed out by, but there is certainly something very special about knowing that that your parents loved each other enough to struggle through an intercontinental romance before Skype or unlimited messaging plans.

This story started with my mother, but it eventually become my own. My German father and American mother raised me and my sisters in the U.S., but purposefully and vigorously integrated German language and culture into our upbringings. I spent the first few years of my life speaking what my Opa lovingly refers to as Denglisch (a mixture of German, or Deutsch, and English), being read to in both languages before I went to bed and watching my favorite movies in German, like “Pippi Langstrumpf” (Pippi Longstocking). It has always been important to my parents for me to love both of my cultural identities equally, and they have instilled in me the important value of treasuring my heritage. 

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After years of speaking to my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, but never writing any of them an email without the help of my father, I finally decided that it was time for me to take the next step in exploring what this love story means to me. So last year, I enrolled in my first ever German class here at Michigan State, and began my formal education in the language. It comes as little surprise that I love it– just like my mother loved it, like I love the half of my family who live in Germany, and like I love who I am. In my life, through my family, I’ve learned that language is a declaration of love. I declared German as a second major at the beginning of my second semester. I want to continue to live my life with one foot in each world, to have both halves of my identity celebrated, and to never choose between my two citizenships, because it would feel like choosing between my parents, who loved each other enough to give me the gift of both.

I am fortunate enough to have spent a significant portion of my life in Germany already, and just like my mother, I want more. Luckily, through my language studies here at MSU, I will be able to get it. In the fall of 2018, I will be a junior in the College of Education, with a primary major of English and a secondary major of German. Despite the fact that I have always desperately wanted to forge my own path, I will be participating in the Academic Year in Freiburg like my mother before me. In many ways, I feel that this is a story I was born to tell (I was born because of this story!), and when I get back, with or without a husband, I hope to continue to tell it by teaching German. I want to spend my life sharing a love story that was fostered and strengthened in language, a love story that began in a tiny community kitchen in Freiburg, because of a love that took root in a German classroom, just like the one that I will lead someday.

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